LEED, Itaca, Casa Clima Conference by Agape

We recently took part in the LEED, CASACLIMA, ITACA conference, organized by Aghape last Thursday, September 16th in Castel San Pietro Terme (Bologna). Entry ticket: € 30,00 + VAT per person. It seems as though this would have been an event not to miss. The organizer sold it as a "workshop and round table" featuring all major companies that certify sustainable architectural design in Italy today. It was going to be the first event of this kind ever organized in our country, bringing together all the institutions that want to guarantee quality in design and construction. It would have been a chance to finally send a well-defined message to the building industry and to the market, now that everything seems to be flooded with green wash. This event could have given a steady signal where the central national government is totally missing.

Organizer: Aghape

Type of Event: Workshop e Tavola Rotonda

Participating Organizations: INBAR - Istituto Nazionale di BioarchitetturaGBC Italia - LEEDiiSBE - ItacaAgenzia Casa Clima Entry fee per person: € 30,00 + Iva

Morning Presentations

We did not take part to the morning part of the event, since the program consisted in four or five predictable ad-like monologues by manufacturers sponsoring the event. Sure, sponsors are free to have their presentations, particularly when they pay the bill of the event. This time we had to pay to enter the conference, so we felt free to skip the four hour advertisement in the morning.

The event was held in the pretty town of Castel San Pietro Terme (Bo), that was probably the nicest (and only) discovery of the whole day. It was a brand-new conference center, with a ridiculously small parking lot, and the classic overcrowded, bad-smelling, stable-like conference hall. It really was the best place to waste a nice end-of-summer day.

The workshop, the round table, and other pipe dreams

It would be beyond the scope of this post and very difficult to summarize our frustration with the current fad of what is being billed as 'sustainable design' in Italy and all around the world these days. However, we can honestly say that we had dreamt of this meeting - LEED + Casa Clima - at least since we founded Emu Architects, two years ago. This "marriage", in our opinion, has to happen. It has to happen because the Italian construction market is in desperate need for something like it. There is an undescribable need for the public to understand who certifies what.

In this post, we'll try to summarize the afternoon presentations. It is not our goal here to give a detailed analysis of these certification schemes, or compare them to each other. Furthermore, in some cases, our opinion is purely based upon the impressions received during an extremely boring conference. It is possible that we might have misunderstood some details. We also invite anybody to contact us to correct any mistake we may make in the following descriptions.

Please note that it was not originally scheduled for INBAR to present in this conference. In addition, we noted that nobody presented on another certification scheme, SB100 by ANAB.

INBAR - Istituto Nazionale di Bioarchitettura (National Institute for Organic Architecture)

INBAR was founded in Bolzano by Ugo Sasso, its charismatic leader who prematurely passed away a couple of years ago. For the moment, the certification scheme they offer only regards buildings, although they might start certifying products and materials too in the future. A project gets certified by achieving thirty among the fifty-five available goals, divided in "compulsory goals", "main goals" and "secondary goals". The result is either black or white: either you get certified, or you just don't. You are good are you are bad. There are no levels of goodness, like "A, B, C", or "Gold, Silver, Platinum".

Even though that's pretty much all we know about this scheme, we really think that the market is already beyond this point. We think that this certification scheme has to be at least updated. The whole presentation was short and not very exciting. The presenter stuck to presenting his product, without interacting with either the public, or any of the other presenters. Where was the workshop? Where was the round table?

GBC Italia - LEED GBC Italia (Italian Green Building Council)

“LEED non è intuitivo: è una rottura di palle“ (LEED is not intuitive: it's a ball breaker).

These were the opening words of Mario Zoccatelli, the President of the Italian Green Building Council. His presentation was the carbon-copy of other ones he has done in the last couple of years. In our opinion, there's a limit to how easy-going a presentation is supposed to be. Zoccatelli didn't seem to care to go far past that point, in fact, he didn't seem to care much about his presentation at all. As usual, he kept inserting some English words here and there during his presentation in Italian, which took me back to the 80's when TV anchormen thought that that was something cool to do. On September 16th 2010, it was just annoying.

We'd like to hear what the USGBC would say if they had seen their LEED presented that way. We'd like to see their faces, when the first presentation slide shown said "Perchè LEED? Good enough" (Why LEED? Good enough). Needless to say, the whole presentation by GBC Italia had slides in Italian mixed with ones that were still in English, probably because they didn't even bother translating them.

LEED is definitely worth more that what has been presented there. Maybe, what Zoccatelli referred to as ball-breaking was actually this kind of one-way conference. And he didn't even have to pay to get in! In our opinion, Italy needs LEED (or something similar), and the Italian version of LEED really needs CasaClima as energy certification (specially for LEED Homes). Apart from its grand opening, Zoccatelli's speech was nothing but a product presentation, announcing an Italian version of LEED Homes before the end of the year, and the start of the LEED Historic Building project in 2011.

iiSBE - ITACA : Istituto per l'Innovazione e Trasparenza degli Appalti e la Compatibilità Ambientale (Institute for Innovation and Transparency in Public Bids and Environmental Compatibility)

The intention behind the birth of ITACA was to finally make things clear in a market overflooded with certification schemes. Italian regions - that have some degree of independence in issuing local laws - developed this tool starting from the Sustainable Building Challenge. They tried to simplify this international instrument, made up of something like 240 criteria, and to adapt it to the Italian reality.

If a project achieves a set score, it can receive public incentives, tax breaks and so on. The way this certification is carried out, depends on the individual region. In some of them, the process is carried out by the Regional Office for the Environment; in other ones, it's done by APs; in other ones, it's the very project architect to do the whole thing.

If the goal of ITACA is to finally make things clear among too many certification schemes, we think it is not consistent to come up with one more of them. Even less consistent is the way the certification process is carried out. How can it be consistent to give out public incentives based on something that is issued by a public office, free professionals, and sketchy second-cousins at the same time? It's Italy here: what kind of future do you envision for something like that in this country?

Agenzia Casa Clima (Casa Clima Agency)

In this case, our opinion is biased, and we have no problem admitting it. To quote Zoccatelli, it's a "ball-breaker" to have German-speaking mountain people to come and teach the best way to build. If there were a valid alternative, we would not drive all the way to Bolzano to get ripped off for each of the expensive classes organized by the Agenzia. Unfortunately, there is not.

The Agency is presented by its founder and Director, Norbert Lantschner. Words mean so much, sometimes. He is the only one, in the whole afternoon, to use the word "user", the words "construction site", and the brilliant, extraordinary, so German word "control". It is brilliant, because no matter what certification scheme you may pick, it won't have any value if nobody is going to carry out consistent control on a regular basis. If the goal is to create jobs, any certification scheme can work. If the goal is instead to guarantee building quality, then we need to have a consistent entity to control what happens at any stage of the process.

However charming, Lantschner's presentation was a basic propaganda presentation that aimed to show the general unsustainability of our economy. Among other things, he points out how present minimum insulation standards in Italy are the same Sweden had in 1975. It's a long way to go. A very long way.

Comments and criticisms.

Our biggest criticism is towards the organizer of the event. The entry ticket, 30 € plus VAT, was inclusive of a workshop and a round table. We got neither one nor the other. A workshop is a meeting during which a group of people engage an intense discussion and activity about a subject or a project. Nothing like that happened. It would have been impossible: there were hundreds of people! What should have been a round table, was instead the most classic of all conference-hall presentations. The presenters were at a long desk, facing the public, not each other. Discussion? Debate? Chatting? We paid for something we were not given! In an ideal world, we'd get our money back.

The only merit of the organizer - poor kids - is to have brought all those organizations together in one hall. And that's it. The conference that sparked from it, had very few sparks at all: it so predictably turned out to be the flattest, most boring and useless chit-chat, where all presenters just showed their products. Everything was second-hand, nothing was new. In the end, we skipped the advertising by the sponsors in the morning, and we paid to listen to a bunch of certification scheme ads in the afternoon. I can think of so many ways to better invest 30 € and a beautiful summer afternoon!

It's also worth noting how useless the mid-afternoon music break was, as two women played violin music to the empty chairs of the conference hall, when the mass of professionals swarmed outside for a smoke and to make phone calls.

In conclusion: why did we go there again?

LEED and CasaClima: a workshop for real?

These organizations want to guarantee building quality, to protect users and investors from the many sharks that populate the construction industry. This is what all of them say, but each one of them has so far worked alone. If they want to keep working for real, these divisions have to end. In our opinion, the Italian Green Building Council and the CasaClima Agency should have an extensive workshop behind closed doors, in private, and cooperate non-stop. They have to discuss, fight, duke it out and make peace. And the outcome should be a shared program that can finally make things clear in the Italian market.

As freelance professionals, we need results to be put into practice.

translated from the following article on our Italian blog, written by Enrico Bonilauri: Convegno LEED, Itaca, CasaClima: il modo migliore di sprecare una bella giornata di fine estate

Mariana Pickering

Emu Systems, 6145 Broadway, Denver, CO, 80216