We were fortunate to have the Living Future unConference in our company backyard this year. More than 1,000 experts in green building gathered in Seattle to learn about sustainable design and communities from each other and from organizations that have successfully implemented Living Building Challenge projects.
Major announcements at the conference included the release of Living Building Challenge 4.0, the introduction of the CORE system, and commitments from leading companies such as Google and Salesforce to LBC certification of properties. However, inspiration does not always come from the headlines. Here are a few of the conversations and workshops from which our team drew inspiration.
Ambition does not (always) equal BIG
Not all ambitious projects are large (or need to be.) When we think of ambition or challenge, we usually conjure up images of mountains or marathons. Not so when it comes to Living Building Challenge projects in King County, Washington. King County has committed to developing ten Living Buildings by 2020 as part of its Strategic Climate Action Plan. Several of the LBC programs highlighted by King County at Living Future 2019 were small pilot projects that can be scaled for larger impact – think bus stations using recycled bus batteries for renewable energy storage and bus driver comfort stations with compostable toilets and biophilic break areas.
Perhaps the most impactful aspect of King County’s work is that they are showing that a hard-working, diverse group of government employees with the same budget, timeline, and design constraints as any typical project can realize this type of ambitious goal. Essentially saying to the world, “come on people, if we can do it on lean public service projects, what are you waiting for?!”
The obvious answer is not always so obvious
Kudos to the team from Architectural Nexus for putting together a whodunnit mystery presentation that focused on the firm’s search for the culprit to their increased particulate matter (PM2.5) at their new Sacramento office. The team renovated an existing warehouse for their new office using the Living Building Challenge as a guide. When it came time to test and certify their building, the levels of particulate matter were off the charts.
They explored every potential cause – from the outdated stockpile of vinyl three-ring binders and product samples in the materials library, to the tissues people used to blow noses. They cleaned the air ducts, examined the pressurization and still could not pinpoint the exact reason for the increased levels. Finally, they realized the main source of their PM 2.5 levels came from the busy street where cars and trucks passed by during rush hour in downtown Sacramento. The team had spent so much energy focused on water and energy efficiency they originally failed to consider the site of their project as an obstacle and challenge. Fortunately, the testing, re-testing, and re-engineering of the building systems resulted in better air quality, a reduction in particles and a certification from the Living Building Challenge.
Maybe we should focus on Collaboration instead of Integration
The green building industry has talked about the importance of integrated design for decades. In practice, there are few project teams that truly execute this concept to its full potential. Too often, integrated design retreats to weekly coordination meetings to ensure the BIM models are aligned. With Collaboration + Abundance as this year’s theme, it was no surprise that innovative approaches to integration popped up in numerous settings.
Marika Frenette has shifted her architect urbanist practice with Wigwam in France to lead with project facilitation as a means to an end, as opposed to merely providing sustainability consulting. By proactively leading teams through a series of interactive sessions at varying scales and with selective stakeholders, she is able to integrate biophilic design principles and environmental performance strategies merely by infusing them into the process from the inside, instead of trying to force them in externally.
The Moonshot Approach
Just in case all of the recent news about climate change had you down, Mary Robinson came to the rescue Friday morning to provide hope. Mary, the former President of Ireland and leader on climate change in the UN, used her keynote as a platform to energize our industry, citing that we need to “get angry” with those that have more power and ability to make a difference. She lauded youth activist Greta Thurnberg, who is currently living this charge and rallying a global youth movement as a result. Mary co-hosts a podcast called “Mothers of Invention: climate change is a man-made problem that needs a feminist solution” in which she urges the audience to connect the dots, leverage the power of numbers to hold our governments and industries accountable to sustainable development goals. “We must not allow the earth to warm above 1.5 degrees,” she reminds us.
Mary also emphasized the importance of imagining more of the future we are hurrying towards. Her suggestion was to ditch the step-by-step, plans for incremental change and instead take the “moonshot approach.” Not only should we have our sights on solving climate change but need to solve poverty and underdevelopment as well. To switch the audience from feeling overwhelmed to inspired, she reminded us that JFK said we’d put a man on the moon in 8 years. At the time, the average age of NASA was 26 and getting to the moon seemed like an impossible task, but it happened. Another bit of encouragement was offered by recalling Nelson Mandela’s quote, “it always seems impossible until it’s done.”
Make it personal
Mary’s first key point was to make climate change personal, stating her personal change to become a pescatarian as an example of how each person should find a way to use their everyday life to make a meaningful impact. She ended her address by asking for feedback and suggestions instead of questions. Jennifer Cutbill, an architect from Vancouver, obliged, asserting that in order to expand our impact we need to tell more stories. Performance metrics and technical design strategies are wonderful but connecting with others through the power of personal stories is what is necessary to create the sea change required to combat climate change. She put a call out to the room to find ways to integrate storytelling and develop a platform for sharing with others.
The nature of work should involve nature
Rolando Balli has leveraged his experience leading Dell’s culture of work efforts to develop a new practice, Ozadi, focusing on cultivating cultural transformations within the workplace. During the biophilic design workshop on Wednesday, Rolando made it clear that everything that drives us as humans is habit. Creating a new paradigm in the built environment will require personally transforming behaviors to create new habits in our everyday work that are most closely aligned with the natural world. As he eloquently states, “it’s time for the nature of work to be working with nature.”
An abundance of Abundant Thinkers
For those of you that know Paladino, you know that we lead with abundance thinking, and it is one of our core values. It was fitting, then, that during the year with the Abundance theme that Paladino had our largest presence at Living Future yet. We covered the range of roles as well, with Tom and Divya as presenters of quantifying wellness on Friday, Renee volunteering throughout the week, and Nash as a full attendee. Learn more about the missing link to all those wellness studies and download our wellness ebook.