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Green Building in the United States: from Trend to Mainstream


Austrian delegation visits Chicago to learn about opportunities in the US green building industry bridges vol. 16, December 2007/ Feature Article

by Daniela Koll

Austrian companies occupy a leading role worldwide in the fields of environmental technology and green building. The current increase in the demand for environmentally friendly products in the US is creating great opportunities for innovative Austrian products and technologies.

Wrigley Building, Chicago, Greenbuild ad in foreground

Greenbuild Conference and Expo is the world's largest conference and exposition dedicated to sustainable building. With 21,000 attendees and 850 exhibitors, this year's GreenBuild 2007, which took place in Chicago, November 7-9, broke all records. More than 8,000 people listened to former President Bill Clinton as he delivered a motivational keynote address at the opening plenary session after introductory remarks by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) Founder and Chairman Rick Fedrizzi.

{access view=guest}Access to the full article is free, but requires you to register. Registration is simple and quick – all we need is your name and a valid e-mail address. We appreciate your interest in bridges.{/access} {access view=!guest} Visitors to this important trade show included the CEOs, vice presidents, and export directors of ten Austrian companies, who came to Chicago to learn about the potential for their products and services in the US green building market. "The current increase in the demand for environmentally friendly products in the US is creating great opportunities for innovative Austrian products and technologies in this field," said the Austrian trade commissioner in Chicago, Franz Rössler. "The Austrian government has been fostering environmental programs for many years, which has helped Austrian products assume their leading role within the worldwide environmental and green building industries - biomass, solar and photovoltaic technology, innovative green building materials like recycled foam glass and new insulating technologies for windows, among others," explained Rössler.

The Austrian Trade Commission in Chicago covers a number of industries, including construction and the environment US-wide, assisting Austrian companies that do business in the US. Hence, in a joint effort with the US Commercial Service in Vienna and financed by the "Go International Program" (an initiative of the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber and the Federal Ministry of Economics & Labor), they organized a five-day program for the Austrian company representatives who came to Chicago.

The purpose of the trade mission to Chicago was to have an intense exchange of ideas between the members of the Austrian delegation and US experts in this field, as well as to find suitable and mutually beneficial partnerships with US companies. "European companies can learn a lot from US companies in the building and construction industry, for example, in structural engineering," explains Dietrich Fuchs, owner and managing director of ISY Produktentwicklung GmbH. "On the other hand, Austrian companies have much more experience in the environmental field and the development of innovative energy-saving building materials, like HVAC and insulating materials," says Fuchs.

from left to right: Michael Muth (Global American Technology Alliances), Christian Steiner & Elke Steiner (so(u)l network ökosolares planen& bauen GmbH, Professor Dr. Georg Reichard (Virginia Tech, Dept. of Building Construction)

The Austrian delegation members' trip to Chicago included a visit to Greenbuild 2007 as well as networking events and tours of "green buildings" in Chicago such as the Chicago Chapter of the AIA, the Chicago Center for Green Technology, and the City of Chicago Department of Environment. The highlight of the fact-finding mission was a one-day conference that the Austrian Trade Commission put together exclusively for the members of the Austrian delegation. The distinguished panel included speakers such as Peter Yost (BuildingGreen) and Prof. Georg Reichard (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University).

Austria - leading country in energy efficient building

Green roof of Chicago City Hall: example of Green Building

Austria is one of the leading countries worldwide in energy efficient building technologies and the number of green buildings. The most important standard in Austria is the "Passivhausstandard" (passive house standard, PH-standard). This is a voluntary building standard that applies to new residential and non-residential buildings (e.g., office buildings, schools, supermarkets) as well as to renovations. "In contrast to Europe, ‘green building' in the US is characterized by a more holistic approach," explains Georg Reichard , a professor at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. The Passivhausstandard refers exclusively to energy efficient building methods and materials, as well as to technologies that enable energy efficient operations. It does not take into consideration aspects such as waste separation and recycling, because those have been requisites for any Austrian household for many years. Also, the requirements it sets regarding energy savings are far more stringent than the American LEED standard, ENERGY STAR, or other US standards.

Requirements of the Passivhausstandard include:

  • Reduction of energy for heating by 80 percent, compared to conventional new buildings.
  • Reduction of operational energy load by 90 percent, compared to existing buildings.

At the end of 2006 there were about 4,000 residential units with 10,000 passive house residents in Austria. Compared to Germany, Austria has 2.5 times more passive house buildings per 1 million inhabitants (a list of PH-certified projects in Austria can be found at www.ig-passivhaus.at).

This development can be attributed to a variety of factors, among them:

  • Energy prices in Europe have typically been much higher than in the US.
  • The Austrian population is traditionally very environmentally conscious.
  • Austria has a very innovative environmental technology industry.
  • Protection of the environment is also a political topic: the Austrian government fosters energy savings through strong incentives, green building programs, etc.
  • The EU is pursuing a strict energy efficiency policy; as a member of the EU, Austria is obliged to implement the relevant EU regulations on a national level. In fact, many Austrian environmental laws are more stringent than their EU counterparts.


Daniela Koll is the deputy trade commissioner at the Austrian Trade Commission in Chicago.


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