Green in Beantown

Slow economy doesn’t stop record-breaking Greenbuild
By Heather West and Mark Long
February 1, 2009

It was clear from the moment one approached the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center that the 2008 Greenbuild International Conference and Expo was different from other architectural and construction shows. Thousands of people braved the chilly air, Nov. 19-21, to experience a show that dwarfed the 2007 Expo. According to the U.S. Green Building Council, registered attendance reached more than 28,200, 25 percent higher than in 2007.

The size and scope of the 2008 Greenbuild re-emphasizes that “green” is not just a trend in the construction industry, but the new standard on which many, and eventually all, building projects will be based. The average age of the attendees was on the young side, but that did not speak to a lack of experience or knowledge. “These were easily among the most knowledgeable people I have ever talked to in my booth,” said Kevin Robinson, regional sales manager, Wausau Window and Wall Systems, Wausau, Wis, a veteran of many trade shows.

“There was such a sense of excitement and passion for the entire green movement. Inquiries were very direct and detailed,” said Mary Olivier, marketing specialist for Tubelite Inc., Walker, Mich. She and other exhibitors noted that Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design points and certification were the main topics of the attendees’ questions, but they also wanted to see the exhibitors’ products displayed in real-world applications.

Dublin, Ga.-based YKK AP America Inc.’s collaboration on Project FROG, Flexible Response to Ongoing Growth, was the most visible example of this. Assembled outside at the main entrance of the convention center, the Project FROG classroom hosted educational sessions while highlighting the integration of energy-efficient building products and green design. The modular buildings are meant to replace the standard trailers that many schools use for classrooms. Since daylighting is managed with sun shades and Solarban 70XL glass from PPG Industries, Pittsburgh, and with active photovoltaic panels on the roof, a Project FROG classroom could generate more energy within its footprint than is required to operate its systems.

Kawneer Co., of Norcross, Ga., featured its Advanced Façade Display, showing attendees how products work together to harvest the benefits of sunlight. The display incorporated an energy-efficient curtain wall with sun shades and a light shelf, solar panels from Suntech, China, and 2-inch VE1-2M triple insulating glass from Viracon, Owatonna, Minn.

In its own booth, Viracon introduced its VUE-50 high-performance, insulating glass featuring a balance of light, comfort, solar performance and sustainability. While Guardian Industries, Auburn Hills, Mich., introduced its SunGuard CrystalGray, a combination of the company’s CrystalGray float glass with the latest SunGuard coatings. Solatube International Inc., Vista, Calif., presented commercial examples of its newest tubular daylighting devices.

Lou Podbelski, vice president, Sage Electrochromics, Faribault, Minn., said “quite a few attendees were familiar with electrochromic technology.” Sage’s electronically tinting glass reduces unwanted heat gain and glare, and blocks 98 percent of solar radiation that causes fading, thereby reducing the need and cost to replace furnishings, carpets and wall coverings.

Beyond products and projects, Greenbuild attendees asked about the green practices of the manufacturers. Tom Minnon, LEED AP and northern regional sales manager with YKK AP, said he received many inquiries about the Cradle to Cradle (C2C) certification for the ThermaShade system. McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry, Charlottesville, Va., evaluates products, recyclability and manufacturing sustainability to certify as C2C Basic, Silver, Gold or Platinum.

In the quest for ultimate energy efficiency and renewability, Greenbuild attendees asked previously sensitive questions: How well do aluminum frames really insulate? Can recycled aluminum be used in commercial window systems? Manufacturers have risen to the occasion with answers. Traco of Cranberry Township, Pa. introduced its Nexgen Technology that provides insulating U-values in its framing comparable to wood. Southwall Technologies Inc., Palo Alto, Calif., announced its new, commercial product line of its energy-efficient Heat Mirror insulating glass, and noted that its existing product already meets or exceeds the Energy Star window standards proposed for 2013. YKK’s ThermoShades and Special-Lite Inc’s entrance products include recycled aluminum. Wausau Window and Wall Systems also offers its window and curtain wall systems with recycled content, thermal barriers, and no- or low-VOC finishes.

Helping continue attendees’ conscientious product selection, Don McCann, manager of Viracon’s architectural design group, noted, “We will be introducing a new AIA/CES course with an emphasis on sustainability in early 2009. The attendees are asking, ‘What can you do to help us to do our jobs better and easier?’ We’re talking a lot about how we can help them meet code and manage energy costs. When gas hit $4 per gallon, energy costs were top-of-mind. The Europeans have been dealing with this for years. In the United States, although the fuel costs have come down a little, this is still a chief concern.”

The economy was a hot topic amongst exhibitors and attendees, but not in the expected way: Exhibitors promoted green building as long-term solutions for cost savings. With the uncertainty of future energy prices and sources, many manufacturers focused on building integrated photovoltaics. Both Oldcastle Glass, Santa Monica, Calif., and Schüco USA, Newington, Conn. had prominent BIPV displays on the show floor. “Our display has a ‘wow’ effect,” said Tanja Brinks, Schüco’s deputy marketing manager. After wooing and wowing, Brinks brings the message into focus: “In these times, it’s more important to act ethically and correctly, and to invest more now for the greater pay-off in the future.”
All of the companies interviewed for this article had plans to exhibit again at the Greenbuild Expo 2009 in Phoenix. Many of them already had reserved larger booths. The economy might be unstable, but the green building movement is on a solid foundation.

The authors are owners of Heather West Public Relations, Minneapolis. They can be reached at

  • 2008 Greenbuild International Conference and Expo

    28,224 registered attendees 

    From all 50 states

    From 85 countries 

    From six continents 

    25 percent increase over Greenbuild 2007 

    807 exhibitors in about 145,000 square feet of exhibit space 

    68 percent more exhibitors than last year

    62 percent more square footage

    Source: U.S. Green Building Council, Washington, D.C.