Greenbuild 2013: Rick Fedrizzi Keynote | U.S. Green Building Council
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The 2013 Keynote & Celebration at the annual Greenbuild International Conference & Expo took place on Nov. 21, 2013 in Philadelphia, Penn. Read opening remarks from USGBC's President, CEO and Founding Chair, Rick Fedrizzi.

Hello Greenbuild Nation! From what I’ve seen in the last few days, we are back ladies and gentlemen, as a nation and as a global economy. Nothing could be better for our movement.

I can’t even find the words to describe the energy and excitement I’ve seen in Philadelphia this week. When you walk the halls, the expo floor and the streets of this great city, you come to the conclusion that Philadelphia was exactly the right place to convene Greenbuild Nation at this moment in time.

Philadelphia, as many of you know, is a city of “firsts.” The first public parks and botanical gardens, the first public school and first library, the first bank and the first stock exchange. Of course we all know that the U.S. Constitution was drafted and signed here. The first flag –”OUR” first flag—was sewn here and the first and lasting symbol of our freedom – the Liberty Bell – was “cracked” here!

Philadelphia is where we conceived our liberty and began to build our nation. And when you think about the earliest days of our country—the men and women who founded this Nation, who did the heavy lifting—you can only imagine the incredible opposition and unthinkable issues they might have encountered. When you remember how little they had beyond a profound belief in the rightness of their actions and the unity of their vision one nation under God, indivisible.

Fast forward a couple of hundred years and, wow, the recent events in Washington can only leave you shaking your head. The bipartisan bickering and small minded rhetoric—from both sides— and the divisive posturing and shutdown of the government that we just experienced, shows the huge difference between today’s “win at all cost” form of government and the authentic leadership that was the mindset of those who came together here in Philadelphia in 1776 .

Our founders reached down within themselves to put their differences aside and act, not in their own self-interests, but for the good of Americans yet to be born. Those leaders of this country’s future checked their ideologies, their special interests and their individual wants and needs at the door. They worked together to create a blueprint for a country that was in and of itself noble in purpose and sustainable in execution. Our forefathers and mothers were, in effect, card-carrying, died in the wool, totally committed optimists. You know, the “glass half full” people!

As I’ve thought about what our green building movement has encountered over the past few years, the similarities are unbelievable. Like our founders, we set out with bold leadership. We’ve worked across the entire building continuum to do something important, only to find ourselves sucked into the muck of special interest and bitter politics at a time when no one can afford it. We set out to create a movement that held the promise of a better world for our families, our health and our businesses, only to find ourselves facing organizations committed to preserving their single focused status quo. Like our forbearers, we too find that our vision seems harder and harder to advance, and sometimes feel worn thin from the effort.

As you know from my remarks last year, I was pretty sure there had been a mass distribution of the Scoundrel’s Handbook and that our only response was to declare that "we are right" and fully join the battle.  Yup, I got a little worked up last year!

This year though, I began to think about all that negativity and of the immense amount of work that’s still in front of us and I found myself thinking about another book, the Silver Linings Playbook. Remember the 2012 Oscar-winning awesome movie about a young man with overwhelming personal challenges that threatened to consume him?

In that movie, the main character played by Bradley Cooper, held fast to the belief that the only weapon he had to overcome these challenges was hope. He understood that the only trajectory he needed in his battle against his personal demons was the one that pointed him not into the jaws of battle, but skyward. Not as far as heaven – a little lower.

He believed that if he soared over and above these profound clashes of daily living, he would find inspiration from that higher view and it was from that perspective he was able to fill his heart with optimism and the possibility of success. That’s also the reason he adopted as his personal mantra, Excelsior, which as many of you know in Latin translates roughly to “always upward.”

The irony that Silver Linings Playbook is set in the City of Philadelphia is not lost on me. Don’t misunderstand me, I do believe with all my heart that we are right, but I’ve also come to believe that there is something really important here that I almost missed.

It’s the idea that with every storm cloud that we have faced, there is a silver lining, but we have to look for it. That every time we overcome our challenges, we find ourselves changed for the better. We become more open, less judgmental, more committed to working together and less willing to give up what we believe in. If we just look upwards, the silver linings in our movement are almost blinding.

Here in Philadelphia, where the most profound optimism ever witnessed was unfurled in that great document that starts with we the people, we have gathered one of the largest collections of positive thinkers this world has ever known. We the people are Greenbuild Nation!

Where 30,000 of us have spent the week debating, discussing and celebrating the noble cause of sustainable building. And, believe me, I do not use that word “noble” lightly. In fact, the nobility of the USGBC’s mission of sustainable building, sustainable economic growth and a sustainable harmony with Earth’s resources, is one of the core reasons for my optimism.

I’ll give you a few examples. Let me start with our 77 amazing USGBC chapters. The work our chapters undertake is astonishing – from green schools to green jobs, from better buildings to better policies. In many cities, they are the foundation for most of the work going on in the vast environmental movement.

And it's not just our chapters. Across the world, there are silver linings coming together everywhere you look, creating connective tissue between members of thousands of amazing environmental and social ecosystems.  Some are even self-organizing around evolving patterns of opportunity, taking advantage of technology tools that have only just become available to us. One example is the Sustainability Nexus right here in Philadelphia. It's weaved by the city’s multifaceted sustainability community, including those folks that make up our amazing host chapter, the Delaware Valley Green Building Council, and groups like this all around the globe.

The World Green Building Council (WGBC) now numbers nearly 100 countries and growing, providing that same kind of connection and collaboration changing the political landscape and the physical streetscape in every corner on the planet. One of WGBC’s regional networks, the 35 country- member network in the EU, for example, are coming together to find important solutions to sometimes vastly different regional priorities. Instead of creating armed camps of small differences, they are joining together around what they have in common and using it to move upwards together.

Another example, groups of LEED APs – one in Hong Kong called Platinum, for instance — who have self-organized to support each other and advance the important ideas of green building throughout that part of the world.

These are all examples of people whose optimism and courage far outweigh the rhetoric that says we should simply put a green label on the status quo and call it done. But we are not done – not even close. We have a lot more work to do.

Look, we’ve all seen the numbers that make us feel good about what we have been able to accomplish so far. How many square feet of space is being LEED certified globally every single day. How many LEED professional credential holders there are. How many member companies we have and what their employee populations are.

But there are some other numbers that underscore the reasons why we’re actually able to accomplish what we are all trying really hard to accomplish and they fuel an optimism of yet unimagined proportions. Consider this: today, the global internet population numbers 2.1 billion people. And every minute of every day, nearly 285 million emails are sent every single minute! 570 new websites are created. More than 3,000 new photos are uploaded to Flickr and the same number are shared on Instagram. Every minute, folks! 29,000 Tumblr blogs are published. 47,000 apps are downloaded by Apple. 100,000 tweets are sent. 685,000 shares happen on Facebook. 48 hours of new video are uploaded every single minute!

This social media phenomenon topples governments, elects leaders and helps to fuel the transformation within the growing community of those of us who believe in, and support, sustainability.  When this many people can talk to each other about what they care deeply about, when they can seamlessly collaborate, they can and they are changing the world.

We’ve used the power of our wireless world to create a strong central nervous system for our movement, but it’s the distributed intelligence of that system that gives it such great power. It enables tools like the Green Building Information Gateway (GBIG), where people can find new ways to put a fine point on the best strategies, validate them, valuate them and send them in real time, around the world.

It inspires programs like the Green Apple Day of Service, where we dispersed the energy of people in 41 countries and all 50 states to make substantive improvements in over 2,100 schools and more than 2.5 million students’ lives.  100% of our chapters joined together, recruiting almost 250,000 people to convince the world that where our kids learn really does matter! It matters so much, that we have just launched the Global Coalition for Green Schools with a list of 30 countries from around the world who have committed to using the USGBC’s Center for Green Schools model to build national efforts within their own countries.

This distributed intelligence is what allows partners to seamlessly connect with each other, so they can work together to advance our goal of putting every child on the planet in a green school within this generation. And it’s also what links our advocates, our members and chapters, our volunteers and staff when we need to act because the worst has happened. When Katrina happens. When Greensburg happens. When Sandy happens and, just two weeks ago, when Typhoon Haiyan happened. When an earthquake takes the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere where things were already desperate, and makes things vastly worse. 

Most of you know that, since 2010, we’ve used every one of these tools to gather the resources together – the land, the partners and the dollars – to build an orphanage and children’s center in Haiti. We knew it wouldn’t be easy to build anything in the rubble that was left after the earthquake and that’s proven to be an understatement. But we felt if we could build this one facility to house these children, we would have done something important. You learn a lot by getting your hands dirt, by actually doing, not just talking. By building a LEED Platinum orphanage, that these children deserve, we could create a model for resilient, green design that could be a replicable model for a world in need.

In September, we had the honor of announcing that Project Haiti would from now on be known as The William Jefferson Clinton Children’s Center. Thanks to President Clinton in that one act we’ve been able to ignite our fundraising efforts and expect to celebrate its completion at Greenbuild next year in New Orleans. Many thanks are owed to our board chair Al Skodowski for his tireless work; to Roger Limoges on my staff, who has been on point on this project since the very beginning; to Mary Ann Lazarus and HOK for their generous pro bono contributions of design; and to Paul Scialla and Delos Living, who has become the single largest contributor to date on this important effort.

Ladies and gentlemen, every single one of these are examples of the silver linings made possible by our movement and they may ultimately prove a greater force of hope than any storm of politics and special interest can even imagine. In our work to bring sustainability to every community on the planet and use the power of green building to do so, we’ve begun to see first hand what real market transformation looks like.

It looks like the growing list of Fortune 500 companies who are using the massive weight of their supply chains to drive transparency into materials, so we can begin to make positive changes in our products that enhance our health – not compromise it.

It looks like pension funds who want an accounting for how companies are going to handle the risks of climate change and it looks like banks, mortgage and insurance companies telling the world that green homes are quality homes – and they deserve to have favorable financing and lower insurance premiums.

It looks like LEED v4, passed by 86% of our member consensus body, and it looks like this dynamic plaque that measures real time building performance.

It looks like Greenbuild, not just in the U.S., but the spanking brand new Greenbuild's we are doing with our new global partner Hanley Wood in Italy and Brazil in 2014.

And it looks like USGBC’s double down on the profound connection between human health and the built environment, by announcing today the establishment of a Center for Green Building and Human Health at USGBC. Modeled after the Center for Green Schools, our intent is to leverage USGBC’s unique convening and communications capacity to advance evidence-based changes in how we build and operate our buildings and communities to improve our health and enhance our well-being.

What this all means is that despite some lingering shrill voices at the edges of civilization as we know it, research indicates that more people support the notion of sustainable buildings and communities than don’t. We’ve expanded far beyond our core of believers and even beyond our large base, that believes sustainability is morally and intellectually the right thing to do.

We have finally convinced the world that sustainability is more than just best practices in environmentalism. It is also a best practice of capitalism and companies that are embedding sustainability into their DNA – not just their CSR reports – are finding their bottom lines healthier, their toplines growing, their employees more engaged and their stars rising on Main Street and Wall Street.

These are all silver linings and there are thousands more.

They give us hope for our movement, for our economy, for our planet and for our future. And every one of them is built on the same simple premise: that we link hands, not cross swords. That we spend our precious energy plowing common ground, not seeding distrust. That we lead together with courage and compassion to achieve our shared vision of health, prosperity and a sustainable future for ourselves and our children.

We can’t do it alone folks! So my simple message to anyone still on the fence is this: JOIN US!

American Chemistry Council, join us, and let’s use our combined arsenal of intelligence and resources to show all the amazing ways the chemical industry has benefitted humanity and how by working together, we can create safer and healthier buildings and communities.

Join us all legitimate rating systems. BREEAM and CASBE, ESTIDAMA and DGNB, GREEN STAR and China Three Star. Let’s share our data and work together to achieve the level of performance that will give us the future we want.

Join us Wall Street and help us use the power of the market to reward those that are driving the next great wave of innovation and growth in our global economy.

Join us Congress. Join the mayors of your great cities who are doing the heavy lifting, and who we all know could move faster, with your leadership and support from Washington. Let’s pack up our small tents of special interest and move into the big tent of collaboration and common purpose. Join us and together we’ll find the renewed commitment, rekindled passion and the sense of fulfillment that goes with doing something that really matters.

Out of common frustration together we can achieve great clarity. With that clarity, we can create a million silver linings of progress, accomplishment and hope. We can get there a lot faster, ladies and gentlemen, if we go there together!