Greenbuild 2006 had 13,500 attendees; attendance this year at Chicago’s LEED®-Certified McCormick Place reached 22,835, more than enough to fill the Chicago Bulls’ arena. There were 20% more exhibits this year, and several of the returning vendors quadrupled their exhibit space.

The USGBC has quickly taken green building from a clique to a movement, and now the circle has expanded into a global green building community. Other standards might lead to greener buildings, but only USGBC has the clout to forge an alliance with the Clinton Climate Initiative, secure dozens of top-rated speakers, attract crowds from 51 countries, and enlist 12,000 member organizations.

That’s a long way to come since this same city saw the signing of the Declaration of Interdependence for a Sustainable Future by AIA and UIA in 1995.

Community And Prosperity Are Interdependent

I came away from Greenbuild 2007 with a formula for the future of green building: community = prosperity. Fewer than one in 10 buildings is a green building. For green building to go mainstream, it will require more than the enthusiasm of those who view it as a moral imperative. It will require critical mass, and that is happening now - driven not by environmentalism, but by economics.

Cities are racing to be the greenest community because they recognize the economic potential. “The most effective leadership we have today is coming from our cities,” USGBC chairman Rick Fedrizzi said in his keynote. Chicago, the cradle of American architecture, now has more candidates for LEED certification than any other city in the world.

The Windy City already is prospering. Tens of thousands of Greenbuild attendees, exhibitors, press, and speakers are in Chicago spending money. The 17 designated convention hotels were sold out months before the conference.

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley made national headlines for his commitment to the Clinton Climate Initiative to increase energy efficiency in the Sears Tower and other buildings. Former President Bill Clinton visited Chicago for that announcement and to speak at Greenbuild.

Chicago isn’t alone. More than 1,100 U.S. cities are benefiting from the Clinton Climate Initiative. Forty major cities worldwide are participating in the Climate Leadership Group.

Taking Prosperity To The Global Community

At Greenbuild, there was a sense of being in this together, and the focus was on how contributors and communities will benefit. Buildings are being greened by the dozen. People are being greened by the thousands, forming a global community with common goals.

By developing green building models that can be replicated in emerging countries, we will be doing our part as citizens of the global community. Behind India and China stand Vietnam, Ukraine, and dozens more, waiting to industrialize.

“If they insist on the old industrial society’s patterns of energy use, the most calamitous consequences of climate change will occur,” Clinton said in his Greenbuild address. And when it comes to repairing the world’s opinion of the United States, improving our stance on global warming tops the opportunity list.

Green Is Good Business

Green developers are recognizing the opportunities in their own portfolios. CB Richard Ellis, GE Real Estate, Liberty Property Trust, and others are launching green-building initiatives with commitments to build only green, to retrofit their portfolios, or both. According to Liberty, rental revenues from their green buildings are 15% to 40% above market, and values are 50% above comparable properties.

“The building and real estate industry is showing every other industry on this planet that you can go green and not only survive, but thrive,” Fedrizzi said. “We’re challenging the old and very tired story that going green costs more. It does not. We’re showing that you can create a top-rated building and respect its occupants and the community by using less energy and water, producing less CO2, and saving money in the process.”

It’s easy for owners to understand that their lobby couch should be made of environmentally friendly materials. It’s harder for them to grasp the complexities of building intelligence, hidden, working silently behind the scenes.

The sustainable building community must become rational evangelists for energy efficient green buildings. Let’s each persuade more developers away from low-bid thinking and toward understanding that energy efficiency is financially smarter.

Do it for your business. Do it for the planet. Because even the most environmentally friendly seat cushion can’t be used as a flotation device. GIB