With the opening of the Expo hall and the start of the full educational program, there were plenty of opportunities yesterday for discussion, education, and networking. As evidence, here are four things I learned at the Greenbuild Summits on Tuesday:

1. Materials matter.

As Tom Lent writes in our latest issue, the growing push for transparency in building materials is just the beginning of a massive change in the way we talk about products, and with good reason: The built environment is a massive consumer of materials and products. Did you know that buildings use 40 percent of the world's raw materials, equating to 3 billion tons annually, and that the U.S. generated 136 million tons of construction and demolition waste each year? What about the fact that 3.4 percent of all chemicals in the U.S. go into construction processes and materials?

These are just a few of the tidbits Ken Geiser of the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, shared with attendees at the kickoff of the Materials and Human Health Summit. Other stats that caught my ear: 30 percent of new and renovated buildings receive excessive complaints related to indoor environmental quality, per World Health Organization research, and the fact that in a recent study by Brown University, women of childbearing age had median or higher levels of at least two of three pollutants in their body that could harm fetal brain development.

It should be no surprise, as this discussion grows and research like this comes out, that the push for examining safer building materials continues to grow. A word of warning from Geiser, though: New materials are not necessarily safer. It's about a more comprehensive look at both new and existing options, with a deeper diver into the components and their affect on health and well-being. As such, he says, specifiers such as designers and architects should be asking the conventional questions--how will this material perform; how much does it cost; is it readily available—as well as a set of new questions such as what chemicals are in this material; will these chemicals be hazardous for building occupants or construction workers; and where are these chemicals coming from?

2. Want someone to show you the money? Go on a treasure hunt.

At the Affordable Housing Summit, Beth Mullen, a CPA with Cohn Reznick had this advice: Treat it like a treasure hunt. Why not have a positive attitude about the fact that a big challenge today, according to Trisha Miller of the Department of Housing and Urban Development is "how to embed energy and green building in core programs in lieu of legislative change or new public dollars." Luckily, there are a range of tools available, and it may be best to start locally. Check out dsireusa.org as a starting point.

3. When it comes to creativity hubs, Main Street is where it's at.

Coming on the heels of John Norquist's argument for the return of mixed-use Main Street developments across the country, Mark Huppert, senior director for the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Preservation Green Lab, not only echoed similar sentiments but said these urban developments are natural incubators for creativity. Thank the Echo Boomers for that: "Small businesses are the incubators of innovation and small buildings are housing these incubators. The buildings are afforable," Hubbert says, nothing that big buildings are increasingly seen as "not cool" for small businesses. "There's a cool factor to old, small buildings," he says. "Echo boomers are emerging as a creative part of the economy and they love old stuff."

On top that, forget what you think about the word "preservation." Preservation in the 21st century, Hubbert says, is all about making it easier—not harder—to use old buildings.

4. Carbon neutrality is a must.

I'm hot on the year 2020, thanks to our year-long research initiative, which is captured in our latest issue of ECOHOME, as it stands to be a critical tipping point for the future of our planet. Little did I know, however, how true that was. Ed Mazria, FAIA, founder of Architecture 2030 and the 2030 Challenge hit home with news that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said 2020 is, indeed, critical. By that year, the panel recently noted, global carbon emissions must peak and go into decline, or we risk raising the global temperature 2 degrees C, a point of no return for repairing our climate.

On the upside, the 2030 Palette, which Architecture 2030 has been developing for the past few years and launched in beta form at Greenbuild last year in San Francisco, is now live! This is a must-check-out resource: 2030palette.org.