It’s hot here in Atlanta. In more ways than one.
This morning during his keynote address, Interface chairman Ray Anderson, author of Mid-Course Correction, told a packed ballroom that 12,000 people had registered to attend this year’s Greenbuild, the annual U.S. Green Building Council conference. He reminisced about the first such conference ten years ago in Big Sky, Montana, when 135 visionary souls showed up. “The point is, something’s happening,” he said. “A new day is dawning.”
I don’t love these conferences, honestly. There’s something inherently wrong about sequestering ourselves in windowless, brutally over-air-conditioned rooms and talking about connecting with the earth that just doesn’t work for me. I’m not all that good at “networking” in these big groups; I like smaller, less rigid settings. Yet I come every year to get a sense of where green building has landed and where it’s going. And Ray is right…something’s definitely happening.
I’m fascinated and repulsed by the exhibit hall, which I have to check out in small doses. The evil Vinyl By Design group is here, passing out doo-dads made from the recycled remnants of Central Parks’ 'The Gates' exhibit. (I did always wonder what the heck they were going to do with all that vinyl when the exhibit came down…) I couldn’t quite make out what was green about many of the exhibitors. But the corporatization is telling, as is the fact that the showroom floor was sold out. Everybody wants a piece of this green thing, whether their products are truly environmental or not.
But maybe despite myself (because I’ve become a little bit cynical about the “usual suspects” who tend to keynote these things), I left the opening plenary session completely inspired. I was right with Biomimicry author Janine Benyus when she said, “I dream for this community that as we grow larger and more diverse, that we grow proportionately wiser.”
And I love the change in Natural Capitalism author Paul Hawken’s new tone; an infamous pessimist for years, he titled his address “Chicken Big.” “There’s an extraordinary movement about,” he declared. “People are reclaiming their rights to restore the world.” Paul ran a video showing names of local groups working for environmental and social justice; as the names rolled across the screen, he told us that to view all of them, we’d have to stay in that frigid ballroom until the end of November. His point was that small groups are forming not in pursuit of a Big Idea or a movement such as environmentalism, but just to address what needs to be addressed in their worlds. “Big ideas have been killing us for centuries,” Paul said. “This is not another ‘ism.’ It’s totally pragmatic.”
Toward the end of the day, I ran into my friend Kevin Salwen of Worthwhile magazine, who’s taking this blog thing to new heights. Worthwhile is podcasting from the show; you can go in and download reports and interviews with the luminaries who are there. It’s the next best thing to being here—and you get to control the temperature while you listen.