Keep focus on U.S., message and core supporters.

Greenbuild has grown quickly in 10 years to become a prominent event in the plumbing-and-heating industry. Here are three helpful suggestions for the U.S. Green Building Council to make the event better from someone who has supported sustainable construction for years and has attended Greenbuild four times, most recently in Toronto.

1. Focus on U.S. for now.

Held Oct. 4-7, Greenbuild 2011 took a step back in attendance this year. The USGBC released numbers that show 5,000 fewer people attended the 2011 event compared with last year’s Greenbuild in Chicago.

The USGBC didn’t help matters by taking Greenbuild north of the border. While Toronto remains one of my favorite cities to visit on business, its location became a factor for people who decided to stay home this year.

Part of their decision came down to the U.S. economy, of course, and the state of the construction industry. Another factor, for some potential exhibitors, related to what they believed would be higher costs and more complicated logistics for setting up a trade show booth in Canada.

Just the necessities of carrying a passport and clearing Customs concerned people who otherwise might have attended. Although I had dismissed these worries, I found plenty of time to reconsider them during the four hours I stood in lines at Toronto’s airport.

Those who expected hassles crossing the border were correct. Airport security screeners staged “unlawful strike activities,” according to one local news source, to protest changes in their work schedules.

The USGBC had no way of knowing the labor slowdown would occur during the last two days of Greenbuild. And the organization had to believe the U.S. economic recovery would be much further along when it scheduled the event in Toronto.

Still, I couldn’t help but think a U.S. city would have benefited from whatever economic shot in the arm Greenbuild could have provided it this year as the host city. The relatively strong Canadian economy would not have felt much impact from a change in venue.

2. Focus on the message.

Many manufacturers, wholesalers, engineers and contractors realize green buildings will be an important part of their future. Kohler Co. President David Kohler said during Greenbuild’s opening ceremony that a strategy of sustainability - one that integrates business and environmental principles - is the only strategy for the road ahead.

“There are business opportunities in green,” he said. “Industrialists like myself can embrace sustainability.”

Kohler said his company’s fastest-growing product lines are ones that conserve water without sacrificing design and performance. Customers, he noted, are voting for sustainable products with their pocketbooks.

Keynote speaker, New York Times columnist and author Thomas Friedman picked up that message when he said, “You can make a good living doing good things.”

Friedman went on to say, however, that it will take more than good intentions for a green building revolution to take place. The United States has become more dependent on fossil fuels than it was in 1979 when the National Academy of Sciences raised the first warning of global warming.

“We need a price signal. Price matters,” Friedman said. “When gas was $4.50 or $5 a gallon, you couldn’t buy a Toyota Prius. When gas was $2 a gallon, you couldn’t sell a Prius.

“Without a price signal, you do not get long-term consumer demand.”

3. Focus on core supporters.

Following his keynote address, Friedman joined a panel with TV commentator Cokie Roberts, medical anthropologist Dr. Paul Farmer and former Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell. The discussion took place on a stage set up on the floor of a cavernous sports arena that normally hosts hockey and basketball games.

Most attendees sat in stadium seats and on folding chairs on or around the arena floor. Others listened from luxury suites where parties were going on for invited Greenbuild guests.

Or weren’t listening. As uneven as arena acoustics can be, what was more distracting to the panelists was the noise drifting down from the upper-level suites. The panelists interrupted their discussion several times to ask for quiet so they could be heard.

I moved my seat a few times to get closer to the stage. When I looked around from my third-row seat, I noticed most of the people on the arena floor were engaged in the issues being discussed by the panelists.

I found myself getting annoyed more by the exasperated pleas for silence than by the noise itself. It struck me that the panelists should be paying more attention to the people hearing their message than to those who were not.

People will buy into green buildings in varying degrees. Deserving the most attention are those who most want to advance the green building movement.

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