DJC Green Building Blog

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

Posted on May 9, 2013

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?

Posted on May 11, 2011

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?

Posted on April 29, 2011

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

Posted on April 28, 2011

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

majora
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!

Posted on April 26, 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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Tom Douglas’ 3 new restaurants in South Lake Union historic renovation

Posted on March 22, 2011

I attended a press event this morning for the completion of Amazon.com's fourth phase of headquarters work. Attendees were invited into the historic renovation of the Terry Avenue Building next door. Terry Avenue, located on Terry Avenue North between Thomas and Harrison streets,  is soon to be the home to three (!!!) new Tom Douglas restaurants. Terry was designated a historic landmark in 2008. It was built in 1915, and was a hardwood flooring and cabinetry warehouse until the 1950s.

Surprisingly, the press release doesn't say much about the building's sustainable elements (other than it has the first green roof on a historic building in the city). Terry was part of Amazon's phase four and the release does say phase four buildings targeted LEED gold certification. From a sustainable standpoint, the fact that it is a historic renovation automatically buys the building some credibility. I asked Douglas why he liked the space. He pointed to the 1908 wooden pillar I was leaning against and said projects don't get much better than that.

Douglas also said the building is the first place he'd head during an earthquake, due to the extensive seismic renovations that went into it.

The three restaurants will all be open by mid-April. Cuoco, on the ground floor, will serve fresh pastas made in an open kitchen and will seat 100. Ting MoMo, a Tibetan dumpling cafe led by longtime Douglas chef Deyki Thonden, is to the east of the second floor and will seat 40. The Brave Horse Tavern, to the west of the second floor, will seat 150 and serve Americana food. Cuouco should open the last day of March or first few days of April. The other two restaurants will open the following week.

At the event, Ada Healey, vice president of real estate at Vulcan, said a number of things still have to happen in the neighborhood, including an up-zone. I chatted with Seattle City Council President Richard Conlin briefly at the event and he said council is trying to balance the needs of a new urban neighborhood with the need to protect the area's heritage. It is an especially pertinent time to discuss this topic as The South Lake Union Height and Density Alternatives Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which addresses this issue, is accepting comments until April 11. What do you think? Should South Lake Union be allowed to go higher? Or are there heritage elements in the neighborhood still to protect? Would love to hear your thoughts.

In the mean time, here are pictures! To see more, check out my Facebook page here.

The Terry Building from the outside, amongst Amazon.com projects. Images courtesy Katie Zemtseff.

Inside of The Brave Horse Tavern. That's Tom Douglas, behind the horse.
Inside of TingMomo Cafe (Tibetan dumplings!)
A bull statue in Cuoco.
Shuffleboard at the Brave Horse Tavern.
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GreenBuild Day 1: Colin Powell says he knows more about green building than you think

Posted on November 17, 2010

This morning, former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell gave the keynote speech at the USGBC's GreenBuild Conference in Chicago. He said he knows more about green building than you think.

Powell's green building credibility, at least during his talk, came from three things: a $1 billion annual budget for building embassies during his time as a politician, his work with Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers that is funding

Colin Powell
Bloom Energy, and his association with a LEED platinum affordable housing building in the Bronx bearing his name.

However, his talk didn't really focus on green building. Instead, it focused on the state of the country, motivating Americans and creating true leadership to support our economy and continue improving America. A big part of this effort, he said, is energy efficiency.

Powell said those in the green building sector need to look at what they're doing and see the broader purpose:

"Your purpose is to help the world use less energy, to help the world promote its environment and above all to help the world grow economically so that more people can come up out of poverty and despair... you have got a purpose for your future.

"What you’re doing is building green buildings and that's wonderful but what you’re really doing is helping the world deal with its energy needs and helping the world create growth for those in need."

Powell said this effort is playing a major role in the U.S.'s national security policy because it is reducing energy needs. However, he also said the U.S. can never be totally energy independent and that we need all sorts of energy: wind, solar, nuclear and coal. I'm guessing a number of you would take issue with that.

Overall, the talk careened from America's place in the global economy to our country's future to terrorism to leadership. Powell spoke personally about having a 2.0 GPA in college, being a son of immigrants and being a new soldier soon after the army was desegragated. None of these things matter, he said.

"It doesn't matter where you start in life, it's where you end up but more importantly, what did you do along the way?”

He spoke about aging in a world of new media "I'm analog trying to become digital" and about the emptiness he felt immediately after leaving his post as secretary of state (to deal with it, he needed to find other intellectually challenging opportunities, such as his work with Kleiner and with his effort to promote education nationally).

As a speaker, Powell was engaging and funny, repeatedly making the audience (and me) laugh. It's nice during these talks when you can lose yourself to some degree in what the speaker is saying and allow yourself to be transported, rather than always remaining detached from the subject matter. If you have a chance to hear him speak, I would highly recommend it.

Are you here? What did you think of the talk? Were you impressed with the overall inspiration or upset that it didn't focus more on green building? Would love to hear your thoughts!

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Olson Kundig’s idea of sustainability – from art haven to car heaven

Posted on October 28, 2010

It's been an Olson Kundig Architects week here at the DJC. On Tuesday, we wrote this story on Art Stable, the new artist loft space in South Lake Union. On Wednesday, we wrote this story on the new Stadium Nissan dealership near Safeco Field, developed by Greg Smith of Urban Visions. Both were designed by Olson Kundig. Extensive photos are available here.

In covering these two, very different projects, I've had a little time to think about the sustainable

Art Stable
Image courtesy Katie Zemtseff

Art Stable

hot spots of each. In Art Stable, what really sticks in my mind is the idea that it is designed to be turned into different things over time. It's already zoned for commercial so it could be that. But little things, like high ceilings, placing utilities along the building's perimeter, using durable materials and having a flexible floor plan, could easily allow it to be other uses over time. There was thought put into how the space could change. It is also pre-wired for solar photovoltaic to the roof and for electric car charging in the garage. Granted, I would hope to get a little foresight in a space that costs between $500 and $800 per square foot. But this is pretty unique to me: a team that really looked at the longevity of space. It seems like it's a consideration generally missing from our land use and project debates.

These two quotes encapsulate the idea:

From Kirsten Murray, managing principal for Olson Kundig: “I think sustainability is above all about the longevity, the useful long life of a building. There's an idea that the structure is sort of the foundation for what kind of becomes the life of the building.”

....and from Chris Rogers, CEO of the building's developer, Point 32:“If you think of turn-of-the-century buildings that have been repurposed, we're thinking about this building in the same terms but in a more contemporary format,” he said. “You're creating a structure that could be used for multiple purposes long into the future... You're prolonging its life essentially.”

Interesting.

Nissan dealership, courtesy Katie Zemtseff
Second, this week I ran into Tom Kundig at the Stadium Nissan dealership opening. The dealership will sell the all-electric Leaf car, once it goes on sale in December. It is the first dealership the internationally known firm has designed.

Kundig told me the sustainability of the space, as well as his firm's design aesthetic, had a lot to do with restraint. Instead of covering materials with paint or toxic-fueled finishes, they are left alone and allowed to weather naturally. Materials in the building, from wood to steel to concrete, are left raw, allowing people to see their inherent beauty. "Rather than trying to cover it up or be sort of artificial about it."

Kundig said the space is also sustainable in that the dealership reused and improved the old building while uncovering its beauty.

Tom Kundig
Kundig said the main purpose of the space was to show off the people in the room and the Leaf. Architecture is meant to support that goal.

"Good architecture to me is quiet architecture, oddly. That usually means sort of quiet use of resources because... it's not about showing off the thing, it's about looking at it in a totality," Kundig said, adding that architecture is about the wholesomness of something, rather than the individual pieces. The more a space can resemble a symphony, the better. (He also said this is a really tough idea to get across in print so I hope I've done it justice!)

I spoke to Mayor Mike McGinn briefly about his perception of the space. He said its LEED gold goal was impressive as was its adaptive reuse, unfinished floors and exposed wood.

"It really did have a different look and feel and I think they were demonstrating an environmental consciousness of the building and its operations as well as what they were selling," he said. "I don’t think that’s a usual trait that you see (in car dealerships)."

And for those of you who say any space dedicated to the car can't be sustainable, yes, I asked Greg Smith about that aspect too. Empirically, he said you may be correct, but for now, that's not the reality. He said the opportunity to be a part of something like the Leaf that will revolutionize the auto industry for the better "moves the dial" enormously.

Interesting stuff, don't you think.

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Giuliani says clean tech is America’s next big market

Posted on September 29, 2010

This week, I interviewed former Mayor of New York and Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani on clean tech. The story is in the DJC here and nicely sums up our conversation. But if you're interested in why

Rudy Giuliani. Photo By Katie Zemtseff
Giuliani is interested in clean tech or what he thinks the next big thing or heck, whether he likes Seattle or not, I suggest you view our discussion.

The discussion is split into three video interviews. Here they are:

Click here for part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qmR1WlDAJ4o

Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XTNYT65chrU

Part 3: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wwjH09FjsFU

Enjoy!

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Living Future: speaker chose 17 years of voluntary silence in response to oil spill. What can we do now in response to BP?

Posted on May 7, 2010

I'm at the last keynote of Cascadia's Living Future Conference. John Francis of Planetwalk, an activist and author who stopped speaking for 17 years in response to a 1971 oil spill, is lecturing. He also stopped driving in cars or vehicles. This, my friends is a real storyteller.

Francis opened the discussion by slowly walking into the room playing a banjo. Now, he is telling the story

John Francis
of his life complete with movements, theatrical gestures and impressions. It's a pleasure to be in a room with someone that pulls you into their story, rather than keeping you separate from it.

So how does one stop driving in vehicles or speaking? It first began with an oil spill. After the oil spill. he decided to stop driving in cars. Then, in honor of his 27th birthday, he decided he wouldn't speak for a single day. Once he stopped speaking, he learned he hadn't been listening to people for a long time. He'd listen just enough until he thought he knew what someone would say but would then begin thinking of a retort. It wasn't communication at all. When he discovered this, Francis said it was both a happy and sad day. He started listening and began learning things. He said being silent also stopped him from lying, which he had previously done often. A week turned into a month. Which turned into 17 years. It took him seven years and 1 day to walk from one coast of the U.S. to the other.

He said he started speaking again on the 20th anniversary of Earth Day in order to communicate the following:

"If we are part of the environment as we profess then our first opportunity to treat the environment in a sustainable way or even to understand what sustainability is is in relationship with ourselves and each other."

After breaking his silence, he got a job rewriting oil pollution legislation with the U.S. Coast Guard.

In the end, his message is that we are the environment. How we treat each other will manifest itself phsycially. This is especially important in relation to the BP Gulf oil spill. When he was studying for his Ph.D., Francis said his worst case scenario wasn't nearly as bad as what has happened on the Gulf Coast. He asks us to ask ourselves what we have done that have perpetuated oil use, and what we can done to change that on a personal basis. This oil spill is going to hurt, he said, but something will happen because people will "make it happen."

"It's not so much the pollution... that's important but what's the most important is what's inside of us... and how we let it touch each other," he said. "(It's) love for all of us and redefining the environment to encompass that... and redefine ourselves as Americans to care for all Americans.... if we can make that paradigm shift on a personal basis that... we're really gonna change the world."

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