The accelerating drive to apply sustainable engineering and design techniques and principles to buildings around the world was evident during the 10th Global Engineering Conference, held April 9-11 in Las Vegas.

Sponsored by Carrier Corp. and HPAC Engineering, the event drew nearly 700 attendees from 19 countries, including a large contingent from the Middle East and Europe. More than a dozen engineering and design experts from the United States, Canada, China, Egypt, India, Singapore, and the United Arab Emirates gave presentations on sustainable engineering, design, and technology.

During her opening remarks, Kelly Romano, president of Carrier Building Systems and Services, set the tone for the conference.

“I often remind myself that few innovations have shaped modern life more dramatically than the ability to control indoor climate,” Romano said. “As remarkable as the invention of air conditioning by Willis Carrier is—with buildings and cities around the world that would not be here without this invention—today we are presented with challenges and a new reality.”

The reality is that buildings use an estimated 40 percent of energy, an amount expected to increase 45 percent over the next 20 years, Romano said, adding that those numbers support a compelling case to make energy efficiency a priority around the world.

“I believe that significant progress in sustainable building development will only be achieved if all of us as leaders, designers, and innovators set big and bold goals … and drive after them with passion,” Romano said.

One of two keynote speakers for the event was Rick Fedrizzi, president, chief executive officer, and founding chairman of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).

“The industry is waking up from a 30-year coma ...,” Fedrizzi said. “We’re in the middle of a tsunami—and I mean that in a good way. We’re in the middle of a revolution.”

According to Fedrizzi, participation in the USGBC’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System continues to grow. He said there are close to 23,000 LEED-certified and registered buildings throughout the world and that that number increases by an average of 90 every day. Additionally, he said, there are 15,000 corporate members of the USGBC and approximately 50,000 LEED-accredited professionals.

Fedrizzi stressed the importance of making a business case for green buildings.

“If we don’t ..., then we won’t get past Square One,” Fedrizzi said.
Fedrizzi pointed to the new $1.9 billion, 50-story Palazzo Resort-Hotel-Casino in Las Vegas, which recently earned developer Las Vegas Sands Corp. LEED Silver certification.

“They did it because it was a rock-solid business investment,” Fedrizzi said of Las Vegas Sands’ pursuit of LEED certification.

Contrary to the belief of some, Fedrizzi said, LEED certification is not cost-prohibitive to achieve. He said a basic LEED-certified building costs less than 1 percent more than a conventionally constructed building, while a LEED Silver building costs 1.9 percent more, a LEED Gold building costs 2.2 percent more, and a LEED Platinum building costs 6.8 percent more.

Although green buildings can reduce energy use by up to 30 percent and cut carbon-dioxide emissions by about 40 percent, Fedrizzi predicted a “green bust” within the next three years, referring to companies that will take advantage of the green-building initiative “for all the wrong reasons, to make a quick buck or for a quick fix.” However, he said, the movement will emerge as strong as ever.

“The green revolution is here to stay; green is not the new black,” Fedrizzi said, referring to a consumer-magazine article that dismissed environmental consciousness as a mere trend.

“As (New York Times columnist) Thomas Friedman said, ‘Green is the new red, white, and blue,’” Fedrizzi said.

Fedrizzi praised the engineers in the audience: “The work you do every day … you may be the most important environmental heroes in the world.”

The event’s other keynote speaker, Valentine A. Lehr, PE, founding partner of Lehr Consultants International and member of HPAC Engineering’s Editorial Advisory Board, said a confluence of factors—global warming, the rapidly increasing cost of oil, computing power, nanotechnology, and the evolution of the world into a global community—points to dramatic change on the horizon. As a result, “We need to sell total solutions,” Lehr said.

“It doesn’t matter whether global warming is man-made or natural,” Lehr said. “We have to deal with it.”

Lehr was optimistic about the potential of alternative energy sources, saying that in one 40-min period, enough solar radiation falls to Earth to provide energy for the entire planet for one year. He said there is potential for the United States to have enough solar energy by 2050 to achieve zero dependency on foreign oil.

Lehr encouraged the audience to think in new ways regarding energy use and design.

“Leave your mind behind,” Lehr said. “Previous ideas and ways of thinking can impede our ability to see something new.”
Robert F. Fox Jr., AIA, of Fox + Cook Architects gave a presentation titled “High Performance Design: A Passion for the Possible.” He said new ways to transmit energy must be found, as 66 percent of power from the grid is lost as heat, while 7 percent is lost in transmission, leaving 27 percent as usable energy.

Karan Grover, principal of Karan Grover & Associates, gave a presentation on the proper use of natural resources and sustainable design.