Category Archives: Famous speakers

Living Future a Deep Dive into What’s Possible…and Necessary, says Noted Paul Hawken

The following post is by Kathleen O’Brien:

Seattle. May 15-17. Living Future 2013 marks the 7th annual deep dive into the Living Building Challenge and high performance building.

Paul Hawken

With more Living Buildings coming on line (such as the recently LBC-certified Bertschi Science Wing and the Bullitt Foundation headquarters here in Seattle), the vision of a Living Future becomes more and more possible. It’s not just a pipe-dream! In remarks keynoter Paul Hawken e-mailed to me this morning, he comments:

“We are in an intense period of cultural and structural change, the depth of which is obscured by our tendency to cling to the past. Fundamental to cultural change is a complete transformation of the built environment, as different today from buildings of the past as a smartphone is from a rotary dial landline.

“In a world of increasing resource constraints, buildings are changing from structures that sit upon and harm the land to systems that interact with and support the biosphere. This is what the Living Building movement represents. Today, buildings are sinkholes for energy, water, and toxic materials. From what has been learned and implemented in the past ten years, we know conclusively that buildings can be the source of energy, water, and purification of in- and outdoor air.”

Hawken is one of three celebrated keynoters for the conference (David Suzuki and Jason McClellan being the other two), which has as its theme “Resilience and Regeneration.”  In his e-mailed remarks to me, Hawken argues that it’s not just possible, but absolutely critical to restore the qualities of resilience and regeneration to our built environment:

“These qualities are inherent in all living systems, organisms, and the planet as whole. Without them, life could not have evolved to what we see today. What we have witnessed and participated in during the past 200 years is a thermo-industrial system that ate its host—cultures, land, riparian corridors, topsoil, watersheds, coral reefs, and more. In the process, innate attributes of life were eroded and stripped away. Given the disruptions that we can now easily foresee with respect to climate disruption and its myriad impacts on food, water, cities, and people, it is imperative that we reach deep into the playbook of nature and reinvent what it means to be a human being living on the only earth we will ever have.”

Over 1,000 green building professionals and thought leaders will be at the conference hoping to learn and share cutting edge knowledge. Although most attendees will be from the Northwest, if last year is any indication, the gathering will include delegates from all over the world.

Kathleen O’Brien is a long time advocate for green building and sustainable development since before it was “cool.” She lives in a green home, and drives a hybrid when she drives at all. She continues to provide consulting on special projects for O’Brien & Company, the firm she founded over 20 years ago, and provides leadership training and mentoring through her legacy project: The Emerge Leadership Project. She’ll be conducting an introduction to the EMERGE Leadership Model at Living Future this year.


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Bill Gates says technology holds the key to energy, climate. What do you think?

When we’re talking about solving big problems there is a division between those who believe new technology will hold the key and those who believe things need to change now, even if we don’t have the perfect tools. That division was highlighted at yesterday’s talk on energy and climate by Bill Gates.

Bill Gates, former Microsoft CEO and co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, spoke at Climate Solutions’ annual breakfast May 10. Our story on his talk is here and there are

Image courtesy The Seattle Times
multiple other articles and accounts on the web. Gates basically said what he’s said before: we need major technological breakthroughs to solve climate and energy problems. To do this, he said the government needs to spend more than double the amount it currently does on research and development, and the private markets will follow. By breakthroughs, he means far-out technologies that will create a zero or very low carbon energy source. More money should be spent on renewable energy, carbon sequestration and nuclear energy, he said.

“The thing I think is the most under-invested in is basic R&D,” he said. “That’s something only the government will do. Over the next couple of decades, we have to invent and pilot, and in the decades after that we have to deploy in an unbelievably fast way, these sources.”

But even during the breakfast, this division between work in the future and work now was felt. Dean Allen, CEO of McKinstry, spoke before Gates did. He said technological silver bullets are great but “it’s often not best to wait for superman. It’s sometimes better to figure out how to take practical and profitable real time solutions where we live.”

Image courtesy Climate Solutions
Allen has a guest post on the Climate Solutions Blog here, if you’re further interested in his ideas. To watch Gates’ TED talk on a similar topic, go here.

Later, in a briefing with journalists, KC Golden, Climate Solutions’ policy director, said he doesn’t think all our problems will be solved by public funding. Public money isn’t a panacea, he said, but it is a critical piece of the solution for the energy sector “because the way the regulated economy works starves the energy sector of R&D money and innovation.”

If we are going to solve the energy and climate problems, what do you think we should be concentrating on – innovation or current work? Of course, the true solution would and most likely will (if we find it) include both. But which area do you think deserves more attention?

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Be the change you want to see… ok, so how do we do that?

A big theme of this conference so far, has been changing your thinking. More than anything, it seems like speakers keep saying over and over that change can happen — but you must believe it can and start making personal changes. However, speakers have also been quite vague about how exactly that change will come about. There’s been great ideas, quotes and anecdotes, but no real concrete steps.

At last night’s Big Bang Dinner as a 15 Minutes of Brilliance presentation, a student group from Jasper High School in Alberta did a cover of Arcade Fire’s Sprawl II song, during which students with glowing lights danced throughout the audience. It got the crowd excited for the next part of the presentation, the really incredible part. During this, students alternated speaking while a creative and hilarious video of animation illustrated their ideas. Overall, students said the way education works today is meant to turn out the same type of student. But students don’t learn the same way. Education encourages learning in a way that doesn’t encourage creativity or thinking outside the box. Youth want to learn, they said, and are a huge resource but education stifles that desire to learn. The educational system needs to change to encourage creativity, rather than regurgitation.

Margaret Wheatley
Then this morning, Margaret Wheatley spoke about the way change is created throughout the world. As a society, she said we expect change to happen vertically through an organziation. But that’s not how it works in reality. Really, she said, change happens when a small group of people identify similar ideas, gather with friends and inspire change. Change happens horizontally. And it’s hard. But perseverance can create incredible results. Personally, she said, think about what’s stifling you. Then imagine it changing. Even that action, she said, can have a profound effect.

To create change, Wheatley said other people including those we love will continue to dissuade us. We must stick to our convention anyway, she said, find our “tribe” of like-minded individuals (i.e. everyone else at this Living Future Conference) and concentrate on making change. As a connected network full of meaningful relationships, people can “grow the new.”

Wheatley had an inspirational, spiritual presentation that included personal steps to identify and support change. But it was short on concrete steps. Over on Twitter, Jon Hiskes at Sustainable Industries tweeted that he’s really glad another conference session “is laying off the vaguely inspiring aphorisms. I can’t take it any more.” I don’t think he’s the only one who feels that way.

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Majora Carter asks us to celebrate little achievements

Last night’s keynote presentation was a world away from last year’s. As depressing as James Kunstler’s talk was at Living Future 2010, Majora Carter’s was uplifting and inspiring. I figure that is the point.

In a very casual manner, Carter explained her history with the South Bronx and how she came

to be active in its revitalization. Really, it all came down to a dog. Carter was walking her dog Xena through her neighborhood when the dog led her past a pile of waste and crack viles to the Bronx River, which Carter didn’t really know existed. Seeing the river’s natural beauty so close to her home started Carter on a journey to develop green space along the river, and towards an effort of empowering people at the local level to care about their environment.

One big problem, she said, is that most people, especially those of color, view environmentalism as an upper middle class white movement that has “absolutely nothing” to do with them. Carter said part of her mission is to teach that “the environment” is really something everyone interacts with on a daily basis and that green elements can put money back in your pocket. In her talk, Carter championed green infrastructure such as green roof, and urban agriculture efforts.

Like the tea party, Carter said she believes in a smaller government. However, she believes this can be achieved by creating jobs for society’s most expensive citizens. The generationally impoverished, she said, or people who are in and out of jail or people coming back from war, use the most social services dollars. If these people had something to look forward to and some way to start paying the bills, less would return to jail or to patterns that use social service dollars. Carter works on such programs in her community, and supports others across the country.

For example, she referenced a program in Chicago called Sweet Beginnings led by Brenda Palms-Barber that teaches ex-offenders to harvest honey from beehives, turn it into skin products and market it. A year in jail costs $60,000. The national recidivism rate is 65 percent Carter said, and this program’s recidivism rate is 4.5 percent. The program saves society money while creating empowered workers, and keeping dollars from product sales in the local economy.

“Really all any of us want is something to look forward to,” she said. ” There’s Bronxe’s all over the place.”

Carter said everyone can further this type of goal by asking how your work, products or even material choice can create social well being. Carter said things like making sure  you have local hire provisions can have a big impact.

She also said it’s important to celebrate the small things. Because it’s the small things that really count.

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Off to Living Future 2011!

Hello Readers.

It’s (one of) my favorite times of year here at the DJC Green Building Blog: time to head to the Cascadia Green Building Council’s Living Future Conference! Starting tomorrow and lasting until Friday, I’ll update you on the happenings of my favorite annual conference. If you’ve never heard of

Off to Vancouver!
Living Future and won’t be heading up to Vancouver, B.C., either keep your eyes tuned here or check out the blog’s archives on past events. You can also follow me on twitter @KatieZemtseff for a more thorough and concise take on sessions and speeches.

This is my fifth Living Future event (which means I’ve been to all of them). The conference alternates each year between Seattle, Vancouver and Portland. In past years, I’ve heard and documented talks in this blog from Janine Benyus, Paul Hawken and James Howard Kunstler among others. This year, I’m looking forward to hearing what Majora Carter has to say. I’m also really excited to tour the University of British Columbia’s Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability.

Living Future, here I come!

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