The sixth annual AltBuild Expo, held at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium this past weekend, was billed as a showcase for “the best of Green Building & Design Materials, Energy Efficiency, … Sustainable Landscape, … ” and more. However, the unwritten theme at the Expo was simplicity. I was struck by the rather low-budget displays — often just a table and some posters mounted on the black curtain backgrounds — by the building materials and other companies exhibiting their products. But as one marketing consultant who attended the show with me commented, “they don’t have any money.”
It’s true that some of the companies represented at AltBuild — which included American Clay, California Solar, and many others — are relatively small or relatively new, or both. And perhaps such simplicity is the hallmark of green building. Or maybe it was the economic recession. While I didn’t get a sense that the recession was casting a pall over the show, I tried to find out.
I asked a bunch of exhibitors how business was, and most of them said it was good, but I doubt they would have told me otherwise. Wayne Pendrey of California Solar said that he is keeping busy, and that his company made half a million dollars last quarter. Fernando Feldman’s company, Go Green Construction. had one of the more lavish displays, including bamboo flooring and high-quality photos of some of their completed projects. Feldman pointed out that the cost of using “sustainable” materials in home building is within a percentage point or two of using traditional materials, and many sustainable materials start to pay for themselves right away in energy savings. It also occurs to me that an economic recession, in which contractors are available and labor and materials are likely cheaper, is precisely the right time for homeowners and business owners to begin sustainable new construction and renovations, provided, of course, that they have the cash or the financing.
If the green building industry is taking a no-nonsense, stripped-down approach, and homeowners and business owners, with a similar attitude, are still going ahead with green building projects, at least on a modest scale, then that’s a good thing.