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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Study makes a case for developing more living buildings

Posted on June 7, 2012

The following post is by Kathleen O'Brien:

In early May, I traveled to Portland to the Cascadia Green Building Council's annual Living Future Conference. I enjoyed the conference a lot, and especially the very practical financial focus in several of the sessions.

O'Brien

Moving the needle on real estate investment was the topic of a Living Future panel including Jason Twill (Vulcan), David Baker (Earth Economics), Theddi Wright Chappell (Cushman & Wakefield), Stuart Cowan (Autopoiesis). They noted that investment in sustainable real estate seems to be "topping out" in the market at this time — at LEED Platinum. Their hope is to help the market cross that barrier into higher realms of sustainable achievement, such as the Living Building Challenge.
Jason, David, Stuart, and Theddi are coauthors of "Economics of Change: Catalyzing the Investment Shift Towards a Restorative Built Environment." The research study was funded by Bullitt Foundation, a long time supporter of environmental protection in the Northwest. The point of the study was to "provide evidence of monetized environmental and social benefits...currently not considered in conventional real estate model(s)." The authors hope to provide a defensible rationale for including these public and private benefits into investment models, appraiser methodologies, and supporting policies. This is especially important for U.S. real estate investments where ROI and IRR are the ultimate drivers of most transactions.
The report lays out the ABC's, if you will, of Ecosystem Goods and Services, the potential Ecosystem Services that Living Buildings might provide, and finally the opportunity to measure, monetize, and value those ecosystem services. The study takes a scholarly approach, a step up from the early days when we in the green building field had to rely more on reason and intuition, since we had little real data to base our assumptions on. (Not that reason and intuition is bad...it's what got us here, yes?).

"The Economics of Change"

The report also introduces the concept of integrated real estate investment modeling. From this layperson's view, it seems to build on the conventional model, rather than replace it — an approach that makes a good deal of sense. The methodology they propose will allow many environmental and social benefits currently valued at zero to be seen as economically valuable, and therefore marketable. In the next phase of their work, they plan to produce detailed calculations and case studies of the environmental and social benefits of Living Buildings, test the impact of these values of valuation models or appraisals, and create an open source prototype of the integrated real estate investment marketing tool to "demonstrate how environmental and social benefits can be embedded within a pro forma in an new building development context."
In addition to taking this tool out to the real estate development communities (appraisers and valuation specialists), they hope to provide a basis for changes in local, state, and federal policy that will acknowledge public benefits of Living Building development and incentivize it.
As Theddi noted, "right now investors are going for the low hanging fruit — energy efficiency — for example. We need to provide sufficient rationale if we want them to go beyond that."

Hear, hear.

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. Having recently sold her firm, O'Brien & Company, she is now focused on leadership work with those "still in the trenches."  For more info see www.emergeleadership.net

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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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Canadian Building aims to be greenest in North America

Posted on April 27, 2011

Living Future 2011 in Vancouver, B.C . could have begun better. My first event was a tour of the new Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability space at University of British Columbia.  To get there, all 30 of us had to wait 20 minutes, get on a 40 minute bus ride and then trudge through 15 minutes of pouring, pouring rain. Needless to say, I should have remembered my umbrella. A kind soul on the tour (not from the Northwest, obviously, who

The inside of the CIRS building, as it looks today
DID remember her umbrella) gracefully let me half-hover under hers. Despite that, I am currently totally soaked through though my shoes and coat are now drying out.

Thankfully, the tour was totally worth it. The CIRS Center is poised to be an incredible project, once complete. The four-story, 60,000-square-foot dry-lab research building has targeted both the Living Building Challenge and LEED platinum. Its goal is to be the most innovative building in North America. The building should be ready for occupancy by the end of May. It was designed by Busby Perkins + Will.

When designing and building it, the team concentrated on equally balancing the need to be net positive, or to give back more energy and environmental benefit than the building took from the grid; to be humane, or being constructed and thought of with the best impacts on humans possible; and being smart, or cost effective and adaptive.

The inside office space of the new CIRS building. It is shaped like a horseshoe.
To do that, this building functions on a greater scale than just its footprint in two big ways. It captures wasted heat from the building next door and uses some of it to fully heat the CIRS building before giving the rest back. Doing this allows the building next door to reduce the amount of steam it requires for heat, which reduces money the university spends on natural gas, saving money and creating a net positive effect.

It will capture all rainwater, treat it and use it as potable water for those in the building to drink (this is what the Bullitt Foundation's Cascadia Center targeting living building status in Seattle wants to do, though code rules are making it tough). It will also treat all wastewater generated in the building and use it to flush toilets, urinals and for drip irrigation. This was a difficult thing to permit, said Alberto Cayuelo, associate director of the UBC Sustainability Initiative. All water will be treated, drank, reused, treated, reused and treated again. This is the first building in Vancouver, the team said, to do this. Water that hits the building's hardscapes will be redirected into the aquifer.

The building's price is $37 million Canadian, with a $22 million construction budget. Cayuela said the project will cost between 20 and 30 percent more than a LEED gold building.

“I’d be lying through my teeth if I said this building came in at no premium,” he said. “(But) on a total cost of ownership basis, we can recoup that investment in a few years.”

The project should save money through energy and water initiaves.

There’s a lot more that I can and will say about this project. But I’ m about to hear Majora Carter speak, so more info will have to wait for another story!

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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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Visit Seattle’s first (likely) living building

Posted on February 22, 2011

Recently, the Restorative Design Collective completed what will likely be the first living building in Washington State at the Bertschi School. Of course, we won't know whether it meets living building certification until it has operated for a year. But the project is designed to provide all its own energy, treat its own water and lay light on the land. It is called the science wing and will be a scientific learning area for students.

This is the first living building project to target the 2.0 version of the challenge (a tougher standard than the original), and the first project to be built in an urban area. The project was built largely through volunteer work, organized by a group called The Restorative Design Collective. The project cost about $1 million but members of the collective donated about $500,000 in pro bono time in addition to that.

Stacy Smedley, of KMD Architects and co-founder of the collective, said it is important to have a living building in the region where the challenge was born. Jason McLennan, CEO of the Cascadia Green Building Chapter, published the challenge at the end of 2006. Chris Hellstern, the other co-founder of the collective, is also at KMD.

The DJC story on the finished product is here, a story written last June details the founding of the collective and design plans here. If you don't have a DJC subsciption, this story is unlocked (meaning anyone can read it). It's a really interesting personal look at problem solving issues on the project. We also covered the installation of the building's SIPS panels on the Green Building Blog here.

For instance, the team focused heavily on water and has a system in place that would treat collected water to potable standards. But before it can do that, it must wait for state and local rules to change. A runnel, cut in the ground, will allow children to see flowing rainwater.

Bertschi will offer tours of the building, though it will usually be a science wing for students' education so tours must be pre-arranged. For more information, call Bertschi at 206-324-5476.

If you're interested in learning more about living buildings, check out the fifth annual Living Future (Un)Conference. This year it is in Vancouver, B.C. from April 27-29. As someone who has attended each of these conferences so far, I can say it is an incredible time.

Here are some pictures of the finished product. More pictures on my Facebook page here.

The exterior of the science wing, Image courtesy Katie Zemtseff

The living wall and area where children will do plan and animal experiments, image courtesy Katie Zemtseff
Closeup of the living wall. Image courtesy Katie Zemtseff.
A runnel where students will be able to watch rain water flow, like a river. Image courtesy Katie Zemtseff.
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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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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 info@wffe.org.
  • 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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