Last week, the U.S. Green Building Council held its annual Greenbuild International Conference & Expo in Chicago, Illinois. With close to 30,000 in attendance, including myself and Ed Lee from Whiteford, Taylor & Preston, this year's Greenbuild drew more attendees than any of the previous conferences held since the first Greenbuild in 2001.

The theme for this year's conference was "Generation Green" and many of the presentations focused on how the green movement has escalated from an up-and-coming trend to a mainstream part of society and the business world. Green is no longer cutting edge. The issue now is to make it more affordable.

The conference featured several hundred education sessions, covering such topics as the impact of energy legislation on real estate markets to understanding sustainable market trends. In addition to the educational component, Greenbuild featured the world's largest expo hall devoted to green building - 460,000 square feet! The expo housed over 1,000 exhibitors showing off the latest innovations in sustainable development technology.

While there were certainly many highlights from this year's Greenbuild, some of the more noteworthy features were the launch of LEED for Retail and the LEED Volume Program, as well as the approval of LEED for Healthcare rating system.

The LEED for Retail rating system replaces LEED for New Construction (NC) and LEED for Commercial Interiors (CI) for projects which are predominately retail focused (more than 60% of square footage dedicated to retail). This is the first time that the USGBC has mandated that a particular rating system be utilized. In the past, building owners and developers have had the option of choosing which rating system is most appropriate for their project or which system could potentially yield the most points. Projects which fall under the 60% threshold have the option of pursuing certification under the LEED for Retail or LEED NC or LEED CI rating systems.

Also launched at Greenbuild was the LEED Volume Program, a certification program that designed to streamline and facilitate the certification process for high-volume property developers such as national retailers, hospitality providers and federal, state, and local governments. PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. and Starwood Hotels & Resorts are a few of the national entities that have certified projects under the Pilot of the LEED Volume Program. The program enables large-scare organization builders to deliver a consistent end product by utilizing a prototype-based approach to sustainable development. The USGBC claims that the program will facilitate LEED certification faster and at a more affordable cost than would be possible with individual building reviews.

On November 16, 2010, LEED for Healthcare passed the member ballot with an 87% approval rate. Its passage represents a culmination of seven years of collaboration between the Green Guide for Healthcare and the USGBC. The rating system is designed to guide and distinguish high-performance healthcare projects, including inpatient and outpatient care facilities as well as long term care facilities.