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Live From Greenbuild 2008: The Paradox of Green Conferences

We were actually going to boycott it,” a rep from Forbo told me. He and I were standing amid a sea of thousands of booths at Greenbuild 2008, each hawking a building product with an eco-spin. The “it” their rep was referring to was boycotting the Greenbuild conference itself.

“We were actually going to boycott it,” a rep from Forbo, the floor company told me. He and I were standing amid a sea of thousands of booths lining the Boston Conference and Exhibition Center at Greenbuild 2008, which were hawking every building product that had a possible eco-spin (White cement! Photovoltaic skylights! Insulating concrete! Coal combustion walls!). While Forbo was certainly pushing its own sustainable solution, the “it” their rep was referring to was actually boycotting the Greenbuild conference itself.

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“Look over there, you have 14 plasma TVs, 15 salespeople,” he critiqued, pointing to his neighboring stand of Interface, the recycled carpet company (Note: at the show Interface launched missionzero.org, an environmental social network), whose booth resembled a pop-up Target store. “This is the largest sustainable show in the world. We have to have people walking the talk.”

Of course his commentary was the perfect T-up for Forbo’s bare-bones booth: a sparse desk with a couple of computers in which guests could live video chat with Forbo’s national sales manager back at HQ. While it was the least sexy in terms of aesthetics, arguably it was the sexiest in terms of ideological statement. In place of artificial walls or clusters of Forbo folks mulling about, they propped up a chart showing Forbo’s reduced carbon footprint at Greenbuild over the years: Back in 2004, Forbo’s footprint was clocking in at 21,971 pounds of carbon; this year, they reduced it to 906 pounds.

Forbo’s statement (or stunt) was the sort of ringing irony one can’t help ignore at lavish environmental gatherings like this. While most of the conference appeared wastefully minimal (and Greenbuild claimed “carbon neutrality” by offseting all its emissions with Enterprise Community Parnters), there were definitely criticisms that many of the exhibitors are in fact environmental offenders, and the USGBC doesn’t go out of its way to weed out the greenwashers.  Exhibitors next year should start conspiring about how they can reinvent a more environmentally friendly presence at the show. The USGBC, on the other hand, should listen to their passionate cast of speakers and really start vetting sponsors and exhibitors next year to ensure that they’re not enabling the enemies.

If you know any of the greenwashers hawking at Greenbuild, feel free to out them right here.

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About the author

Danielle Sacks is an award-winning journalist and a former senior writer at Fast Company magazine. She's chronicled some of the most provocative people in business, with seven cover stories that included profiles on J.Crew's Jenna Lyons, Malcolm Gladwell, and Chelsea Clinton

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