At the GreenBuild 2013 conference last month Howard and I led a session on dematerializing the built environment by focusing on resource performance—that is, how the least material mass in a building or structure can deliver the greatest benefits to all stakeholders as well as the environment. While it is important to consider the carbon footprint, toxicity and environmental impacts of building materials, the reality is that massive structures tie up enormous amounts of resources and create an unnecessary economic burden—both initially and throughout their lifespan.  Innovations in materials and information sciences including adaptive materials, materials that can be grown rather than manufactured,technologies for decentralized energy harvesting, and light-weighting design strategies are already enabling buildings, infrastructure and systems to function better while using less mass to construct and operate. Despite barriers such as code restrictions, risk aversion, reluctance to change and limited market presence, progress is being made by sharing knowledge and experiences, developing straightforward metrics for measuring resource performance and increasing access to information about innovations. Conferences such as GreenBuild that bring together committed, intelligent and passionate members of the green building community are a critical step toward accelerating this trajectory. Since the last time I attended GreenBuild (Chicago 2007), the focus of vendors in the exhibition hall has moved from marketing products and technologies as “green” to a commitment to providing environmentally friendly solutions. An increased level of professionalism was evident in substantive conversations with vendors and exhibitors about verified product content and performance levels. Neither vendors nor customers are satisfied with mere claims; both are committed to demonstrable and data-backed results.

With energy, new ideas and a strong systems perspective, the emerging leaders in green building are pushing the industry forward in exciting directions—and using technology and networks to accelerate the pace. The established leaders are welcoming this promising new talent and their diverse interests, perspectives and connections, by creating pathways to integrate new ideas for improving building performance.  These emerging trends in systems thinking and a collaborative, cross-industry approach are shaping an exciting future for green building.

Reaching out to and engaging the public will also play a major role in the next phase of green building. A central message from Hillary Clinton’s keynote was that all stakeholders in the built environment—from professionals to members of the community—will need to have a more active voice in improving building performance and influencing optimized design choices.  Professionals working in green building should expand outreach beyond their industries and engage stakeholders at all levels in order to accelerate the pace toward resource performance and innovation.

Achieving “Naked Value” or the pure benefits decoupled from the products or technologies used to get there, and resource performance are clearly on the radar of GreenBuild attendees—from adaptive tiles and anti-bacterial surfaces modeled after biological systems, to radiant flooring and glazing technologies that provide thermal control with minimal HVAC systems. In addition to our presentation, the concept of dematerialization appears to be entering the green building lexicon. I heard the term used by two other presenters, including Building Green magazine’s editor Nadav Malin, and Mark Hubbert from Terrapin Bright Green, and one of my colleagues at Atelier Ten heard it used in a healthy products seminar. In addition to attendees from EcoBuilding Pulse who were impressed by our new way of looking at materials’ resource performance,  manufacturers, consultants, and architects are ready to embrace a resource-based perspective, and leverage innovative technologies, strategies and processes that deliver greater benefits using fewer resources.

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