Sustainability Trends: Highlights from Greenbuild 2019

Posted by Joanna Sinclair on November 27, 2019

atlanta skyline greenbuild expo 2019

Last week, Deltek ventured to Atlanta, Georgia to attend Greenbuild International Conference and Expo. With 15,000 attendees, 300 exhibitors and over 200 education sessions, Greenbuild is the largest annual gathering of sustainably-minded AEC professionals.

It’s an event where Architects, Engineers, Contractors, Owners and Building Product Manufacturers talk openly about green building initiatives, challenge each other and commit to implementing innovative methods into future building projects.

If you didn’t have the opportunity to attend the event, or even if you did, here are some highlights and trends you might have missed.

A Conversation with the 44th President

barack obama greenbuild keynote 2019

That’s right! Greenbuild Expo kicked off in a very big way on with a keynote speaker that got thousands of people in line bright and early on a Wednesday morning. President Barack Obama joined USGBC President and CEO Mahesh Ramanujam on stage for a conversation on life after the White House, sustainable building projects and economic impact.

Knowing his audience well, Obama spoke about the relationship between architects and building owners as it pertains to sustainability, citing his own experience overseeing the design and construction of the Barack Obama Presidential Center. The center will be certified at LEED v4 Platinum upon it’s opening in Chicago early next year.

Despite being a well-known advocate of green building initiatives, Obama used a cautious tone when speaking of the reality of executing such projects. At one point he candidly warned the audience to consider the unintended consequences that progressive ideals can sometimes provoke at a local level.

“The way some building codes have been constructed, there’s almost no low-income housing in certain metropolitan areas. Not just no low-income housing… but no middle-class income housing. Teachers and police officers can't live in those areas because of codes that are so onerous it makes construction of affordable housing almost impossible,” he advised.

“If we want to think about sustainability, we have to do it in a way that also considers affordability." This appeal that was met by applause from thousands of audience members.

Sustainability from the Contractor Perspective

contractors and specifications greenbuild 2019

Greenbuild attendees heard directly from General Contractors on their approach and demands for sustainable building projects in an enlightening and highly interactive session titled “Sustainable Product Selection Thru a Contractors Lens.”

This session was presented by Katie Rothenberg, Vice President, Sustainability & Innovation at HITT, Julianne Laue, Director of Building Performance at Mortenson, and Janelle Shapiro Sustainability Director at Webcor. In it they urged design firms to provide clear instructions and ample research on expected sustainability standards and acceptable materials.

“[Contractors], don’t be afraid to help facilitate the specification process if needed. I’m not saying that we should be writing specs, but at the very least, we should be more educated on the world of specs and realize that they end up being a tool for us throughout the project,” said Janelle Shapiro.

Speaking to designers specifically, she continued, “Don’t leave the onus on the contractor to go get twenty EPDs. I wish I could say that works, but it just doesn't. If the project requires certain products, spell them out or even provide a matrix of recommended sustainable products and accepted alternatives.”


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Katie Rothenberg followed that by saying, “Ask architects to list out sustainability instructions and products in each spec division – not just one long list in Division 1 because it will get overlooked once work gets sent out to sub-contractors.”

“Push back on every firm. We need to be demanding quality specs of every architect.”

The presenters also encouraged Contractors to be implementing their own green building baselines, collecting and recording data on highly used sustainable materials, and working closely with building product manufacturers to make sure they always have clear lines of communication with sustainability experts for the inevitable questions that come up during construction.

What Goes Around Comes Around: Designing for Circularity

circular economy education greenbuild 2019

No surprise, the concept of a circular economy was a central theme at Greenbuild. Brands small and large were showcasing their pledge of reusing, refurbishing and properly disposing of building materials and fixtures.

Ron Jarvis, Chief Sustainability Officer of Home Depot, spoke about the company’s recent endeavor to recycle all plastic waste in warehouses across the country. They’ve partnered with the flooring company Trex, who receives truckloads of the plastic waste and uses it to manufacturer outdoor decking, railing, and more.

Companies like Davies Office were on-site at Greenbuild to showcase their remanufactured solutions for office workspaces, furniture and retrofits. Through their business model, they not only empower building owners, designers and occupants to choose sustainable options for office designs but they also help in the responsible removal of it.

Manufacturers like Mecho Shade Systems presented continuing education sessions about product circularity. In one session, they stressed the importance of intentionally implementing circularity into design projects from product research, to design, to deconstruction. This includes planning for disassembly from the earliest phases of the design and specification, rather than leaving it to chance at the end of a building’s life.

Making Green Dreams Reality

Greenbuild is an event where sustainable and environmentally responsible design is normalized, “when” is spoken more than “if”, and seemingly small modifications in behavior can have great impact. For example, every trash bin on-site is supervised by an attendant and becomes an opportunity for gentle reminders on the proper disposal of waste. Attendees and exhibitors alike walk away reminded that we all play a role in building better.

If your firm is working toward incorporating more sustainable design practices into upcoming building projects, reach out to our Specification Solutions team at Deltek. Our team of MasterSpec® content developers work year-round to make sure specifying to sustainable standards and certification, such as LEED v4, is stress-free and manageable for projects large and small.


About the Author

Joanna Sinclair is a marketing manager at Deltek with a focus on Specification Solutions — including MasterSpec®, a product of the American Institute of Architects. Joanna has worked in the building materials and construction space for most of her career and is passionate about connecting design professionals with the resources they need to design and build better.


*The information about brands and services contained in this blog is intended for educational purposes and does not constitute endorsement or recommendation by Deltek. MasterSpec® is a product of the American Institute of Architects and is not commercially influenced by any manufacturers or organizations.