Skip to content
November 19, 2009 / or4green

GreenBuild 2009, Part I

photo by Brian Maggi

Last week, thanks to some CGA civil engineering colleagues, I attended the 2009 Greenbuild International Conference and Expo in Phoenix. Greenbuild is run by the U.S. Green Building Council, the group responsible for LEED green building certification. It was an impressive event with over 28,000 attendees, dozens of educational sessions and hundreds of expo exhibitors. All aspects of building were covered from the green perspective: walls, floors, lighting, plumbing, HVAC, steel, stone, aluminum, wood, etc.

A couple of key themes emerged. First, during the design phase, greater emphasis is being placed on the future operations of a building. With increasing and uncertain fuel costs, concerns about global warming, indoor air quality, etc., more attention is being paid to how a building will function from the energy and environmental stand-point. And there is greater willingness to pay more up front to lessen operating and difficult-to-measure health costs.

Second, implementing LEED in existing buildings (the LEED-EB standard) has become increasingly important. This makes a lot of sense because the number of existing buildings in need of retrofit far exceeds the amount of new construction, and as was mentioned before here and elsewhere, new construction typically requires vastly greater amounts of energy and natural resources, even if it is green.

Along these lines, there was an interesting session entitled Transforming Cities: New Research and Growing Opportunities for the U.S. Green Retrofit Marketplace. Speakers included architects and commercial property managers. The session opened with mention of a McGraw Hill Construction study indicating strong interest in green building retrofits. According to the study, 5-9% of renovations were green in 2009, a number that is projected to increase. A large portion of the green renovations had to do with energy efficiency. And these resulted in good energy and water savings. In addition, brand name recognition as green has grown significantly over the past five years with names such as Johnson Controls, Siemens, Honeywell, Trane, etc. showing up under building controls and HVAC. Subsequent parts of this session touted other large energy savings through green retrofitting. The 1930s-era Merchandise Mart building in Chicago was one of the examples.

A couple of sessions dealt with activities on university campuses. In the Cross-Campus Green session, Jordan Sager of Univ. of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) discussed a residential lighting retrofit at UCSB. The plan cost $150,000, which, based on the estimated energy savings, would require slightly more than a five year payback. Unfortunately policy prevented any project with a payback period beyond five years. But UCSB had also pledged to reduce emissions, and that might require the purchase of carbon offsets. So the avoided costs of offsets resulting from the lighting energy savings could be factored in. And this brought the payback period below five years allowing the project to proceed. It is just another example of the many ways of financing, or even simply making feasible, energy efficiency and other sustainability improvements.

UCSB’s Bren School of Environmental Management came up during the talk. It is worth checking out; see, for instance, the page of Prof. Roland Geyer, who works in industrial ecology and operations management. Another academic institution discussed in a later session was Arizona State University (ASU). ASU has LEED buildings, 1.9 MW of solar power and counting, and a new Global Institute of Sustainability (for more on that, see the article “A Threat So Big, Academics Try Collaboration,” NY Times, 12/25/07.) ASU has a sustainable operations focus.

One thing that was very clear at GreenBuild is that operations are changing quickly. And with that comes many new challenges inviting the techniques of operations research. Take solar power as an example. A solar panel must be designed to maximize output subject to material, cost, environmental, and other constraints. Next the panels need to be installed to maximize exposure under constraints imposed by servicing needs, shadow patterns, electrical circuit considerations, etc. And then there is the financing of the entire project, which will depend on the expected lifetime of the panels, time-frame of the building owner, expected generation of the panels, electricity rates, public and third-party financing options, minimum payback period, etc. As these kinds of operations evolve, there is opportunity for the operations researcher to get involved. And the great thing about these changes is that most of them will have positive impacts on the planet.

coming up in Parts II and III of this post: LCA, LEED restaurants, Coastie gathering, and more…



  1. nanotürkiye / Nov 26 2009 3:49 pm

    Yes, you’re right, OR is changing its subjects. I am interested in applying to nanotechnology. We will see what will happen.

  2. or4green / Nov 27 2009 10:18 am

    Nanotech will be a huge area. It’s come up on this blog a few times –, including one post focusing on it. Good luck and be careful 😉

  3. nanotürkiye / Nov 28 2009 3:00 am

    Thank you for reply. I did not know you had related posts, I am reading them now.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: