What We Learned at Greenbuild 2021

GBA team members attended Greenbuild both in-person and online this year. They will share specific take-aways about what they learned in the coming weeks but here, we explore some trends they identified.

This year’s Greenbuild returned to its traditional in-person format, with an option to attend virtually as well. No doubt those industry veterans who attended in San Diego were excited to re-connect with colleagues from around the world for this annual gathering. The Greenbuild Conference & Expo always offers insight into coming trends in healthy and high-performance buildings, and it’s a good time for attendees to further explore topics most important and inspiring to them. GBA’s Ramona Crawford attended her first Greenbuild in-person this year while our Paige Colao and Dario Giandomenico attended online.  Here are some themes they identified from the sessions that were offered:

Social Equity in Sustainability

The green building community has long struggled with how best to integrate social equity into its processes. Now – a year after the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement opened all our eyes to the undeniable links between equity, health, and our built environment – the industry is still working to develop holistic solutions, and this topic was heavily discussed at Greenbuild. As crises unfold around the world, we are reminded that underserved communities, typically communities of color, are often the most impacted by inequitable building practices and unsustainable building maintenance. These buildings can pose long-term threats to individual and communal health and well-being. Ramona Crawford attended several sessions on this topic, and she will share more about what she learned in a blog post coming soon.

Human Health & Well-Being

While human health has always been a central tenant of green buildings, there is no doubt that it’s now more important than ever. Additionally, typical building users have become much more aware of the impact of buildings on their health. Topics in this track explored issues specifically related to the COVID-19 pandemic (for example: what the pandemic has taught us about indoor air quality and cleaning practices following COVID-19) as well as topics that we’ve been exploring for years (for example: the impacts of daylight exposure on sleep, strategies for healthy indoor air and energy efficiency, and centering health and social equity in high performance buildings). This topic will surely trend for years to come, as we continue to explore methods for maximizing health, efficiency, and equity in our spaces.

Embodied Carbon

While embodied carbon has been on the lips of many a green building professional for the past several years, the topic continues to grow, and GBA’s Dario Giandomenico is here for it. CMU’s Vivian Loftness recently noted on a panel presentation for the United Nations (hosted during the same week as Greenbuild) that as buildings become more energy efficient, we will need a greater focus on embodied carbon to reach our impact reduction goals. At Greenbuild, several workshops in this track focused on the critical role of building materials, including a panel presentation that included Pittsburgh’s Andrew Ellsworth. Several conversations related to carbon also included a look at mass timber, which is viewed as a potential key carbon-sequestering building material solution.

Grid Connectivity

GBA’s Paige Colao was most interested in topics relating to grid connectivity and how it can impact the future of building-related carbon. Representing the Pittsburgh and Erie 2030 Districts at the conference, Paige understands that we must go beyond individual buildings to achieve our climate goals and maximize resources. Paige will share insights from the sessions she attended in an upcoming blog post, including what she learned about grid interactive software, challenges in building electrification, and a possible new method for measuring energy and carbon in the future.


Worth noting in addition to these topical trends: this year’s Greenbuild marked the final conference with CEO Mahesh Ramanujam at the helm of USGBC (he announced just before the event that he would be stepping down later this year, with Peter Templeton replacing him as interim CEO). Mahesh led the organization for 12 years.


Did you attend or present at Greenbuild? Share your take-aways or photos with GBA.


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