Rick Fedrizzi

16 November 2012 – On GreenBuild 2012, green rockstars and how to win the war against the forces of unpronounceable stuff that kills us

It’s presidential, rockstar, thumping. It’s the opening of GreenBuild 2012 in San Francisco, with Rick Fedrizzi, US Green Building Council founder and chief executive as star attraction/leader/guru/über-inspirationalist.

Suddenly we get a glimpse of what the New Hampshire primaries must be like – or whatever media/mass hysteria it is that catapults the new US president from the top of the Hollywood sign in LA to Washington DC and keeps him there for four years.

There are 35,000 people expected through the turnstiles. There are 7000 people in the room. All the chairs are, surprisingly, on the same level. There’s no tiered hierarchy of Roman amphitheatre here, it’s strictly egalitarian. And for a visitor from anywhere outside the States, of which there are many from the World GBC contingent of 85 or so countries, it’s an awesome example of the kind of  big media/political spectacles that this country does so well.

Compensating for the huge audience is the biggest bank of high definition screens you’re ever likely to see, with multiple messaging, and range of separate video clips and stills. The idea is to fully capture and contain any errant micro-focus of the brain that might think to drift away.

The music rocks and drowns out the senses and the hair on the back of the neck does its thing and stands to attention.

First, the warm up. It’s suitably impressive and almost steals the show: a $3 million “grant” from Google (we thought only governments gave grants). It’s to help fund the investigation by the USGBC into toxicity in building materials that will be a centrepiece of LEED v4 under development. Key is transparency, says USGBC’s Scot Horst who bounds on to the stage to announce the deal and says how badly it’s needed.

He hints at counter forces. And after a press conference he elaborates a little to The Fifth Estate. We’ve been tipped off: the PVC industry and their pals in the giant and powerful chemical industry are trying to “muddy the waters” by setting up their own institute for “high performance” buildings, we’re told. (Bad luck if these high performers leave you gasping in an oxygen tank or riddled with tumours).

Horst tells us that the tactic is to cast doubt on the science of toxic materials disclosure, (straight from Climate Denial 101). And this despite USGBC employing 50 researchers in-house to develop LEED v4 and another 50 volunteers assisting.

Already, Horst says, this chemical lobby has convinced 40 senators to sign declarations to stop the governments from having anything to do with LEED in their property portfolios.

Back to the plenary, (we needed that breather), it’s Fedrizzi’s turn. He leaps onto the stage, emotional six-guns blazing, but also a rock of grounded determination.

His delivery is faultless – even the slightest stumbles he turns into positives: “I’m going to say this right”, he emphasises on one point – “because it’s so important”.

When he lists the convoluted names of chemical compounds in toxic building materials that LEED is struggling with, he says, “if you can’t even pronounce these things, why are we building with them?”  Your mind immediately pictures things like timber  and  stone.

He takes the big picture and talks righteousness, and aligns the green movement and climate activism with the big equity campaigns in history: women; blacks, workers.

All of these had their fierce detractors because they challenged the status quo. But all won out in the end because they had right on their side, he says.

It’s compelling and the audience is inspired. So is the industry.

This man is an agitator of the first order. (See Fedrizzi’s Huff Post blogs) He has to be.

He and the green building movement have taken the most lumbering, heavyweight industry there is; one that builds the most imposing complex structures on the planet, often taking years to complete. And asked its leaders to add another layer of burdensome procedures and change the way they do nearly everything. Then prove it.

Fedrizzi and the whole GBC movement have their detractors, but it’s mainly detractors born of the movement’s success. People now want more green, better green and wider notions of sustainability.

For those who want to stop the process though, and wind back the clock, Fedrizzi says, “bring it on”.

“In LEED v4 we’re turning on the light, because as leaders, we will always fight for more information, more transparency, and more accountability,” he says.

“If you claim to be the best, if you claim to be healthier, prove it. Do you have a great product? Prove it.”

And they do and have done, in droves.

LEED is sweeping the US and in various localised iterations it’s sweeping the world.

More to come
There’s so much more to say about GreenBuild. And this will come through in future issues.

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