Every spring I look forward to the Living Future unConference because it brings together leading minds and progressive practitioners in the building industry. Held over the three days, Living Future is a dizzying mix of inspirational speeches, deep technical sessions, and glimpses of what is on the horizon in the sustainability movement.

This year was particularly meaningful because Living Future returned home. Not just in the sense that Seattle hosted the very first Living Future back in 2007, but because the theme of “Place and Community” focused the discussion on the importance of understanding home as a basis for sustainable practice.

This topic resonates with me because it responds to the changing paradigm for practitioners in our field. As design teams shift to more global practice, they are increasingly asked to work outside of their familiar home region. This makes it much more challenging to understand and connect with the essential cultural and natural resources that make a project sustainable.  Products and construction building methods have also globalized, causing a shift away from endemic materials that bond people and their buildings to a place.

Coming home means reestablishing that link, and at this year’s Living Future, the speakers and sessions explored this idea through a number of lenses: design process, material supply-chain, team engagement, community development, advocacy, resource balancing and financial valuation. While summarizing the richness and diversity of these discussions is nearly impossible, I will share three takeaways for moving toward a living future:

1. Learn from the Locals: Keeping the idea of place and community at hand, attendees were reminded through various sessions to make a conscious effort to observe and listen to the happenings within your native environment; look for natural indicators that reveal relationships and processes that are best adapted to each location; and engage locals that have broader perspectives on the benefits and burdens that come with creating change.

These concepts were shared by the following insightful speakers:

  • Jason McLennan, CEO of International Living Future Institute, introduced members of the Salish Tsartlip First Nation that spoke of the wisdom of elders – the flora, fauna, and generations before us – that can teach us about place if we listen.
  • Co-Founder of Biomimicry 3.8 Janine Benyus gave a keynote presentation that highlighted the opportunity to sharpen our senses in observation and acknowledge the ecological services provided by natural systems.
  • Patti Southard, Nori Cataby, De’Sean Quinn, and Richard Gelb of King County GreenTools led a workshop on utilizing an equity-focused engagement process for community development.

2. Know Your Resources: Throughout the unConference, the theme of understanding the palette and resources of the local landscape was apparent. A number of sessions encouraged green building professionals to reserve the time to ask where resources come from and where are they going; be transparent about what supports health and vitality and what creates risk or degradation; and design with simplicity to reveal the essential value and beauty of local materials.

These themes were reinforced through case studies of Living Building Challenge (LBC) projects and a key announcement from The International Living Future Institute:

  • Christine Mondor of evolveEA, Dan Hellmuth of Hellmuth & Bicknese, and Michael Gulich of Purdue University shared their individual project experiences involving early collaboration with local material providers and rigorous editing of the design for simplicity to achieve the material petal under the LBC program.
  • The International Living Future Institute released its latest program, Living Product Challenge, which introduces the idea of making a positive “handprint” via the material supply chain.

3. Eliminate Boundaries: Finally, attendees were encouraged to question the cultural and physical boundaries that that are commonly assumed in new development, and sessions proposed numerous opportunities to change this model; create “adjacent possibilities” by blurring the distinction between natural and constructed environments; accept the unknown as opportunity; identify the personal, cultural, and structural boundaries within organizations and transcend them to affect change; and communicate the value of deep green design by being a translator between disciplines. For example:

  • Brad Liljequist and Adam Amrhein of International Living Future Institute reviewed the first Living Community Challenge projects and shared best practices to blend human and natural environments.
  • Paladino Director Brad Pease and Vice President of Talent Management Julie Honeywell presented along with Donna McIntire of U.S. Department of State Overseas Buildings Operations on behavioral management techniques to overcome institutional boundaries and affect positive change.
  • Matt Macko of Environmental Building Services and Tim Runde of Carneghi & Partners made the case for designers to become fluent in real estate terms in order to articulate the true value of deep green.

Each of these sessions are a great reminder of how working as a sustainability advocate asks us to do more than just make a better building. At Paladino, we work to apply these lessons through a philosophy our team calls the Abundance Approach. The unConference speakers and sessions support and reinforce our belief that by identifying opportunities tied to the most prevalent local resources we can create higher value and enhance connection with place. By thinking and working abundantly we can bring ourselves closer to home.

We enjoyed being part of Living Future and hope to see you at next year’s unConference.  What was your takeaway from Living Future? Please let us know in comments.

International Living Future Institute (ILFI) 2014 “unConference

Andrew Lee is a senior consultant, LEED® AP BD+C, LFA at Paladino Seattle. 

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