The sustainable plumbing, HVAC and construction industry made its message known in our nation’s capital Nov. 17-20 at the 2015 Greenbuild Expo at the Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C.

More than 200 sessions, tours, summits and workshops were featured in the education program. Professionals earned 34,494 hours of continuing education credits.

The 19,058 attendees walked the 144,300 sq. ft. of exhibit space, which housed booths from 548 companies. Several notable areas of the expo hall were:

  • Greenbuild Unity Home, a 1,620-sq.-ft. demonstration home designed to achieve LEED Platinum, WaterSense certification and net zero, which also included a full array of Cradle to Cradle-certified products;
  • The world’s only Net Zero Zone, a 3,200-sq.-ft. pavilion powered by alternative power collected on-site at the Washington Convention Center; and
  • A display featuring sustainability themed art from local children.

The official theme from the United States Green Building Council was “Monumental Green” and the association packed many educational sessions, speeches and visits with manufacturers on the expo floor.

Rick Fedrizzi, the USGBC founder and CEO who is stepping aside at the end of 2016, spoke at the event’s Opening Plenary on Nov. 18. Fedrizzi said the 2016 presidential election will be critical for the future of the climate change debate.

“There is work to be done, so we do it,” he said.


Strong outlook

During the CMD Group’s Nov. 19 luncheon and panel discussion on the state of the U.S. construction economy, American Institute of Architects Chief Economist Dr. Kermit Bakerpainted a promising immediate future for the industry after a couple down years.

“It’s great to see all the energy,” he said. “Construction recovery has been painfully slow, but recently has been building momentum.”

Baker reported that multifamily construction has “moved back into expansion mode.” He also predicted other key sectors making a rebound. “The commercial and industrial markets are almost back to where they were before the downturn,” he said. “2016 should be the year they fully recover.”

According to Baker’s report, commercial construction is up 28.3% in 2015 compared to 2014 and the institutional sector is up 7.8% this year compared to 2014.

The largest issue that looms over the expected recovery is the labor issue, he noted. Baker said he is concerned about the amount of skilled laborers in the market. “This is what could sink this economy,” he declared.

Since the recession of 2007, the industry has lost 2 million construction workers and Baker said that is a clear sign they have moved on and found work in other industries.

“We have seen some significant changes in the workforce,” he said. “We have gotten a lot older and we have relied on an immigrant workforce.”

Some strategies Baker suggests to increase the workforce include having companies increase compensation plans and do more on-the-job training.


On the show floor

Down on the lower-level of the Washington Convention Center was the expo hall for manufacturers. While there were not a lot of new plumbing and HVAC sustainable technologies on display, companies such as Armstrong Fluid Technology, Kohler, Sloan Valve, Zurn, Bradley Corp. and TOTO got their green messages across to attendees.

TOTO announced that its high-efficiency commercial wall-hung toilet, two of its ultra-high-efficiency urinals and its wall-hung commercial lavatory now have “Red List” ingredients and are listed in the International Living Future Institute’s Declare Products Database.

The ILFI has three Declaration Status options — Declared, Living Building Challenge Compliant and Red List Free — and if the group finds that a product contains an ingredient from the Living Building Challenge Red List, that ingredient is listed in red on the label.

“Transparency is the ‘secret ingredient’ in all TOTO products. It’s the TOTO way,” said Bill Strang, TOTO president of operations for the Americas.

Armstrong Fluid Technology hosted an after-show event to discuss its third generation Design Envelope pumps. The company also touted how its Design Envelope platform has gained more traction after a New York City commercial building property manager decided to use the system in a 1 million-plus-sq.-ft. project in midtown Manhattan that serves more than 4,000 occupants.

“The property manager went back to his design team and said we’re starting over and going with Design Envelope,” said Steven Lane, Armstrong Fluid Technology’s vice president of communications.

Kohler has partnered with World Vision, iDE and Water Mission to create Clarity — a ceramic filtration system. The unit hopefully will help the estimated 1.8 billion people who lack access to safe drinking water. World Vision began field-testing Clarity in India and Africa in November.

“Our goal with Clarity is to provide a filter extremely efficient at creating safe drinking water that also becomes a fixture of convenience and dignity in a home,” said Mike Radloff, senior project manager-water technologies at Kohler. “Kohler engineers and designers love a challenge and have high standards. In two years, we’ve been able to bring together teams around the world to use our expertise in plumbing to develop and bring to market this solution.”

The 2016 Greenbuild Expo is set for Oct. 5-7 in Los Angeles.

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This article was originally titled “Message received” in the January 2016 print edition of Plumbing & Mechanical.