GREENBUILD 2005: Let The Good Times Roll

Bill Walsh | November 03, 2005 | Policies

Like New Orleans, Greenbuild is a one-of-a-kind experience. The crowds are teeming, the culture is inviting, the optimism is infectious, and the good times roll with a confidence bordering on indifference to the surrounding forces that could swamp it all.

The USGBC's ambitious initiative to host a series of Greenbuild mini-charettes in order to embed sustainable strategies in Gulf Coast rebuilding signals the relevance and strength of the green building movement. According to President, CEO & Founding Chair Rick Fedrizzi, "[T]he USGBC is committed to providing our specific expertise to helping the citizens . . . restore their communities as viable, vital, healthy and productive places, as quickly as possible and in a way that support them in the long term." But long before Katrina's impact, far too many communities were rendered unviable, unproductive, and unhealthy by the very same Gulf region industrial forces that menace Fedrizzi and other leaders in the green building movement today.

Most of America's PVC production originates in Gulf communities of Texas and Louisiana. Writing in the Austin American-Statesman, my colleague Paul Bogart recently chronicled the shameful story of the Formosa PVC factory in Point Comfort, Texas.[1] On October 6, it became the second Formosa owned PVC plant to explode since the USGBC's PVC Task Force began considering whether or not vinyl avoidance warrants a LEED credit five years ago. Not 300 miles east of Point Comfort, are the communities of Mossville and Lake Charles, Louisiana, where residents have charged in a complaint to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that the unhealthy and hazardous conditions caused by polyvinylchloride (PVC) and related industries violate fundamental human rights to life, health, and racial equality. Ten years ago Louisiana groups set environmental justice precedents when they blocked construction of the nation's largest PVC production plant proposed for Convent, Louisiana, located in the Mississippi River corridor known as Cancer Alley.

Louisiana's environmental legacy may explain why two men with deep ties to its petrochemical industry -- Louisiana's former Secretary of Commerce and a former chemical industry lobbyist -- are leading the American Institute of Architects' aggressive campaign to gain state and federal recognition for the Vinyl Institute-sponsored Green Globes rating system.[2] Despite a lack of any apparent architectural experience, the duo ignored the AIA's Committee On The Environment (COTE) and has played hallelujah chorus to trade associations that spent last summer publicly discrediting LEED. That the same trade associations simultaneously prevailed in pressuring the USGBC to reverse a long-standing policy barring trade association membership signals the high stakes involved for all parties.

Greenbuild is an opportunity to reassert the green building movement's values as a dam against the greenwash surge. Member's Day provides a forum to discuss these issues with the USGBC leadership and Board of Directors candidates. The mini-charettes are an opportunity to honor the well-established environmental health and justice values in the region. Other conference sessions and related events (listed below) are invitations to strengthen the natural bond between sound principles of environmental stewardship and green building. Let the good times roll.


Thursday, November 10, 3-4:30pm, Bill Walsh will be on the "Ethics in Green Building" panel, along with Jason McLennan of BNIM Architects, Monique Harden of Advocates for Environmental Human Rights, and Fletcher Harper of GreenFaith.

HBN's Leadership Awards will be presented at our event on Thursday, November 10 from 5-7 PM at the Rialto Theater, located at 80 Forsyth Street, just a 10-minute walk from Greenbuild.

Visit HBN's Table 12 in the Exhibition Hall to get the latest information, meet HBN staff, and get walking directions to HBN's Leadership Awards.


[1] "Why This Texas Town Might Not Want to Breathe Easy" oped, Austin American-Statesman, October 21, 2005

[2] See HBNews: "Conflicts of Interest at the American Institute of Architects: Trade Associations Set the Greenwash Agenda" July 19, 2005.