Recap of the 2010 Green Building Focus Conference

Coming out of my last set of classes, I had had it. I was looking forward to simply just going to the Remodeling & Deck Expo in Baltimore and possibly catching the Green Building Focus Expo in Birmingham. At that time, all I could envision was simply touring the Expo floors, catching up with some great friends & hopefully making a few more. (Oh ok & maybe pushing a few of my services to – but that goes without saying right?) Fortunately, for me Lynn Wilkins from Stewart Perry managed to talk me into getting a full pass for the GBFC, telling me I would not regret it. Well Lynn, thanks, you were right.

First, I must apologize for this being such a long article; basically I never got in until around 8 PM and was too wiped out to be able to break it down daily, so I decided I would do one overall recap & try to break out one or two key points made in each seminar I attended. In some cases, I will be taking the notes I made & tying them into future articles. In short, if you missed the event, I am sorry – but it will definitely be back next year so you might want to make plans in advance. Thanks James Smith, Richard Walsh and everyone else at Green Building Focus for putting on such a great event in Alabama.

Tuesday Recap:

James Smith, the president of GBF was the first on the stage to welcome everyone there & to let us know that things were running just a little bit late. It appears that the Birmingham City Council wanted to attend, so they decide to give them a few more minutes to show up.

Birmingham Mayor William Bell officially kick started the conference about 20 minutes later than scheduled. In all fairness, we were not waiting for him, as he was actually there 15 minutes early. A few of the key comments he made; the time is right to create a new economic model. The City of Birmingham has led the way not only in manufacturing steel for the war efforts (WW1 & 2), but in the civil rights arena, and now it is time take up the new challenge of becoming the leader in the environment. The final comment was that not only are they fully embracing LEED, but creating their own special LEED medallion for building performance.

Michelle Moore who serves on the President’s Council on Environmental Quality was then introduced. Needless to say, it was mostly a recap of existing policies and steps taken which can all be viewed on their website: A few of the numbers though were pretty staggering; if you think your utilities are bad – the feds is about 24 Billion dollars a year which makes them the largest user of electricity in the United States with 15% of the overall being used just in Washington DC area itself. They also have a fleet of over 600,000 vehicles & either own, maintain or rent 500,000 buildings nationwide. After she was done, Mayor Bell presented her with a key to the city. I happened to run into her later during the day, and I have to say she is a pretty nice lady – unfortunately, our time was limited so I wasn’t able to talk to her much.

Greg Barker of Alabama Power was up next & overall kept his comments brief. He ran over a few key stats, where they were headed, along with the numerous projects they were funding. He did spend some time describing why solar & wind power was not really a viable option at this time in the state. One interesting stat from his speech was that 25% of the power generated comes from Hydro & nuclear sources, while the other 75% comes from Non-Renewable Sources.

Llewellyn Van Wyk, of the Council for Scientific & Industrial Research, South Africa was next. Wow, there is no way I can do his seminar justice in this article, and all I can say – if you are given a chance to listen to him, take it. I will actually be covering some of his seminar in a future article on Sustainability & how it changed some of my views on this subject.

Yalmaz Siddiqui from Office Depot spoke next. While he did not cover actually building techniques, it covered many of the bottom line aspects for companies. He covered the driving forces that started change, staying abreast or ahead of it, becoming a leader and why. One nice quote of his was on going green; you do not need to care about everything, you can do it for your own reasons. Another good one followed along the lines of; all steps matter, as they all represent an inclement improvement.

Eric Corey Freed of organicARCHITECT was next & while he had a great presentation (especially the issues in Detroit – slides 60 to 110) there were parts I just had to shake my head at (Seriously, there is a reason that people die trying to get here and there are plenty of good things about the US of A). He did start off with a little self deprecating humor – I am not here to sell my books (4 quick slide changes later), I am not here to talk about my achievements (3 quick slide changes later) I am here to… If you are curious, all the slides for his presentation are available here (81.1 MB of Slides).

For all the windmill haters out there, he made an interesting point, that there were more windmills in the 1920’s, than there are today. Another interesting concept on how to change usage behaviors – put the meters on the street. I did love his answer to a standard question – what should I do, which certifications should I pursue, etc… quite simply put – we can’t wait for you to be perfect, get started now. I think this statement helped not only tie this day’s presentation together, but the entire conference.

The final speaker of the day was Karan Grover of KGA Architects in India and… Yah, I think that is all the good things I can say on that subject.

The EXPO Floor:

From what I heard there were fewer vendors this year, but I must say there was a good showing of the different companies and services out there. While I might have liked to have seen more Residential Solutions in there, there was still a nice amount. Maybe next year they might consider having a row or so dedicated to the Residential arena for the numerous homeowners that actually came through.

Wednesday Recap:

Don Brown of Brown Chambliss Architects put on a seminar on the IGCC, which mainly deals with Commercial & High Performance Buildings. At this time, they are still in the development phase & it will not be until they adopt version 2, that it will truly be considered an adaptable code like the IRC. A few interesting statements – No matter if you believe in global warming or not, it makes no sense to just burn money. There will also be a price increase for architect’s fees (or a third party) as it will require “a commissioning” or simply stated a through shakedown to verify everything works and was installed properly.   Don was adamant that it should be done by the architect, as they do not want to run into problems with someone who does not understand the system. Playing the devil’s advocate – I have seen plenty of architect’s that are clueless about what they really designed, or fall in love with their system and have issues seeing faults in it.

I then attended a Social Media 101 workshop put on by Chris Brogan. In all seriousness, I can’t do justice to his seminar so all I am going to say is – go check out his site. If you ever get a chance to meet him, take it – he is not only a great speaker, but also a great listener and I was glad to be able to chat with him before he started. As a quick aside – he appearantly loved the Birmingham area & made a nice little video about it. (Man on the go – Birmingham)  Update: Stewart Perry, the ones that talked Chris into coming, posted a great review. Stewart Perry Recap

While I could have taken a third seminar that day, I volunteered to man the USGBC of Alabama booth and meet many great people. That along with the networking event was a nice way to help end the day.

Thursday Recap:

Brooks Rainwater of the AIA addressed Green Building Policy in a Changing Economic Environment. For those that think it is a passing fad, well it isn’t and in 138 of the 660 cities with a population over 50K, there is a Green Building Program and that number continues to grow. This presentation was followed up by a bonus seminar on “Re-commissioning the Occupant” by Jon Grey & Omid Nabipoor (?) which covered setting expectations for how a “green” building should work or be utilized. I think the best comment in these was that fact that we have tried so hard to be inclusive that we are fast becoming exclusive to common sense items.

The next one started out as a standing room only panel discussion on “What Green means to Alabama Home Builders.” I must say, this was the first one I was disappointed in, but I give props to Eric Corey Freed (1st day speaker) & Dr. Jennifer Languell of Florida for the good information they provided.

The final seminar I attended for the day was another panel discussion on Sustainable Design and Construction; Designing and Building Net Zero Energy and Net Zero Water Buildings. While this was about a project that they had all worked on, and they made many fine points – I think if they would have spent any time just reading up on the PassivHaus (Passive House) standard – they would have been much further along.

Friday Recap:

Friday was an interesting day as the Expo floor was closed, and for those of that had purchased the appropriate pass could attend a bonus all day class. Southface was putting on one for Building High Performance Buildings, and the other one was an exam prep class for becoming a LEED Green Associates. If you want to know what a company is made out of and stands for, catch them on a really bad day. Unfortunately, for the GBFC, that bad day happened to be today.

Now don’t ask me why, but the individual doing the LEED class was actually flying in from Florida that morning. Well apparently she either slept in, was caught up in traffic, or… but she ended up missing her flight. After finding this out, the GBCF along with a gentleman from USGBC of Alabama tried everything else they could think of, they had to call it. Instead of simply calling it a bonus class & saying were sorry, they are actually arranging for everyone there to attend another one in a city closest to them.

  • Mike Hines


    Thanks for the recap and I’m truly disappointed that I could not attend this year. I look forward to seeing your future posts on the subject.