Top Takeaways from Greenbuild 2019

Greenbuild conference 2019 in Atlanta, GA

Greenbuild 2019 was held in Atlanta at the Georgia World Congress Center, several SIG team members got to attend all or parts of the conference. Three team members share their top takeaways.

From Jenn Mahon,
Senior Sustainability Consultant
WELL AP, LFA, GGP, Fitwel Ambassador, LEED Green Associate

Overall, this was a great Greenbuild – the sessions proved to be very informative and the speakers were well vetted out – can’t beat having it in ATL near SIG HQ


  • was announced as a hub for all our material documentation needs – an improvement that we’ve been waiting for since LEEDv4 rolled out! These are pre-verified for LEED documentation
  • For those overwhelmed with material transparency: look to LCAs to see where you need to start – focus on the short list. Look at materials you are typically using, vet that out first
  • Consider letting manufacturers know when you DON’T use their product: Feedback loop to suppliers lets them know where they need to improve – change won’t happen without that. Look at your purchasing power – and use that as a benefit for good
  • Don’t rely on the certifications to get you there – the conversation happens outside of the certification

Top Tip: In order to roll out a company wide Materials standard, start by partnering with companies with similar values to you.


  • Companies are starting to calculate their carbon in operations and material use to be more cautious
  • Granular Emissions Calculation (new pilot credit in the works!) – looking at the emissions of the grid and allowing users to focus on the timing and location of electricity usage to displace ‘dirty’ electricity


  • I participated in the GBCI/IWBI WELL Assessor training that occurred prior to the start of Greenbuild. Assessors are team members that go on site once construction ends to perform all of the Water, Air, Thermal, Light, and Sound testing necessary for WELL certification.
  • In WELL v2, GBCI is allowing projects to hire a third party company for the assessment of their buildings – WELL v1 will still be tested through GBCI. This allows for more competitive pricing, and options more local to projects.

From Asa Posner,
Senior Sustainability Manager

  1. As in past years where there’s been distinct focusing on a particular theme – health and wellbeing, resilience, etc. – this year, there was a distinct focus on “Zero”. Net-zero or net-positive carbon, energy, water, waste, and overall impact.
  2. Really enjoyed the revised format of the conference this year. A reduction in the quantity of the sessions resulted in a distinct improvement in the quality. Additionally, the daily keynotes were great ways to break up the day.
  3. Enjoyed BuildingGreen’s session on their Top-10 Products for 2019.  Specifically interesting were the Smart Blue Roof stormwater system, a magnetic bearing centrifugal chiller, and eco-smart drywall panels that generate 20% less CO2 emissions and use 25% less water during the manufacturing process.
  4. Favorite quote from the conference: “Partnership is the new leadership.”
  5. Hearing President Obama speak was simply amazing. In discussing the telling of stories, which directly relates to sustainability, he said “in order to create a memory, you have to touch the heart.”

From Kathy Grawe,
Marketing Specialist

This was my first Greenbuild which I thoroughly enjoyed and learned a lot. I also helped out with two tours which will be featured in an upcoming blog.

Opening Keynote by Barack Obama, a talk on sustainability
The issue of climate change is most urgent and we can be too late. Sustainability must include affordability, pay attention to the economics. Make sure we are leaving a legacy, we determine the world we leave behind.

Assembling a team needs diversity, a set of different perspectives who can correct each other’s blind spots including your own. Junior status does not count less than the senior person.

The phone and virtual communities will not replace real communities.

Huge increases in carbon footprint, look at how big houses have gotten. How much space do we need? Sustainability is about consuming less. Less is more.

Urban Trails for Health and Equity Session
Savannah’s Urban Trail System is called Tide to Town, a 30-mile trail system that will provide safe walking and bike trails that will connect all of Savannah’s neighborhoods. Many residents need the trails for transportation.

Healthy Savannah was also mentioned in this presentation which was launched by Savannah’s Mayor Otis Johnson in 2007. This initiative was designed to help make Savannah a healthier place to live.

Designing for Dignity: Serving through Sustainable Design for Vulnerable Populations Session

Why design for dignity?

  • Increasing Life Expectancy
  • Americans are having less children
  • Increased strain on Social Security
  • Increasing Chronic Illness and Memory Loss

Long Term Care projections

  • 2000: 10 Million
  • 2014: 13 Million
  • 2050: 27 Million

Affordable Housing projections

  • Number of cost-burdened aging households is increasing
  • Need for affording living and care communities is increasing

Sunrise Senior Living infill project
The implementation of Sunrise Senior Living (near D.C.) in Old Town Alexandria which involved tearing down an existing building and replacing it and then pursuing LEED and Fitwel. Old Town Alexandria was on board with the Sunrise infill project. City Council had requested more affordable housing.

Making the Grade: An Update in America’s Aging Infrastructure Session

In America there are:

  • 188 million bridges
  • There are over 15,000 dams and the average age is 56 years old
  • Almost 15,000 wastewater treatment plants

Cost to the economy is 3.9 trillion

Preparation for the future is to develop active community resilience programs

Georgia has the Georgia Safe Dams Program

  • Many dams are privately owned and the costs of dam operation and maintenance are substantial

Emergency Action Plans (EAPS) need to be put in place

Gwinnett County has a population of 1 million, 30% of the population is on septic tanks. There are 80,000 septic tanks in Gwinnett County.

In the Atlanta area there are an average of 470 water main breaks per year. A major water main break in an Atlanta county caused no water for 3 days.

Georgia’s 2019 Infrastructure Report Card earned an overall GPA of C+

Highest Score
Aviation B+

Lowest Scores
Transit D+
Wastewater D+
Dams D

Learn more about Georgia’s report card as well as other states here.

Rural Studio Session

This was a wonderful presentation from Rural Studio which is a field-based program that gives Auburn University architecture students a hands-on opportunity to design and build homes in areas of rural Alabama that are poverty stricken. Located in the black belt in Alabama, with black soil which equals an agriculture powerhouse. These are historic areas of extraction where natural resources were taken but not replaced.

The key initiatives of this program are:

  • From knowledge to know how
  • The best way to learn is to do it
  • Taking on complex problems in their community
  • Collaborative program
  • Good design is for everyone both rich and poor
  • Students do the work, work is client driven

See completed projects by Rural Studio

The Front Porch Initiative

  • Contributes to the fostering of community
  • Aging in place
  • Need a high level of craft
  • Developed a product line
  • Houses are small, high performance, and titled as real property

My top takeaway from this presentation is that the need for affordable, durable housing is great everywhere but especially in remote areas. We are all aging in place right!

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