During the week of April 17, more than 300 of the region’s leading green building providers gathered in Denver for the Rocky Mountain Green Conference, hosted by U.S. Green Building Council of Colorado.

The two-day conference explored issues ranging from net-zero energy and tactical urbanism to how to best take advantage of emerging green-building economic opportunities.

“USGBC Colorado’s Rocky Mountain Green conference strives to inspire, educate and connect the Centennial State’s green building leaders. It is such an exciting time of growth for Colorado, we are looking forward to further engaging our community in the greater economic development of the Rocky Mountain region,” said USGBC Colorado Executive Director Sharon Alton. 

During the conference, a media roundtable was moderated by USGBC Colorado Board Chair Stan Wagner. It featured discussions by sustainability leaders, including: Jeff Ackermann, director, Colorado Energy Office; Stella Hodgkins, sustainability specialist, GE Johnson Construction Co.; Dana Kose, program manager, The Weidt Group; Frank Rukavina, sustainability director, NREL; Mark Schwartz, Xcel Energy; Jeff Tejral, manager of Water conservation, Denver Water; and Jerry Tinianow, chief sustainability officer, Denver Mayor’s Office.

As construction improves to near prerecession levels, the discussion focused on jobs, energy, construction in the private and public sector, and how the human element is the crucial variable.

“Commercial and residential buildings are about 40% of the energy use in the United States, there’s a huge opportunity for energy savings,” said NREL’s Rukavina. “We look at the federal government to set goals to have net-zero building by 2030. We’ve currently built five LEED-certified buildings—one is the world’s largest LEED-certified building—and we proved it can be done for the same cost that you can build any other building.”

Denver’s Tinianow said, “The city’s efforts start with walking the walk and the city has already achieved about a 20% increase in the energy efficiency of its buildings. It was one of the first cities to join the president’s Better Buildings Challenge and made a commitment to go after another 20%. And as of last year, we had squeezed out another 5.6% from our 2011 baseline. We also want to help our residents become more efficient. We’ve had well over 100 businesses go through our more rigorous Certifiably Green Denver program. Collectively, these efficiency improvements have saved about $3.5 million in energy costs per year.”

During the conference, USGBC Colorado launched the inaugural “Green Achievements in Commercial Real Estate” awards program. The program will recognize the masterminds behind the most exceptional green-building projects in Colorado. Winners will be selected by a jury of peers and presented with an award at USGBC Colorado’s inaugural Commercial Real Estate Green Awards Gala in December 2014.

With large projects such as Union Station and Lamar Crossing set to open, Denver is a model that many other cities are watching closely.

During the conference roundtable, GE Johnson’s Hodgkins, said: “Denver Union Station is a pivotal project for the Denver market because it’s a corner stone of our downtown community. It is going to set the pace for our development downtown. It establishes Denver as a leader in green building because it’s such an iconic piece of our downtown area. That area consists of combining the bus and light rail system in one location, all of the developments that are part of the greater Union Station are going to contain LEED-certified buildings.” 

USGBC Colorado will continue the conversation, with a commercial real estate panel to be held in late July that will discuss LEED projects in the Union Station neighborhood.

The Union Station development includes players like McWhinney, East West, Hines, Sage and others—all developing LEED-certified buildings.