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Greenbuild Brings Global Design Leaders, More to Philadelphia

Greenbuild at the Pennsylvania Convention Center
Greenbuild at the Pennsylvania Convention Center

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On November 20,  Philadelphia hosted the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo, a week long celebration of sustainable building that attracted top thinkers from around the world.

Before choosing the City of Brotherly Love, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) asked the Pennsylvania Convention Center (PCC) to make some changes. The waste diversion rates for events held at PCC was below 10 percent, among the lowest of any convention center on the East Coast. 

Through a partnership with USGBC, PCC began composting, increased recycling and worked towards a more efficient food preparation system. The changes helped PCC reach a 75 percent diversion rate, an amazing turnaround.

"It's been a fairly large undertaking to get a convention center with that many moving parts to change their ways," says USGBC's Kate Hurst. "It's our hope that now that they've implemented these processes, that they'll continue using them as best practices for shows moving forward."

Diversion rates are just one example of how USGBC helps buildings become more sustainable. During the conference, USGBC offered a master speaker series and over 110 educational events in a variety of sub-topics including women in green building, rainwater management and building with "healthy" materials. Hilary Clinton gave the keynote address, sharing her thoughts on sustainability education and retrofitting.

"It re-energizes folks to go back and do the work that they do on a daily basis," says Hurst. "Often they are the only person in their business or organization supporting sustainable design. We're looking to provide them education, new products, innovation and inspire them." 

During Greenbuild, the Delaware Valley Green Building Council (DVGBC) offered 35 tours showcasing innovative green building in Philadelphia. These tours included a 4,000-square-foot green wall at Longwood Gardens, an emerging "sustainable business" campus at the Navy Yard, and the Philadelphia Water Department's solar-and-geothermal-powered waste water treatment facility. 

The Public Workshop's "Adventure Playground" at Smith Memorial Park -- this year's Greenbuild Legacy project -- opened in time for the tour. Local youth designed and built a play structure from reusable materials, including fallen trees and construction waste provided by Recycled Artist in Residency (RAIR), a program housed within Revolution Recovery, a demolition and manufacturing waste recycling facility in the Northeast.

"It's been a really great opportunity to showcase all the sustainability efforts that are happening in the region," says Fern Gookin, DVGBC Legacy Project committee chair, director of sustainability for Revolution Recovery and executive director of RAIR. "Nationally or Internationally, folks might not know of Philadelphia as being really green."

RAIR's expo booth showcased the creative side of green building. Billy Dufala, a former RAIR artist created an L-shaped counter made from bales of cast-off construction materials, including cardboard, aluminum and ridged plastic. The surface was reclaimed wood and the backdrop was bright blue sheet-plastic. 

"Everything came out of the trash, including the television, which showed up on the truck one day," says Gookin."You could really look at these materials in a different form than if they were just piles in a dumpster." 

Hurst ranks the sustainable renovations to Lincoln Financial Field among the area's most impressive accomplishments -- the Philadelphia Eagles' home now features 14 micro wind turbines and 11,000 photovoltaic cells that produce up to 3 megawatts of power. 

"That was a high point for us as an organization," she says. "When you have iconic buildings, or places people gather in a city, take that position, it really pushes the movement forward." 

In order to promote new LEED v4 standards, the Greenbuild Expo offered a Materials and Human Health Summit that covered emerging Environmental Product Declarations (EPD); the system ask manufacturers to list all chemicals in their materials and products.

"Sustainability can just be data and numbers, but it also has that healing component to it," says Gookin."It's about creating healthy environments both indoors and outdoors; that has an effect on personal well being. It's a big part of how sustainability is transforming buildings and culture."

Ultimately, the Greenbuild Conference and Expo allowed local sustainability efforts to connect to a green building movement that's gaining momentum around the world.

"There's a larger community that gelled around Greenbuild," she says."The question now is, how can we continue those relationships in 2014?"

DANA HENRY is Innovation & Jobs News editor for sister publication Flying Kite. Send feedback here.
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