GreenBuild Conference Recap: Building a Green Future, School By School

January 15, 2013

By Mark Bishop

At the GreenBuild International Conference and Expo this fall, I had to pause and marvel. With nearly 30,000 attendees and 1,000 vendors, the energy was overwhelmingly infectious — and after three days, I’m pretty sure we all felt galvanized to change the world, one building at a time.

The size and scope of the conference is like this every year but GreenBuild 2012 had a new focus: schools.  Tens of thousands of people, all gathered with the belief that if we want to impact climate change, improve education and create a better future for our children, it won’t happen without healthy and sustainable schools.

This focus drove the conference from the beginning, when the Director of the Center for Green Schools, Rachel Gutter, (disclaimer, I am a member of the executive committee) extolled the growth of the green school movement, and USGBC CEO Rick Fedrizzi highlighted the changes students themselves are making in their schools across the country, from participating in the national green school day of service, to the promotion of green policy at colleges and universities in every state.

The excitement around schools kept rolling with workshops, a press conference and a report on the impact of green building on educational outcomes.The message was clear: through green schools, we can save money, improve the environment and create school buildings that support health and learning.

It’s not all rosy, of course. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported in 1996 that schools needed $400 billion just to bring them up to basic building codes — forget about green, we’re just talking basic health and safety. And because there has been no coordinated national effort to provide capital improvement dollars for our schools, no one believes that there is a positive trend here, especially given the GAO’s lack of authorization to do a follow-up report.

But inspiration matters. Unity around green schools from 30,000 architects and engineers? It adds up. It builds, you might say. We’re on our way, one school at a time.