DJC Green Building Blog Covering green building issues in Seattle and around the Pacific Northwest

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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Living Future Unconference: the future is a strange mix of doom and hope (so far)

Posted on May 6, 2010

This is my fourth Living Future Unconference. With the expection of last year's talk by Janine Benyus, each keynote talk has been somewhat doom-filled. Well, last night's talk by James Howard Kunstler was the most frightening and depressing of all.

HOWEVER, that's not to say it was a bad talk. It was a great talk. Just sweeping, opinionated and scary.

Kunstler basically said that our entire future is going to change and quick. In the next five years, he said air

Is this what we want our cities of the future to look like?
traffic and flying will be a thing of the past. It will become so expensive that it will become an elite sport: the rich will do it and the rest of us won't. Another thing we won't be doing is driving everywhere. Here are other things that will be totally different: suburbs, skyscrapers, green building, schools, food production and daily life.

Education he said, will be done mostly via homeschooling and groups of homeschooled kids. This will give children an 8th grade education level, he said, which is better than current college students are receiving.

Green skyscrapers he said don't exist. It's greenwashing. Skyscrapers will become abandoned and unused.

Suburbs, he said, will just plain die. They have four futures: 1. Being retrofitted, 2. becoming salvage yards, 3. Becoming slums and 4. becoming ruins. A very small amount of suburbs, he said, will be retrofitted. Those that will be will be located strategically near waterways or other useful things for human civilazation.

As a society, he said we better start changing things and getting used to this different future RIGHT NOW.

I just finished an educational session with Bill Reed. He mentioned "wanting to slit your throat" after listening to Kunstler and other similar speakers.

On the other hand, this morning's keynote by Jason McLennan, CEO of the Cascadia Green Building Council totally counteracted the idea that our world is doomed. We have a choice, he said. To move forward and create a brilliant future or to not. The future, he said, is not set in stone. We have every possibility in the world to make it ours. (Bill Reed echoed this theme, saying the future doesn't have to be as negative as some people believe).

McLennan said we need to recognize human failure and feel that pain. Then we must "make a difference in the time that we have."

It's been an interesting dichotomoy of ideas so far that leads to internal pondering of philosphy. Living Future, as always, does just that: it makes you think. Now onto the rest of the day....

If you're interested in up to the minute updates on the conference, follow me on Twitter @KatieZemtseff.

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Next week is going to be crazy with loads of green events!

Posted on April 30, 2010

Next week, there is an insane amount of green building events. Having so much in one week makes it really tough to decide what to attend. I have an idea of where I'll be, what about you?

Here are the green events I know about. I'm sure there are a number of others that are just not on my radar. If

You\'ll be running from event to event next week!
you know of any others in the Seattle area, feel free to post them in the comments below.

  • Cascadia's Living Future Unconference will run from May 5 to 7 at The Westin Seattle. This is the fourth Living Future and the first time it will have made its circular round back to the same city (it began in Seattle in 2007, then was in Vancouver, B.C. in 2008, then was in Portland in 2009. I've been to each conference and would highly recommend it). The conference costs $695 for Cascadia members and $760 for general registration. Speakers include James Howard Kunstler, Jason McLennan, Pliny Fisk, John Francis and Bill Reed.
  • AIA Seattle's What Makes It Green? Judging will be held next week, in conjunction with Living Future. The event costs $5 for members of AIA and other organizations and $20 for non-members. Judges include Bob Berkebile of BNIM, Donald Horn of the General Service Administration's Office of Federal High Performance Green Buildings, Claire Johnson of Atelier Ten and Alex Steffen of Worldchanging. The talk will be moderated by Nadav Malin of BuildingGreen. The event runs from 1 to 4 p.m. at Seattle City Hall on Wednesday.
  • Also connected with Living Future is King County's GreeenTools Government Confluence. This conference focuses on sustainability at the government level but has a stellar line up  of speakers. Speakers include Bill Reed of the Integrative Design Collaborative, Lucia Athens of CollinsWoerman and Dr. Dickson Despommier of Columbia University. There are a number of registration opportunities and fees that vary, based on whether you are a King County employee or not and whether you are attending Living Future. Click on the link above for more info
  • On May 5, the Washington Foundation for the Environment is holding a talk on the region's environmental protections. The talk beings at 7 p.m. and will be at the K&L Gates Offices at 925 Fourth Avenue on the 29th floor. Speakers include Washington State Department of Ecology director Ted Sturdevant and Environmental Protection Agency Region X director Dennis McLerran. The two will discuss their plans to protect the region's waters, air and land. The event is free but RSVPS are required. RSVP to
  • Next week is also Seattle Sweden Week. There is a conference called Business Focus-Edays, which focuses on clean technology, sustainable development and global health. There are a number of interesting sessions. For more on the conference, go here.  As part of Seattle Sweden Week, there will also be a talk at the University of Washington on May 5 from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. in Parrington Hall. The talk is called Narratives on Sustainability: Gustav Froding, Thomas Transtromer and others. More info on that here.
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What Makes it Green judges announced

Posted on March 11, 2010

Yesterday, AIA Seattle announced the judges of its What Makes it Green competition, described two posts down. They are:

Bob Berkebile, founding principal of BNIM Architects

Donald Horn, assistant director of General Service Administration's Office of Federal High Performance Green Buildings

Claire Johnson, head of the San Francisco office of environmental design and consulting firm Atelier Ten

Alex Steffen, executive editor of Worldchanging

and the moderator will be Nadav Malin, president of BuildingGreen LLC

These is a pretty impressive list of judges and their conversation on which projects should win promises to be equally interesting. If you want to attend the jurying session, it will be May 5 from 1 to 4 p.m. at Seattle City Hall as part of the Living Future 2010 Conference.

For further bios on the judges, visit AIA here.

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Living Future seeks conference submissions

Posted on October 8, 2009

If you (like me) are busy thinking about Greenbuild, the Cascadia Chapter of the USGBC is way ahead of you: they're thinking of next May's Living Future Conference and they want your presentation submissions. Now.

For those of you that have never been, Living Future is an "unconference," meaning that it is presented in a

Living Future is a lot like these ladies. A little odd but very chic. Photo Credit : A. Zucca / Roger-Viollet as seen on Fashion Nation
Photo Credit : A. Zucca / Roger-Viollet as seen on Fashion Nation

Living Future is a lot like these ladies. A little odd but very chic.

unique, somewhat non-traditional way (while still being a conference by definition of course). Living Future is a bit like your eclectic cousin - the one that wears vintage shirts from the 1960s, pants from the 1980s, fancy modern shoes and weird jewelry from who knows when. They might look a little odd but they always say interesting things. In comparison, Greenbuild is the buttoned up family patriarch.

Anyway, if you have something to share that's innovative, creative or a bit off center, Living Future is looking for conference submissions. Entries are due by Oct. 30 and priority will be given to localized, community level efforts to solve "the problems we face." Examples may be urban food production, decentralized water and energy production, eco-districts and local economies.

This year's conference will be held in Seattle (the conference alternates every three years from Seattle to Vancouver, B.C., to Portland) and I'm excited for it to be back in my home town. It runs from May 5-7. This year's theme is "Building Hope, Revaluing Community."

To learn more, click here.  If you want to speak with a person about this opportunity, contact Jon Gordon at

Speaking of Living Future, I have attended all three so far. If you have been to multiple Living Future Conferences, which one was your favorite?

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Living Future, Day 2: Are these brilliant ideas?

Posted on May 7, 2009

Apparently, Living Future has a theme of people taking their shirts off. Last year it was Sim Van der Ryn. This year it's the people introducing the 15 Minutes of Brilliance (though to be fair they said they were just getting more casual and only stripped to their t-shirts under dress shirts).

(By the way, the audience is whoot-whooting like in the Arsenio Hall show....)

So 15 minutes of Brilliance lets a few pre-chosen teams to get up and share their brilliant ideas in 10 minutes or less. Excuse me if the below information is a tad fragmented. 

The first item was presented by Geof Syphers, chief sustainability officer of Codding

The Sonoma Mountain Village site plan
Enterprises and Greg Searle of BioRegional. Syphers is helping to redevelop Sonoma Mountain Village, a 200-acre factory site in California into an urban neighborhood that will be leed nd, leed platinum and will meet the OnePlanet sustainable criteria. The project is 100 percent solar powered. The team is regrinding 40,000 tons of asphalt to recreate roads. It has a biodiesel factory. What's brilliant, Sypher said is looking at the impacts of a project through this tool,  we have to set impact design goals for projects, and we have to measure the end impacts of projects. "Leed platinum isn't always better than LEED silver," he said... but this tool will help get projects greener.

Aurora Mahassine of Habitile The Hanging Gardens went second. She said we need to re-think what our home is, what we value as a society and our connectivity with the Earth systems we evolved with. She said we need more curves, holes and places for life to happen in our landscape. Quote of the day? "fertility begins with a hole." If we keep telling ourselves stories of an apocaypse, she said, we will get there but if we re-embrace gardens with our hands, touch life and reinsert ourselves into the natural lifecycle, our future won't be an apocalypse. Reintegrating ourselves. Habitile itself create vertical modular living systems that become a living wall. 

Jim Estes of Inhabitability dicussed the Greensburg Living Building Challenge Competition. Two years ago, a tornado decimated Greensburg, Kansas. As they recovered they

Greensburg after the tornado
decided there had to be a better way, so each new structure is being developed to LEED platinum. The city has a new sustinable recovery plan to make the city into a sustainable pioneering center. Greensburg Green Town is developing a series of green houses so people can test drive them. Greensburg is currently forming a new partnership with Cascadia to create affordable homes. It will host a contest for teens to design, build and create affordable homes that meet the Living Building Challenge. Greensburg is offering no ordinance roadblocks for water, netzero energy etc. Teens from different locales can enter.  They hope to launch the competition in the fall. At every item this will be presented to the media (ahem).

The fourth idea was presented by Bryony Schwan, executive director of the Biomimicry Guild. Scwan said if we could use biomimicry to create change in the built environment, we could effect real change to help prevent climate change. Animals, she said, do more with less while humans problem solve in a completely different way. For example, she said, we thought until recently that flat surfaces were easier to clean. But we looked at lotuses, which had tiny rivets that allowed water to roll off the leaf and clean it. The guild is hosting the Green Building Design Challenge, to look at the connections between design and nature. There are three parts to this challenge: on Wednseday, the guild hosted a design charette to tackle the problem. Now, the challenge will be available online for comment and the third part will be taking designs to market. The challenge will be at

Sara Garrett, director of the Motivespace Coalition spoke about community asset funds and growing community space. Motivespace asks how space can motivate change through community asset funds. The first step in developing a fund is is to stay positive. The second is to support each other. The third is to know your value. The fourth is to cooperate. No one person or gorup could build a thriving community asset fund alone, Garrett said. Because time is money, neighbors can work together to get projects done, bank extra hours and use the extra time they've banked for yard work, neighborhood massages or other work. In this system, any person can seed a project and the best projects will rise to the top and draw the neighbor's assets and skills. 

..... and that's it!

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Living Future, Day 2: new living building institute announced

Posted on May 7, 2009

This morning, the Cascadia Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council announced the birth of the International Living Building Institute. The institute will oversee the global development of the Living Building Challenge.

Cascadia launched the challenge, developed by Cascadia CEO Jason McLennan, three years ago. Since then, the idea has spread around the world with 60 proposed living buidlings in different stages of design or development in the U.S. and Canada. The furthest along of these is the Omega Center for Sustainable Living in Rhinebeck, NY, which is nearing completion. A living building works like a natural system, is designed to go further than LEED platinum and must meet a rigorous set of requirements. For more info on it, click the living building tag below.

For the time being, Cascadia will continue to oversee the Living Building Challenge. But the institute is in the process of becoming a formal nonprofit, and will soon have its own board of directors.

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Janine Benyus at Living Future: mimicking nature and how it will save the world

Posted on May 7, 2009

Some keynote speakers leave you satisfied, some leave you disappointed and some leave you angry that you just wasted two hours of your time. Then, there are keynote speakers like Janine Benyus that leave you wanting more.


Benyus spoke last night at the Living Future Conference in Portland. Her talk was warm, personal, funny

and informative. Having never heard Benyus speak before, I now understand why she's considered such a big deal. The talk was pretty amazing.

Janine Benyus


The talk began with Sam Adams, Portland’s mayor (who is funny!!!), welcoming people to Portland. He was pretty straightforward about the general fear that you can’t make any money being green. Not true, he said: “If you take nothing else away from your trip to Portland, take this away: you can make money being very, very green.” Portland, he said, keeps millions in its economy because of its public transportation and green business.


Jason McLennan, Cascadia’s CEO then glowingly introduced Benyus, saying “I think you’re one of the most important figures in the planet today, period… I think you represent our species really well.” Not every day you hear that!


Then Benyus took the stage. She said the uncertainty in today's financial markets can be used to the benefit of biomimicry, building design and creating a better world. When cultural certainties disappear, she said, so does arrogance. She said the recession is creating a similar attitude that happened after the World Trade Center attacks – where “the world is open to listening to the next question ... As long as they’re listening, let’s make the vision as big as we can."


What can we learn fro, this luna moth?


In this same vein, she said building models for a place can be created by looking at how natural organisms in a location treat things like fire, wind etc. “Our buildings could have general organisms as their models.”


Benyus said she hopes we will be able to fly over cities in the future, and have them be functionally indistinguishable from the natural environment. That, she said, would be sustainability.


Benyus also plugged a tool she has been working on for the past year called The tool, she said, allows designers to ask how nature would fix a problem and learn from it. She also discussed how future areas of technology can be inspired by animal organisms. She and Paul Hawken, for example, are working on a new solar cell that is inspired by photosynthesis.


But in the end, she said, new technology or new laws aren't going to save us from ourselves. She said the only thing that can save us is "a change of heart and a change of stance towards the rest of the world."

These are just a few of the items she discussed. For more, stay tuned to a future story in the DJC. If you attended the talk, please comment below and tell me what you thought of it – or what you’ve thought about Benyus’ previous talks. If you didn’t attend the talk, I'd love to hear your comments. Is mimicking nature the future of building? How important is it compared to meeting netzero energy or netting zero water?

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Living Future, Day 1: the tour

Posted on May 6, 2009

Bright and early this morning (7:30 a.m.) I boarded a Seattle train bound for Portland so I could attend Wednesday's Living Future site tour (the first official part of the Living Future Conference) and share the results with you. Though I may be hitting the sack a little early tonight, the results did not disappoint.

There were three tours being held. I attended the one at Portland State University's Shattuck Hall, a building that was originally built in 1915 and recently underwent a ginormous renovation, both functionally and sustainably.

The building itself houses the school's architecture program, so one of the goals of the renovation was to make the building itself a teaching tool. Hence it features things like exposed piping and systems and exposed radiant ceiling panels. The visibility of systems changes from floor to floor, with the top being the most obvious and open.

Having written about the Vance Building earlier this week for the DJC, I noticed a lot of similarities. Both were built early in the century, and both recently underwent massive improvements on tight budgets. The differences in what the two decided to concentrate on though, especially having toured both buildings, were really interesting.

I took some amazing photos, which my (old) computer is unfortunately not letting me load. I promise to post them as soon as I feasibly can. I'll also try to add more information about Shattuck Hall at a later date.

Stay tuned: tonight's keynote speaker is Janine Benyus!

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Live blogging Living Future

Posted on May 5, 2009

Starting tomorrow, I'll be in Portland at Cascadia's Living Future Conference and whenever I have a chance, I'll be live blogging it! Stay tuned.....

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