Lindsay Roberts
Group Director
Greenbuild International Conference & Expo

Lindsay Roberts has been with Informa Exhibitions since 2001 and currently serves as Group Director for the Greenbuild International Conference & Expo. Her responsibilities include overall show management, strategy, sales, and marketing for the company’s third largest event.

Greenbuild Expects Diverse Audience for Its Huge Boston Event
Mukesh Buch
October 6, 2017

Could you give us a brief overview of the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo?

The Greenbuild International Conference and Expo is the world’s largest green building exposition dedicated to sustainable building. Founded in 2002, Greenbuild brings together industry leaders, experts, and frontline professionals from that sector.

The event is owned and operated by Informa and presented by the U.S. Green Building Council, or USGBC. Informa is one of the largest independent trade show organizers based in London. I work for Informa in the Global Exhibitions Division in Dallas.

In 2013, we acquired Greenbuild from the USGBC, which is the official association partner for the show. They help us develop the educational conference content and to achieve uniquely high quality from a sustainability standard.

Where is the event going to be held this year?

It is an annual event, which typically takes place in October or November. The 2017 event will be held in the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center in Boston, Massachusetts, between November 8th and November 10th. This year Greenbuild is co-located with the ArchitectureBoston Expo (ABX2017).

We try to create a model, where attendees get networking, which overlaps with the trade show floor, which overlaps with the education piece.

How has the event evolved in the last three to five years?

The show started in 2002 as a small event in Austin. It was started by the USGBC to promote sustainable building, design, and LEED, which means Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. There was a growing focus in the U.S. on the concept of sustainable building and design among product manufacturers, architects, and designers.

By 2007 or 2008, Greenbuild became one of the largest trade shows in the United States. The tremendous growth in those years was driven by the developments in the sustainable building and design marketplace, as well as by the growth of the housing market in general.

Over the last three years, one of the most interesting trends is the increasing focus on the residential aspect. Large U.S. builders start to build above code and the homeowners are more interested in energy efficiency.

Another big trend is the idea of health and wellness in terms of sustainable building and design. The focus shifted to issues like indoor air quality, materials used for interior features like carpets, paints and furnishings. Now the idea is not only to make a nice energy-efficient building, but also to have the appropriate materials for that building.

This trend is a natural outcome of the fact that we probably spend 80% of our time indoors, so we need a healthy, high-quality environment. People may not be very passionate about the environment or the energy-efficiency of their home, but their health and wellness, the environment where the family lives and plays, certainly gets a lot of attention.

In the past, sustainability was all about energy efficiency, but now also it includes landscaping, daylighting, productivity, waste management, and water usage. Sustainability has gone far beyond the initial concept of resiliency, reusing materials, or energy efficiency, which was the primary focus back in 2002.

Does the concept of sustainability apply to producing the show as well?

Yes, that’s very important to us. Last year in Los Angeles we had the highest Waste Diversion Rate in the history of the show. We diverted 90% of every piece of trash and waste that came into that venue away from the landfills. Then we also offset all the water usage at the convention center, as well as the entire carbon footprint for the audience traveling to and from Greenbuild.

These are huge commitments, but we make sure that we have very high standards in the way we produce the actual event itself.

A unique element of the show floor is that we power an entire section with alternative energy. Usually, we use solar panels, placed outside in a sunny area, which harness that energy and cable it down to power a section of the show floor. That initiative started in 2014 and has become bigger each year.

In the past, sustainability was all about energy efficiency, but now it also includes landscaping, daylighting, productivity, waste management, and water usage. Sustainability has gone far beyond the initial concept.

What are the highlights of the event this year?

There are four big elements of Greenbuild – location, education, networking, and inspiration. This year is going to be a bit different in each of those aspects.

Since the event will be held in Boston, we are co-locating the event with a regional building and architecture show called ABX2017, or ArchitectureBoston Expo, which has been around since the 1980s. It takes place in Boston every November.

We are bringing two relevant events together and that means that instead of having our typical 500 exhibitors, we’ll have more than 800 exhibiting companies on the show floor, an area of more than 150,000 square feet dedicated to building product manufacturers and service providers.

It is important to note that Massachusetts is one of the leaders in sustainability, so that concept is already in place. In addition, we’ll have virtual reality space and pavilions, as well as cool interactive features on the show floor.

In terms of education, we’ll probably have 8,000 people that go through the conference program between Greenbuild and ABX. This is the biggest conference program we do out of our Dallas office. It will continue from Monday through Saturday and that means six days of tours, full-day workshops, summits on focused content, and about 200 different individual education sessions.

We’ve got breakfast, executive luncheons, leadership award luncheons, and events designed for women in the building industry. Since a lot is going on in the industry related to new LEED standards, building codes, technologies, and materials, we need to stay at the forefront of these trends. That’s one of the most important and attractive elements of the show for the attendee.

Regarding networking, there is a cross-over between networking opportunities with the trade show floor. One of our key networking events is a huge party called the Celebration on Thursday night, November 9, 2017, which we expect to be attended by 5,000 people. The party ends with a big concert and celebration. This year the band, called The Revivalists, will perform at the Museum of Science in Boston.

Another important networking aspect is the online platform of E-180, called Braindate, which allows the audience to connect and match before the show based on different topics. E-180 is a simple online tool that launches about 30 days before the show.

It is integrated with registration and with the event calendar, so the attendees have a time and place for predetermined conversation to make real connections to people they are looking for, or to discuss topics they want to talk about. That’s very different from trying to do networking at a big party. I believe that tool will be very useful for networking.

The last element, inspiration, is also important, because the people coming to Greenbuild don’t just work in the space, but live and breathe sustainability every moment of each day. They are incredibly passionate about the environment and about sustainability in building and design. They are probably one of the most passionate groups of people that we can bring together at a trade show.

So it is crucial for them to spend that week re-engaged and inspired to do another year of work that has deeper meaning and cause behind it. Their mission is to improve people’s lives by building healthier buildings or to help people get their building to zero waste, and you can see and feel that bigger cause at Greenbuild.

I believe that inspiration and energy are the most special aspects of the event. Actually, very few B2B trade shows are able to have that.

How many speakers do you plan to have for the event?

Some of the sessions end up with multiple speakers, so between the two events we will have more than 500 different speakers, including panelists. Because we have multiple breakout sessions in each of the summits, at times we’ll have 27 concurrent sessions at every meeting room of the Boston Convention Center.

On Wednesday morning, November 8th, the speaker for a big opening plenary is Ban Ki-moon, a South Korean diplomat who was Secretary-General of the United Nations. He is very passionate around climate change and sustainability.

Our closing plenary speaker is Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist, author, and science communicator. He is also dedicated to the idea that science shows us exactly what we are doing to our planet and what’s happening with its climate.

We’ll have more than 800 exhibiting companies on the show floor, an area of more than 150,000 square feet dedicated to building product manufacturers and service providers.

Would you highlight some sessions? Which topics attendees should know about?

Health and wellness related to building materials is always a hot topic. Water usage will also be very important, especially in Boston, because of the unique situation of drought combined with rising sea level recently.

Overall, it is difficult to predict the hot tracks, because the audience is really diverse. Within the audience that comes to Greenbuild, we have 20 to 30 different attendee demographics like architects, builders, engineers, interior designers, educators, urban planners, code officials, etc. Each of them has a different reason for coming to the show and wants a different type of education.

What is the concept behind the Applied Learning Areas and Education Labs?

Greenbuild has always been a sought after event for speakers. We receive 600 or 700 proposals from people who want to get their message out. Often the proposals come from our exhibitors, because they want to reach the attendee buyer audience. So we created these education labs, which allow the exhibitors to speak and present content that is available for Continuing Education Units (CEUs), which means that it is pretty stringent.

Basically, we make sure the presentation is good, solid content, and not a sales pitch. Since the education labs are sponsored by the exhibitors, any full conference attendee can sign up for them and get a CEU, while key companies can connect with the people. Each Education Lab only has about 60 seats and after presenting an hour worth of CEU, the companies get to engage with the potential customers.

We don’t like the separation, where education has to be in meeting rooms and exhibits have to be in the trade show floor. Instead, we try to create a model, where attendees get networking, which overlaps with the trade show floor, which overlaps with the education piece. These three different elements go on in the same building over the same week. That’s the concept behind the Education Labs.

The Applied Learning Areas is a brand new concept. Again, it is trying to integrate, not separate interaction, education, and networking. The idea is that during the last 30 minutes of conference sessions, we bring the audience down to the show floor and invite other people to join the conversation.

These people can be expo-only attendees, exhibitors, associations, or publication partners. Each of the areas seats about 150 people and they will be broken down into pods of about 10 people to discuss what they’ve learned, what questions they have, or their next steps. In that way small groups of people can have meaningful conversations and engage with each other. It is a really exciting idea to bring people that weren’t part of the original conversation to the mix.

We also have sponsors that will provide lunch and do education in these spaces, but the design is that attendees are not just sitting and listening to someone talk for an hour, but are involved in small group discussions, interaction, engagement and meeting people. Again, our goal is to make sure that networking crosses over with education, which crosses over with the show floor, which crosses over with people meeting each other.

We believe that’s a more natural way for exhibitors and attendees to connect. Often the attendees are a little shy to just randomly walk into an exhibitor’s booth. I think they like to have conversations around problems or project issues, and when an exhibitor shows awareness of the problem or actually has a product that might help the attendees, that leads to business being done.

We feel that we need a different way to engage the attendees in that particular show.

How many attendees are expected this year?

Typically, we have about 18,000 to 20,000 attendees on Greenbuild, but because of the co-location with another show this year, we expect about 25,000 people to attend. Since the show is in Massachusetts, probably 40% to 50% of the audience will be from New England, but we’ll also have a big draw from the West Coast. We also expect attendees from more than 100 different countries.

The attendees include high-end experts in sustainable building and design. We also have many young professionals and women, who are passionate about sustainability. For some of the attendees, the show is not about business, but about connecting with many like-minded people to share and seek knowledge.

Overall, it is a broad universe from the building environment, primarily including architects, designers, interior designers, real estate developers, building owners and managers, landscape architects, code officials, or urban planners. All of them, however, have an interest in education and are willing to dedicate a week on the subject.

What tours have you included in the show?

All the tours are focused around Green buildings and projects or sustainable building and design. There are usually about 30 tours that we do on Monday, Friday afternoon and Saturday. That gives the attendees an opportunity to get out of the convention center and see some of the local sights, especially for the attendees who come from other parts of the U.S. or from abroad.

Are there any other programs that you would like to highlight?

We have a massive volunteer program with more than 500 volunteers, either full-time students or young professionals under the age of 25, to help us with our sustainability efforts. If they volunteer for eight hours, they get access to a full conference pass, which would otherwise cost $800 to $1,000, and we know that full-time students or young professionals can’t afford it.

We do this because we really want to work with the youth coming into this field by supplying them value and education. In return, they volunteer to make our show really sustainable.

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