The 2011 GreenBuild in Toronto drew some 23,000 architects, landscape architects, planners, engineers, and product manufacturers. While sessions explored the nitty-gritty of designing and implementing green communities, landscapes, and buildings, Tom Friedman, columnist for The New York Times and co-author, most recently, of That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back, took a step back and discussed the need to transform the growing yet still niche green building industry into a broad-based movement. Then, the U.S. Green Building Council, through its choice of headline speakers, also made the case that more effective public communications strategies, along with publicly-accessible data and clearer data visualizations, will be central to making this revolution happen.
Friedman, who took quite a while to get to the core of his argument at the GreenBuild opening session, eventually made some powerful statements: There’s a lot of greenwashing out there right now. Making things greener seems to be like a “big party,” where everyone benefits. However, what’s really needed is a green revolution in the vein of the information technology revolution, where companies survived or died based on how fast they innovated. In other words, an economic environment needs to be created in which businesses that fail to go green simply go out of business. The other side of a total and pervasive green revolution would be the removal of the word “green” before the “green building industry.” In effect, the U.S. Green Building Council would become the U.S. Building Council. Friedman believes all of this will happen only when the U.S. puts a price on carbon. (While his argument holds great merit, it’s also worth noting that Friedman didn’t discuss how many communities are putting prices on other types of pollution, like toxic stormwater runoff. Innovative cities like Philadelphia are setting the trend in ramping up fees for stormwater runoff, which has the added benefit of incentivizing green infrastructure).
To make this green revolution happen, GreenBuild organizers seemed to say via their speaker selection, there needs to be more effective public communications strategies, more publicly-accessible data, and clearer data visualizations. Natalie Jeremijenko, a funny and innovative artist, engineer, and professor at NYU (see earlier post), brilliantly illustrated how to communicate that the “environment is directly implicated in our collective health” through creative installations designed to garner attention.
John Picard, an early innovator in the green building movement, went on to call for an easy to understand Web-based tool for visualizing the energy buildings use, which could be accessed by both homeowners and building managers. He called this “game changer” SoftPower, and said it would be the “Facebook of Energy.” Picard then saw a new market coming out of energy efficiency, with energy-smart buildings becoming “ibuildings” that only grow in value. Data from all buildings would be hosted in the cloud, enabling comparisons across buildings, neighborhoods, cities, and countries.
Lastly, Lisa Strausfeld, formerly a top information architect and data visualization designer at Pentagram, explained the importance of smart energy data visualizations. She explained how “bruteforce” innovations like Google Maps and its amazing Google street view system, along with new “protocols” such as Twitter, Facebook, Email, and TCP/IP are changing the world. In the same vein, she said LEED is on the “same trajectory of success.” With all these powerful new technologies, data is “what’s next.” Furthermore, in order to measure our impact on the environment, we need to “visualize that data.” However, these visualizations need to be smart and turn the “unfamiliar into the familiar.” As an example, she pointed to her firm’s work for G.E. visualizing data on household energy use. Also, the visualizations need to make “real time data transparent,” so predictions about future energy use can be more easily made.
Image credit: ASLA 2011 Student Awards General Design Honor. Co-Modification Joseph Kubik, Student ASLA, Graduate, University of Pennsylvania. Faculty Advisor: Mark Thomann