For Thornton Tomasetti’s Sustainability team, the annual Greenbuild International Conference and Expo is one of the highlights of the year. It gives us a chance to meet up with clients and colleagues, learn about the latest advances and talk about some of the exciting things that we are doing to make the built environment more sustainable. This year’s event in Boston didn’t disappoint the enthusiastic group of staff from our Portland, Boston, San Francisco, London and New York offices.
The International Summit of the Greenbuild conference kicked off on Nov. 7. Thornton Tomasetti and other members of the Carbon Leadership Forum organized the session “The Time Value of Carbon,” which explored embodied carbon reduction as a necessary solution toward climate change mitigation in the building sector. I talked about the current state of embodied carbon policy, which exists mostly in Europe and Canada. The many questions that followed our presentations show that there is strong interest in the U.S. and elsewhere in addressing embodied carbon in building materials.
The growing interest in carbon reduction was also a topic of the Carbon Leadership Forum’s annual meeting, which preceded the start of Greenbuild. Much of the discussion focused on how the AEC community can work together to create buildings that are not only low carbon but are carbon sinks, or absorb more carbon than is released. As a Platinum sponsor of the Carbon Leadership Forum, which focuses on embodied carbon and life cycle assessment, we‘ve been working with the organization to get structural engineers to take an active role in reducing embodied carbon in buildings. The Structural Engineers 2050 Commitment calls for engineers to measure and ultimately reduce embodied carbon in their projects. During the meeting, we began working with other members on developing a plan for taking this initiative to the next step.
Also on Nov. 7, we celebrated our very own Lynn Simon, senior vice president in the Sustainability practice, who received the prestigious Women in Sustainability Leadership Award from Green Building & Design magazine. Lynn was one of 10 women honored at an evening ceremony, and is featured in the November/December cover story of the magazine. We shared smiles all around when Lynn addressed the audience and was honored for her dedication to sustainable design and her long history in this field. Congratulations, Lynn!
Associate Jonce Walker’s Nov. 9 session on Biophilic Urban Acupuncture (BUA) was so popular that it was standing room only. BUA is the theory that biophilic interventions, design elements that integrate aspects of nature in specific urban places, can help improve people’s moods, connect people to place and help improve mental health. “It was wonderful to see such a diverse group of architects, engineers, and urban planners interested in learning how to embed biophilia into urban settings,” Jonce said.
After much anticipation, we hosted our big annual dance party on Thursday, Nov 9. Throughout the week, Thornton Tomasetti staff passed out invitations to new and old friends attending Greenbuild. At the “Wicked Fun Dance Pahty” we danced until the wee hours of the morning with more than 1,000 guests. First-timers among our staff said of the party, “It was wild and great to attend the conference during the day and then let loose at night.” And, “I met a lot of people – for real! Being in this informal environment helped me to form relationships in a different way than I had experienced during the formal sessions of the conference.” The party was a success, and for this we thank the firms that sponsored this event with us: Altura, 7group, and WSP Built Ecology. We also thank the co-sponsors: Epsten Group, Lorax Partnerships, Cadmus, Verdical Group, Atelier Ten, SRU, Argento/Graham, The Green Engineer, the Compass Group, and Verdani Partners.
For those of us who made it through to the weekend Greenbuild tours, Thornton Tomasetti had the opportunity to show off one of our projects, the Frank Zervas School in Newton, Massachusetts. The Education for Environmental Stewards tour visited several schools and Zervas was the third stop. The design for the school placed heavy emphasis on daylight and views with classrooms organized for ideal north/south exposure. The design team, led by Perkins Eastman and the Design Partnership of Cambridge, discussed modeling for high levels of daylighting and the project’s steps toward LEED v4 certification.
And in true Greenbuild fashion, we spent the week running around the Boston Convention Center taking in all the wonderful education sessions and visiting the Expo to learn about new products. Among my favorite sessions was “RMI’s Innovation Center: First Year Lessons Learned,” which discussed the center’s use of a hyperchair to help control personal comfort and reduce the size of the HVAC system. As a former Rocky Mountain Institute employee, it was exciting to see how RMI continues to push the envelope on green design.
I also particularly enjoyed an engaging presentation by master speaker Dr. John Warner of the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry. During his presentation on the principles of green chemistry, he provided this food for thought: why are chemists not trained in the environmental impact of chemicals during their formal education?
Another conference highlight for most attendees was the plenary address by former President Bill Clinton, who urged us to keep fighting the good fight for sustainability and the tides will change.
Greenbuild 2017 left us with a lot to ponder and even more to celebrate. As one staff member said, “There was so much positivity all around me at Greenbuild. In time, the green movement will be central to the national agenda. Sustainability will become a key issue to all generations and lead to tremendous change. All this will be great for the world. Watch it happen!”
– Amy Hattan, vice president of Corporate Sustainability
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