Chris Edlin, Donna Trost, and Kathleen O'Brien from O'Brien and Company attended Living Future 2012 in Portland. In addition to enjoying great food at the local street food carts for lunch, we picked up some tasty tidbits we'd like to share with Building Capacity fans. Please keep in mind we weren't everywhere, and this isn't everything we participated in, either.
Note: If you were there and you have additional highlights (or critiques) you want to share, COMMENT on this post. If you weren't there, you can download or view presentations at Living Future 2012 — and start planning now to go to Living Future, Seattle, 2013. They are (happily) capping attendance at 1000 (this year's tally), so don't miss out.
Both Kathleen and Donna attended sessions focused on money — how to get it (funding) and how to get others to spend it (investment). The bottom line for the first continues to be creative partnerships that produce projects that have multiple uses (and therefore benefits) that can be monetized and "pitched" to potential funders. The Portland Public School District hooked up with the Boys and Girls Club and the University Park Recreation Center in a partnership that not only saved the school from building their o wn gymnasium but also created a Community Campus for the largest revitalization project in Oregon history. Hood River Middle School's new science and music building; and greenhouse doubles as the local farmers’ market on weekends and offers its amphitheatre for public use.
The Vernonia School in Northwest Oregon was able to achieve LEED Platinum partly because it also serves as a community and emergency center and received funding to rebuild its flood damaged school (on higher ground!) for these uses; in addition the school was able to meet FSC wood goals because it included local lumber companies in its planning discussions. Another reason the Vernonia School succeeded in its fundraising is its decision to work with local residents first to approve a bond measure. This local buy-in was compelling when the district applied for county, state, and federal funding.
Partnership also figures in moving the needle on real estate investment. A team, including Jason Twill (Vulcan), David Batker (Earth Economics), Theddi Wright Chappell (Cushman & Wakefield), Stuart Cowan (Autopoiesis), reported on the work they've done to identify where the investment barriers (and opportunities) are now relevant to sustainable real estate. The results of their efforts, which they now call Phase I, are included in "Economics of Change: Catalyzing the Investment Shift Towards a Restorative Built Environment." They are now partnered with the International Living Future Institute (ILFI) for Phase 2, which is anticipated to produce an open source investment decision making tool that integrates public and private benefits not currently considered for a variety of reasons. In the U.S. where investors are driven primarily on ROI, going beyond LEED Platinum is not yet defensible, in the opinion of the panelists. In Phase 2, the team hopes their work will help justify investments in meeting the performance requirements of the Living Building Challenge.
Another tool that might be used to justify investment in the future if and when decarbonization becomes a defensible real estate investment has been hatched in Chicago by architects Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill. The decarbonization strategies they are promoting for existing buildings and infrastructure are familiar to most of us, but the new angle is a calculator that provides feedback on the potential carbon emissions reduction these design strategies have in a specific building project and/or a district (in their research case the Chicago Loop). Of course, one hopes that investors will look at this data in the context of other benefits.
What's the Economy, Stupid?
Turning perceptions on their head is a regular exercise at the Living Future Unconference. This year was no exception. The Living Future bookstore featured "What's the Economy For Anyway?" co-authored by David Batker (mentioned above) with John de Graaf. The book explains "why it's time to stop chasing growth and start pursuing happiness." David and Kathleen traded books and autographs, and Kathleen just lauuuvs the book — really.
Donna attended a session on "Living Economies," which posed the need for a more complete articulation of economic value (to include social and natural assets now seen as externalities to the economy) as a design problem, not a design constraint, and suggested that Biomimicry could be the framework for solving this problem.
Vandana Shiva offered an inspiring keynote at the conference that touched on the Living Future conference theme "Women Reshaping the World." She described the critical importance of seeing nature as a living feminine being, not an industrial resource to keep the world's GDP spinning upward. With her project Naydanya (Nine Seeds), and her book "Soil not Oil" she is working for food security in India, while enlarging the definition of economic value to include seeds, soil, and the protection of nature as a whole.
This larger view of our natural, living systems should not be unfamiliar, but a form of "Re-Connecting." Chris enjoyed a presentation by Bill Reed (Alliance for Regeneration) and John Boecker (7Group), which explored the nature and practice of pattern thinking to harmonize the interrelationships between human aspirations (where the economy comes in) and the nature of living systems.
Speaking of the larger view, Pliny Fisk, as usual, invited us to his orbit on EcoBalance design, but thank goodness, Gail Vittori (his life partner and his Co-Director at the Center for Maximum Building Potential) was there to explain what Pliny was talking about. (It's okay, Pliny can take it, he and Kathleen are old pals.) Chris' take-homes: think in cycles, utilize new information visualization tools to bring together abundant and complex data, reprogram thinking that your product will look different, and learn the value of cycles and regeneration.
See Women Lead
To be honest, Kathleen, and several of her women colleagues, cringed at first when this year's theme was announced at the 2011 conference. Would the conference "trivialize" women's issues by making the their contributions "special?" Although there were a few odd moments in the program — for example why (???) should women especially be the ones balancing business and families, the topic of one session. (Shouldn't we all be concerned about that? Let's hear it for paternity leave!) And a keynote by Carol Sanford that seemed to promote being tough and argumentative, while selling her book (Did anyone not know the name of her current and future books by the time you left the talk? Shame on you.)
But there were two workshops on the theme that were just terrific. The first launched "Making Women's Leadership Visible"– an advocacy project that involves women interviewing each other as a way to make our achievements visible. As women readers are painfully aware, women are generally uncomfortable taking credit for their work, often qualifying their claims with "helped, was instrumental in developing, was part of a team, etc." Nothing wrong with these statements, except that men don't seem to share this discomfort. Project principals Ann Edminster (Design Avenues), Christine Magar (Greenform), and Karen Tucker (iLiv) believe that building womens' ability to stand up and be counted will actually benefit all of us . For the curious, interviews are located on youtube channel seewomenlead. If you want to contribute an interview, contact any one of these folks for the instructions.
The second workshop included a panel of women leaders ranging in age from the mid 20s to the early 80s. Besides the fact that this was a total hoot for the panelists (we know this firsthand, since Kathleen was on the panel) it was clear that the topic and the workshop design were pretty darn engaging. From what we can tell, not a single person — woman or man — left before the session was over! In addition to visual presentations and stories by each participant, focusing on significant moments in each panelist's professional development, as well as personal inspiration and achievements, a timeline exercise designed by Ellen Southard (Site Story) allowed participants to identify critical moments in their lives that led to their current passion and involvement in sustainability. And Marj Barlow (The Possible Woman) and Nadine Gudz (InterfaceFlor) led an affirmation exercise that brought the session to a resounding and hope-filled finale. Other panelists for this workshop included Patti Southard (King County Green Tools), Jamie Statter (Clinton Global Initiative), and Kerry Mason (TetraTech).
Chris was particularly moved by Pete Munoz (Natural Systems International) in the closing session, who emotionally voiced his opinion that the UnConference theme was not about gender at all, but about all of us integrating the qualities often associated with the feminine. This attitude will go a long way towards redefining the value of money, the scope of our economy, and the health of our professional community.