Birmingham will host a major regional green building conference next week, and the local response has been so positive, according to organizers, that the event will return here for three consecutive years and, perhaps, help make this old steel town a center for green manufacturing.
The Green Building Focus Conference & Expo, to be held at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex on July 28-29, is designed to educate architects, builders and real estate professionals from eight states about the latest advances in sustainable or “green” development. The event will feature seminars with internationally known experts in the field and an exposition floor with nearly 200 exhibitors, including small firms who supply such products as green roofing, green flooring and rainwater harvesting hardware.
“Birmingham has embraced it,” says James Smith, the organizer of the expo and the CEO of Birmingham-based Green Building Focus. His firm disseminates information regarding sustainable building to architects and construction companies, and produces events like the expo worldwide.
“We’ve gotten a lot of support from local architects and construction companies and we see no reason to move it,” Smith says.
Smith is excited about the role the expo could play in helping Birmingham attract green manufacturers and so-called “green-collar” jobs.
“By keeping the conference here we can promote Birmingham around the country as a place for green building,” Smith says. “Over the next three to five years, we can bring in manufacturing jobs and drive community revitalization based on sustainability.”
There are several factors working in Birmingham’s favor in attracting this new industry, according to Smith. First, Birmingham is an important center of the increasingly green-savvy construction business.
“All the large construction companies in Birmingham are pushing green building,” Smith says. “Harbert Construction is one of the top five green builders, because they are building GSA (General Services Administration) buildings, which are mandated [to be green]. Robins & Morton are pushing for green healthcare facilities.”
Birmingham has geography in its favor, according to Smith, since the city is located within 500 miles of every major city in the rapidly growing Southeast. “Construction materials, to be green, must be made within 500 miles of where they are used,” he says. This makes Birmingham an ideal place to relocate green manufacturing firms.
Smith also notes that Birmingham is one of the few cities in the county with urban land available for development. “There’s no more downtown land in Atlanta, and if there were it would be prohibitively expensive,” he says. “You can still develop infrastructure here without contributing to sprawl.”
The vision Smith expresses is similar to that expressed by one of the speakers at the expo, Birmingham businessman Colin Coyne, who last year introduced to the public a plan he called the Sustainable Birmingham Initiative. In Coyne’s plan, Birmingham would become a hub for manufacturing green products. During the conference, Coyne give a talk titled “Sustainable Strategic Thought: Beyond the Green Wave.”
On the third day of the event, after the exhibition floor has closed, there will be a seminar led by Dominic Sims of the International Code Council (ICC), the organization that helps establish building codes. Sims will explain the ICC 700 national green building standard, a new residential building code that the organization released earlier this year.
Establishing new codes is crucial to the green building movement, according to Smith. “The ICC developed a green subcommittee last year and wants to redo codes,” he says. “And they are now pushing green. If code says you have to do it, you have no choice but to build green. They are working on a commercial green building code. This will mandate and require that future buildings be built using the tenets of green building.”
Also appearing at the expo will be Dr. Charles Kibert, a University of Florida professor and a recognized authority in green building. “He is probably one of the people who actually coined the phrase ‘sustainable development,’” Smith says. Kibert will lead a seminar on July 30 calling “Learning to LEED,” about the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System, developed by the U.S. Green Building Council.
Other speakers will include architect Karan Grover, who built the world’s first LEED-certified “platinum” building; Kathy Roper of Georgia Tech, one of the leading experts on green standards in facilities management; and actor and environmental activist Ed Begley Jr.
“Begley lives completely off the grid,” Smith says. “He has some interesting stories to tell about how he lives and why he lives that way.” According to Smith, Begley will attend the conference because he endorses an energy–saving device called the Green Switch, manufactured by one of the vendors at the expo.
A complete schedule for the 2009 Green Building Conference & Expo is available online at www.greenbuildingfocus.com. For more information, call (205) 326-2380.