Back to blog


Greenbuild 2014 Recap

by Sarah E Gudeman


After over 8 years working in the building industry and focusing on sustainable design, I finally attended the Greenbuild Conference and Expo last week in New Orleans. 


This conference is something of a homecoming for those who have been attending since the beginning, but it also serves as an opportunity to gather together with like-minded individuals from across the country (and world) to catch up on the latest trends and technology.


Greenbuild is the world’s largest conference and expo dedicated to green building. The community gathers to share ideals and passion for the work we do, which generates a contagious energy throughout the week. Being surrounded by and networking with so many others in the same focus area was an exciting experience. 


When industry leaders, experts and frontline professionals come together, the result is a unique and palpable energy. It was, as marketed, invigorating and inspiring, instilling a sense of purpose in attendees through inspiring speakers, industry showcases, workshops, and more. I'm already looking forward to Washington D.C. to once again gather with others who walk the walk and talk the talk.


The conference for me this year included:

  • a celebration of the USGBC volunteer community, complete with second-line parade
  • a tour of the lower ninth ward’s new sustainable homes
  • sustainable transportation in the form of a plethora of pedi-cabs and street cars (though sidewalks and pedestrian access points could use some attention)
  • a seminar on Measuring Sustainability’s Impact on Workplace Productivity
  • a presentation on Washington D.C.’s adoption of the IGCC, which took effect in March 2014
  • an interesting discussion with the manufacturer of a ‘rainwater pillow’ 
  • a net-zero electricity demonstration home that was donated to Make It Right after Greenbuild
  • an Energy Simulation expert networking session sponsored by LEEDUser on the Expo floor
  • a presentation on Enforcing NYC’s groundbreaking Greener, Greater Buildings Plan
  • an opening address by USGBC CEO Rick Fedrizzi and plenary on the Dollars and Sense of Climate Change, followed by a free concert on the floor of the Superdome (Trombone Shorty and Alabama Shakes)
  • a lecture on reducing the load on the electric grid through either temporary or permanent peak load reduction and demand response metering
  • visiting the LEED Certification Workzone, a place where project teams can interact directly with LEED project reviewers
  • plenty of Creole and Cajun foods (and desserts)
  • a talk by Master Speaker Charles Best, who founded, and also donated his speaking honorarium to attendees in the form of gift cards to use on the site.
  • miscellaneous expo time to appreciate innovative technologies in other disciplines
  • experiencing the new LEED Dynamic Plaque, a building performance monitoring and scoring platform for LEED-certified projects
  • a detailed session on building envelope commissioning – one of my personal highlights 
  • a Passivhaus case study (Passivhaus is a standard introduced in the UK which is now the fastest growing energy performance standard in the world)
  • information from Autodesk on rapid energy modeling, or REM
  • a presentation on how Innovation in productivity might someday change the AEC industry’s design process


Each of these items are discussed in more detail below... 




Measuring Sustainability’s Impact on Workplace Productivity

Presented by Bob Best (Executive Vice President at JLL), Simone Skopek (Energy & Sustainability Manager at JLL) and Patrick Clover (Sr. Manager, Corporate Real Estate Sustainable Operations at Autodesk)


Workplaces are changing, and oftentimes many desks go unoccupied as employees increase field time, remote work sessions and collaboration, leading to a need for more dynamic working environments. 

Building occupiers often hesitate to invest in sustainability in the absence of measurable ROI. There is also growing awareness that maximizing productivity can have a greater financial impact than green strategies. This session shows how to measure the benefits of a sustainability program by also taking into account the impact on productivity. 


Autodesk’s “Green+Productive Workplace” strategy identifies potential gains in both energy AND productivity in three key areas: 

• Energy, water, waste and use of resources 

• Space layout that reflects workflows and an optimum environment for individual tasks, employee interaction and team building 

• Employee Wellness and Productivity including acoustic, visual, IAQ and thermal comfort, and measures benefitting employees’ health, comfort and work-life balance 


JLL’s Green + Productive Workplace is an online application which focuses on measures that balance sustainability with employee wellness, comfort and productivity. The tool first baselines the current state of a portfolio, then identifies the potential energy and productivity gains that could be possible. 


The “3-30-300” rule of thumb states that organizations spend approximately $3 / sf / yr on utilities, $30 for rent and $300 for payroll. According to this model, the greatest financial savings from greening a workplace may not be from energy, but from productivity gains. A 2% energy efficiency improvement would result in savings of $0.06 / sf, but a 2% improvement in  productivity would result in a $6 / sf improvement through increased employee performance.


So as beneficial as energy savings can be, any green investment that increases employee wellness and productivity can have exponentially greater value.


Building Codes and Rating Systems: Carrots or Sticks?

Presented by Fulya Kocak (Director of Sustainability, Clark Construction Group), Anica Landreneau (Principal; Director of Sustainable Consulting, HOK), David Epley (Green Building and Sustainability Coordinator, District of Columbia, Dept. of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs)


Many progressive state and local jurisdictions have begun to develop and adopt forward-thinking green building and energy codes in lieu of, or in conjunction with, LEED certification requirements. At the forefront, the District of Columbia is one of the first jurisdictions to comprehensively adopt the International Green Construction Code (IGCC) as a mandatory code effective as of March 2014. The IGCC worked better for local adaptability, eligibility, exemptions, etc. Also takes out some of the variability of LEED credits and third party enforcement issues. Buy-in from the private sector upfront was critical, through TAG groups.


In this session, the panel discussed: 

1. LEED Certification and the International Green Construction Codes, as each relates to applicability, flexibility, implementation, enforcement. 

2. The District of Columbia’s first Green Codes as a case study, including the adoption, implementation and enforcement process, as well as anticipated cost impacts, barriers and challenges. 

3. Lessons learned and strategies for other jurisdictions that are on the path to adopting the IGCC. 

Transforming Markets though Data Collaboration / The Green Police – Enforcing NYC’s Green Laws


This afternoon session was spent half in one and half in another. 


First, information on the current state of the building materials industry with regards to health and environmental data, tools and services. Recent work by leading materials health organizations to harmonize materials data and tools was discussed, as well as emerging tools and services related to health and environmental materials data. 


Second, a discussion on enforcement of NYC’s four laws that address Benchmarking, Energy Code, Audits / Retro-Commissioning and Lighting / Submetering. One takeaway was that many buildings in NYC, until recently, didn’t have individual water meters. This measure alone has shown to reduce water consumption by a significant margin.


Challenges & Opportunities: Demand Response & Peak Load Reduction

Presented by James Fine (Senior Economist at Environmental Defense Fund), Sila Kiliccote (Research Scientist / Group Leader at LBNL), Mark MacCracken (CEO at CALMAC Mfg. Corp.)


This session addressed the LEED demand response credit requirements, building operators’ interest in and ability to participate in DR programs, and strategies to facilitate cost-effective, large-scale deployments of DR. 


Studying nearly 100 commercial buildings in Las Vegas, Reno, and southern California, research questions address consumer energy use behavior, barriers to participation, performance assessment, customer financial analysis and cost-effectiveness, and environmental and reliability impacts. 

Master Speaker Charles Best (Founder / CEO at is a nonprofit organization which provides a simple way to address educational inequity. The website allows public school teachers to create classroom project requests, where donors can then pick the projects they want to support. The organization was launched 12 years ago out of a Bronx public high school where Charles taught history. is one of Oprah Winfrey's "ultimate favorite things" and was named by Fast Company as one of the "50 Most Innovative Companies in the World," the first time a charity has received this recognition. For three years, Fortune Magazine has named Charles to its "40 under 40 hottest rising stars in business."

Demystifying LEED v4 Envelope Commissioning

Presented by David Altenhofen (East Coast Director, The Façade Group) and Jillian Burgess (Building Enclosure Consultant, The Façade Group)


With pressure for proven energy efficiency measured after occupancy rather than based on predictions, the design and construction of the enclosure faces increasingly stringent demands. 

Building enclosure / envelope commissioning (BECx) activities include everything from early design phase performance modeling to construction phase enclosure testing. BECx is used to ensure that actual energy usage matches predicted usage, to optimize the performance of the enclosure, to ensure that the envelope is coordinated with other systems, and to increase the overall energy efficiency of the building. 


This presentation discussed ASHRAE 0-2005 and NIBS Guideline 3, informed participants of the activities described in the guidelines and most importantly, illustrated how BECx helps to deliver a better building. 


The presentation was structured in three parts: Pre-Design/Design Phase, Performance Modeling/Detailed Design Phase, and Construction Phase. As with MEP commissioning, or perhaps even more so, it was emphasized that BECx should begin early in the design process.

Passivhaus Office: A Real World Case Study

Presented by Pete Choquette (Design & Consulting Department Manager, Epsten Group, Inc), Craig Goldstein (Energy Team Leader, Epsten Group), Stefan Kremeier (Managing Director / Auditor, German Sustainable Building Council)


Passivhaus or ‘Passive House’ was first developed in Germany in the early 1990’s, though it can be applied to commercial, industrial and public buildings in addition to residences. 


A Passivhaus is ‘a building, for which thermal comfort can be achieved solely by post-heating or post-cooling of the fresh air mass, which is required to achieve sufficient indoor air quality conditions – without the need for additional recirculation of air’. 


This means that the heating requirement in a Passivhaus is reduced to the point where a traditional heating system is no longer considered essential. Cooling is also minimized by the same principles and through the use of shading and in some cases via the pre-cooling of the supply air. Night purging and the use of natural cross-ventilation through open windows is encouraged during the summer months. Thermal comfort is achieved to the greatest practical extent through the use of passive measures such as:

  • good levels of insulation with minimal thermal bridges
  • passive solar gains and internal heat sources
  • excellent level of air tightness
  • good indoor air quality, provided by a whole building mechanical ventilation system with highly efficient heat recovery


This Passivhaus office building, NuOffice, is located in Munich, Germany and earned 94 points for LEED-CS 2009 Platinum Certification. 


Strategies implemented included passive ventilation, activated radiant slabs, geothermal systems (geothermal absorption heat pump and free geothermal cooling), exhaust air energy recovery, and photovoltaics. 


This resulted in a building 53% more efficient than the ASHRAE 90.1-2007 Baseline building. 

The Making of a Moonshot: Revolutionizing High-Performance Design

Presented by Lisa Petterson (Assoc. Principal / Director of Sustainability Resources, SERA Architects), Michelle Kaufmann (Co-Founder, Flux), Ken Sanders (Principal / Managing Director, Gensler), Erin McConahey (Principal, Arup)


Most ideas in Google X are killed off in the research and discussion process. A tiny amount (autonomous cars, Google Glass) are commercialized. Some ideas live on as projects in other areas of Google, and a very small amount are spun out. This is one of the latter. 


Moonshots are audacious innovations that have a slim chance of succeeding but might revolutionize the world if they do. The spin-out Flux sets out to reimagine building design for a more sustainable future. 


Over the last year; an AEC team partnered with Vannevar Technology to develop computer tools that accelerate the design process by letting the computers do the heavy lifting (i.e. The Math). The software takes data about the requirements of new buildings, combines it with various data points and creates algorithms that enable building developers and architects to collaborate, input new data and streamline the construction in an efficient way. The software can also help the developers and designers make sustainable site-specific decisions early on.


The resulting prototype provides real time visual interaction; rapid feedback on building energy; water and daylighting performance; engineering calculations; as well as cost and schedule data for multiple design schemes. Flux’s software product won’t be available to the public until potentially the beginning of 2015. It has some early projects in the works now in urban areas, but the company declined to discuss those.



Greenbuild – Day 1




Today was a day of seminars, a bit of expo, and the Keynote Address and celebration at the superdome. More info on all these sessions and speakers here:





I saw several toilet demos (including Kohler's new $6,600 toilet: and an intense demo of the MAAP test with their 1.28 gpf toilet. 





The day kicked off with a presentation on Measuring Sustainability's Impact on Workplace Productivity, with a presentation by Jones Lang Laselle.


Next up was a presentation on Washington DC's adoption of the IGCC. 


Afterwards, an Energy Simulation - LEEDUser Expert Networking Session on the Expo floor. 


Finally, Season 1, Episode 12: The Green Police - Enforcing NYC's Green Laws.




Closing out the day was the Keynote and Plenary at the Superdome.




Greenbuild – Day 2


Started out the day with a lecture on Challenges & Opportunities: Demand Response & Peak Load Reduction. 






Then attended a presentation by Charles Best who discussed, the site he founded. 







Saw the LEED Dynamic Plaque live and in person.



Then spent the afternoon learning about envelope commissioning. 





The LEED CE Hours tracker keeps track of the total continuing education hours earned by conference attendees throughout the conference and expo.Greenbuild – Day 3




Friday was a shorter day with two sessions and the closing plenary. 


Session one included a topic I've heard much buzz about here: Passivhaus ( The session included a real-world case study office building, NuOffice,





Passivhaus principals and advanced strategies and technologies such as passive ventilation; activated radiant slabs; geothermal systems (geothermal absorption heat pump and free geothermal cooling); exhaust air energy recovery; and photovoltaics were applied to design and construct a building 53% more efficient than the ASHRAE 90.1-2007 Baseline building. 




The mechanical system at the Passivhaus NuOffice included district heating and groundwater cooling with absorption heat pumps and concrete core activated radiant heating, with air handling units for ventilation.





In the Expo Hall, Autodesk presented "Rapid Energy Modeling for Existing Buildings". The goal is to generate energy reports which buildings are performing poorly to prioritize retrofit and renovation decisions by evaluating various ECM's. REM is more of a process than a product, which can be performed in one of two ways… in Autodesk Vasari, in beta now through May ( or in Revit with Green Building Studio. REM can fill the analysis gap between utility bill analysis and traditional energy modeling to produce useful results quickly and affordably. 





Similarly, the next session: The Making of a Moonshot, Revolutionizing High Performance Design. Over the last year; an AEC team partnered with Vannevar Technology to develop computer tools that accelerate the design process by letting the computers do the heavy lifting (i.e. Math). The resulting prototype provides real time visual interaction; rapid feedback on building energy; water and daylighting performance; engineering calculations; as well as cost and schedule data for multiple design schemes.