The First Greenbuild - 2002

The First Noel, the Angels did say
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay

With the 17th Greenbuild conference and expo scheduled to be held in Chicago in just two weeks, I thought it would be interesting to look back at the very first event. This recollection of the first Greenbuild is taken from my forthcoming memoir, GODFATHER OF GREEN - From Earth Day to Enlightenment: An Eco/Spiritual Odyssey, to be published in the fall of 2019.

Greenbuild 2018 Banner.jpg

In 2000 and 2001, I served on the USGBC’s national Board, while working at Green Building Services, then a consulting division of Portland General Electric. Early in 2000 the Board decided to put on a national conference to broaden the audience for green building and to promote LEED, then just entering the market as Version 2.0. The City of Austin, Texas offered to host it and the inaugural event was scheduled for October of 2002. USGBC’s Board wanted this event to confirm USGBC as the acknowledged leader of the U.S. green building movement.

At the August 2001 member summit, Christine Ervin, USGBC’s CEO at the time, asked me and another Board member, Ross Spiegel, to lead a steering committee to develop the conference and put together a trade show to go along with it. She hoped that this new event would become a catalyst for growing the movement more rapidly.

Ross was an architect who had served as president of CSI, a large national association for construction specifiers. He and I we were the only people on the Board who had any history in organizing big conferences and trade shows and AND who were crazy enough to volunteer for the job.

This next phase in developing the green building movement meant taking what we had to offer, moving it beyond an audience of several hundred enthusiasts and offering it to everyone in the country.

Through what seemed like endless in-person meetings and conference calls, we began creating this first national conference and trade show. When we first began organizing it at USGBC’s annual member summit in Tucson in August of 2001, we had no idea what to expect, whether it would be well received by architects and engineers and whether product manufacturers would find it worthwhile to purchase exhibit space to reach this new audience. After all, each profession, each industry already had their own well established national events every year. Plus, we had less than 15 months to make it happen, a very tight schedule for organizing a new national event.

We anticipated attracting perhaps five hundred to a thousand people, a gradual increase from attendance at USGBC’s four previous annual member summits. During the months before the conference, Ross and I watched with growing surprise as the registration numbers continued to climb. When October 2002 rolled around, more than 2,500 people signed up for the conference.

Moreover, 200 manufacturers wanted to exhibit, so many that we ran out of booth space in the main hall and had to place some exhibitors along the wall in hallways. We realized quickly that green building was now a commercial phenomenon, moving beyond a vanguard wearing Birkenstocks, Patagonia fleece vests and Levis into the more corporate world of commercial building.

Greenbuild 2018 will be held in Chicago November 14-16, 2018

Greenbuild 2018 will be held in Chicago November 14-16, 2018

The first big thrill for me was arriving at the Austin airport, riding down the escalator to baggage claim, and seeing a huge banner draped across a balcony welcoming everyone to “The First National Green Building Conference and Exposition.” When I arrived at the conference hall on the first day, I was further amazed and excited by the size of the crowds. I could see right away that we had a huge success on our hands.

As I went around the Austin show, I recognized perhaps a hundred people I had met at three earlier national member summits. But now more than two thousand new people had been attracted to green building, almost all of them professionals with projects underway, products to sell or learning they wanted to engage with. I knew right then that the green building movement was ready to take off in a big way.

At the next year’s event in Pittsburgh in 2003, the number of attendees and exhibitors doubled again and the event, now called Greenbuild, became an annual fixture for the green building movement.

Beginning in 2004, Ross stepped back and, along with Paul Shahriari, I chaired the steering committee for Greenbuild for the next six years. Paul and I worked with dozens of volunteer professionals and a dozen USGBC staff to built it into a “must attend” event. Organizing the event required selfless service from many busy professionals, entailing countless conference calls and two in-person meetings over the ten months before each event. But we succeeded!

Within a few years after the first event in Austin, the movement became red hot and Greenbuild became the largest green building program and fastest growing professional and business event in the United States, attracting 25,000 people to the fourth show in Atlanta in 2005. So we might celebrate that first Greenbuild by singing,

The First Greenbuild, the Pundits did say,
Was to certain poor architects on boards as they drew