City to host U.S. green-building conference – and show its stuff

By Diane Mastrull, Inquirer Staff Writer

ED HILLE / Inquirer Staff Photographer Mercy Neighborhood Ministries turned an abandoned warehouse into North Philadelphia's first LEED-certified building with energy-efficient lighting, ventilation, heating, cooling, and skylights.

As achievements go, it’s nowhere close to landing the Olympics.

For enhancing the reputation Philadelphia seeks as a leader in the green-building movement, though, the city’s selection as 2013 host for the U.S. Green Building Council’s 12th annual conference could be a significant event. Quite possibly a game-changer for the region’s economy.

But that hinges, its advocates acknowledge, on much work that needs to be done between now and then – in City Hall and the state Capitol, in hospitality and tourism circles, even at the zoo and museums.

When it comes to the region’s accomplishments in building more sustainably and with environmental sensitivity – the Comcast Center being perhaps the most showy example – “green building is a well-kept secret here, and it should not be,” said Janet Milkman, executive director of the Delaware Valley Green Building Council (DVGBC), which serves the five-county Philadelphia area and the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania, as well as the state of Delaware.

Milkman’s goal is to ramp up green building’s profile before an estimated 22,000 to 27,000 national and international enthusiasts arrive to attend workshops, network, and see what’s behind Philadelphia’s claims of progress toward becoming America’s greenest city. The Greenbuild International Conference & Expo, to be held at the Convention Center from Nov. 20 to 22, 2013, is the world’s largest gathering on green-building practices.

“Our goal is to have cabdrivers talking about it and have everybody know what Greenbuild is,” Milkman said last week, as she and her staff laid out plans for raising local awareness of sustainability efforts in new construction and renovation work here, as well as the economic and environmental opportunities it presents.

They have their work cut out for them, said Elliot Schreiber, a clinical professor of marketing at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business who also does consulting. His clients include a developer he is advising on how to promote a high-level green office building planned for West Philadelphia.

“Philadelphia is making good progress in terms of green development . . . but people aren’t generally aware of it,” Schreiber said. “The mayor talks about it, but the joke is people see it as a few bike lanes. They don’t really understand the potential.”

That potential is as ambitious as changing the city’s entire image, said Schreiber, who contends that Philadelphia’s brand “is one that is stuck in the past.”

Greenbuild will be an opportunity to showcase Philadelphia’s embracing a way to build and live that suggests it “is on the move” and will create jobs and appeal to young professionals.

“It’s a chance to change Philadelphia’s story . . . to move away from a kind of Rocky and cheesesteaks to what our sustainability story is,” said Heather Shayne Blakeslee, DVGBC’s deputy executive director.

That story can be uniquely told here “through the lens of reuse and historic reuse” rather than the more well-known application of green practices in new construction, said Katherine Gajewski, the city’s director of sustainability.

In DVGBC’s territory, 152 commercial or institutional projects have met the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standard, and an additional 347 are under LEED consideration. LEED-certified homes total “several hundred,” Milkman said.

At the Navy Yard, the federally funded Greater Philadelphia Innovation Cluster for Energy-Efficient Buildings is just getting started on at least a five-year effort to develop innovative energy-saving building technologies, designs, and systems. The goal is to turn Philadelphia into a center of energy-efficient technology and sustainable building that will translate into volumes of retrofit work for the city’s vast inventory of older buildings, and the creation of a broad range of jobs – including engineers, recyclers of construction, and demolition waste, manufacturers of components for heating, cooling, and ventilation systems and operators of such systems.

In short, there is plenty here to show off to Greenbuild conventioneers.

Milkman’s focus now is on addressing other things that could diminish the story she wants Philadelphia and Pennsylvania to tell Greenbuild participants.

For instance, she wants passage of legislation that has languished for several years in Harrisburg that would require any new state building to be green.

She also wants City Council to adopt a bill, as other cities have, that would require building owners to disclose their facilities’ energy use, something Milkman said “has the potential to drive the market for energy-efficiency investments.”

At the Philadelphia Zoo and the Franklin Institute, officials say they will have projects worthy of a Greenbuild tour by 2013.

The zoo just broke ground on the Hamilton Family Children’s Zoo and Education Center, intended to be a LEED-certified facility and open by spring 2013.

Also planned for completion that year is an Intermodal Transportation Center that will be topped with a solar-paneled canopy, said Chris Waldron, the zoo’s director of sustainability. The center, which will include a garage along West Girard Avenue, is intended to provide easier and smoother access to the zoo for vehicles, bicyclists, and pedestrians.

At the Franklin Institute, home to the “Changing Earth” exhibit (built with sustainable products) that explores humans’ impact on the world, an intended LEED-rated 53,000-square-foot addition should be well on its way by 2013.

By then, the Philadelphia School District, which has achieved LEED status for four of its buildings, will have even more. Green renovations have been completed on the 14-year-old Thurgood Marshall Elementary School in Logan, and its designation as a LEED-certified building is expected by December.

Contact staff writer Diane Mastrull at 215-854-2466,, or @mastrud on Twitter.

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