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Paul's blog: going green in the land of plenty

Chicago boasts about having some of the greenest architecture in the USA.

Paul Toyne is head of sustainability at Bovis Lend Lease

I am writing this blog from the 'windy city' Chicago and home to this year's Greenbuild. What is Greenbuild? Well if you believe the marketing hype it is the biggest green building educational event in the world with over 2,500 product and materials exhibitors with 100 lecture sessions on everything from urban planning and communities to climate and carbon neutral design – yes we are allowed to write and say the dreaded words - climate change - in the land which for so long was in political denial of the phenomenon.

Being truthful I am usually sceptical about these type of events, is it not all just slick marketing, cheesy salespeople and death by powerpoint? This time however, I am truly overwhelmed at being one of 25,000 delegates attending this event. That is twice as many who saw my beloved Queens Park Rangers play football last Saturday! 25,000 people! These people range from architects and designers, to developers and facility managers, to product inventors and entrepreneurs, and have all paid to be part of this new movement of green building awareness that is spreading through America. The fact that it is happening in the land of over consumption, where indulgence is everything is quite astonishing!

But does all interest equate to any action I hear you ask? Well Chicago boasts about having some of the greenest architecture in the USA with almost 200 LEED (Leadership in energy and environmental design) certified and registered buildings. LEED is the equivalent to the UK green building rating tool – BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method). This number is more than any other city in the states. It also has more square feet of planted or planned green roofs than all the U.S. cities combined – a useful piece of trivia for the forthcoming Christmas party networking circuit.

So what has been the tipping point? Why is the green building movement of such relevance that former U.S. President Bill Clinton provided the keynote address: - aside from his conference fee - it is perhaps because buildings over their lifespan are responsible for 40% of the world's energy use, 40% of the world's solid waste generation, 40% of the world's global greenhouse emissions, 33% of the world's resources and 12% of water use. More people now live in cities than in the countryside so ensuring that the design and operation of buildings provide the best possible environmental performance is essential in a world where resources are finite and energy and water security is everything. Clinton, through his own foundation and the Clinton Climate Initiative, has been focussed on reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that lead to climate change, with green building as a cornerstone of that effort.

In the US it appears that the drive for green buildings has come from progressive mayors, like Mayor Daley in Chicago who has positioned green buildings as a central feature for the city's environmental action agenda, which has also promoted environmental innovation. Why has he done this? In his own words he believes that a healthy environment is not only consistent with a strong economy and improved quality of life for Chicagoans, but essential for both. This drive has influenced the market, one delegate told me the public sector requirement for LEED has impacted on the commercial market too, with clients realising that they need to demonstrate their sustainability credentials by achieving a LEED accreditation.

So what have been the take away messages for me? LEED like BREEAM has its distracters, and it's not perfect it could benefit from the inclusion of the social aspects of sustainability, however on a positive note, people are aware of it and it will evolve further so that's an important starting point. It's widespread recognition for accreditation such as LEED, and in the UK BREEAM, that will lead to positive change in the future.

Before I sign off, I am sure some of you must be questioning the sustainability impacts of 25,000 gathering in one place. The conference organisers have just about thought of everything covering air quality, energy efficiency including actions signed up to by the conference facilities and all the delegate hotels, water conservation, waste minimization, environmental purchases like the carpet flooring and signage are either biodegradable or have a very high recycled content. That has been impressive, making me realise I will need to address the carbon impact of my flight over here, so that's another thing to do when I get home.

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