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Living Future: Life in the Solution

LivingFuture Last week, I had the privilege of participating in Living Future, the annual “un-conference” organized by the Cascadia Green Building Council around the Living Buildng Challenge. It’s the kind of event that makes you wish you could be in more than one place at a time. So many choices, so little time! I have to admit I was also lucky enough to attend the Green Tools' Government Confluence the day before. That event, aimed at government representatives from around the region, offered some of the same speakers and topics.

What impressed me most about the presentations and workshops I participated in last week was that in addition to the high knowledge level and passion I’ve come to expect from the green building crowd, the focus was on applied solutions. Anyone who knows me personally, or read my book, knows I’m into living in the solution, not the problem. In the 27 years I’ve worked in this field I can say that we got way more traction when we stopped complaining and blaming, started listening to those we thought were causing problems, and WITH them, started solving them.

With solutions like the bioreactor technology presented by the Whole Water Systems (WWS) crew in the Living Future Breakout Session: “Water Treatment & Reuse Using Biomimicry.” This technology is scalable, phasable, and depending on the application, an attractive landscape amenity. I liked WWS’s practical AND positive approach to the fact to that, today, most municipalities will not allow you to rely on these facilities to supply your drinking water. The consultants advise their projects to install dual plumbing for the not-too-distant future when wastewater is seen as the water resource it really is. They are also working with jurisdictions to break this particular code barrier down. They mentioned a few resources; I’ve already checked one out : The EPA’s “Handbook for Managing Onsite and Clustered (Decentralized) Wastewater Treatment Systems.” Looks like a great tool for communities hoping to create a tailored and more sustainable approach to managing wastewater on site.

Not as developed but none-the-less appealing to me because of the many benefits it could provide was the Vertical Farm solution presented by Dr. Dickson Despommier (Professor Emeritus at Columbia University) and Dan Albert, Landscape Designer with Weber Thompson. I heard them speak at the Confluence, but they repeated their talk in a larger panel at the Living Future Session “Food for Thought: A Conversation on the Urban Agriculture Movement.” Vertical farming – scaling up greenhouse technologies beyond the current one-story limitation – promises more output, less transportation energy consumption, and greater food security while eliminating agricultural runoff. This should be taken seriously and considered in the early stages of urban (re-)development projects. Still theoretical, but Despommier’s website is daily attracting unsolicited prototypes (including Weber Thompson’s eco-laboratory conceptual design), and soilless techniques, such as hydroponics and aeroponics (important because of the weight of soil and associated structural requirements to support it) are well established.

There was lots more, such as Dr. John Francis’ fabulous closing keynote on not talking and yes walking in the name of the environment (check out the Planetwalk website to find out what I mean), great conversations with old friends (including fellow "pioneers" on a fun panel moderated by Jason McLennan), and good guiltless food – all nurturing us for the good fight.

There was one misstep, and that was the apocalyptic opening keynote by an individual I shall not name. He spent the first hour telling us how messed up the world is now because of our wrong-headed decisions and the second hour telling us that the solutions we are looking at right now are also wrong-headed. His most positive moment was in promising us that overpopulation would be taken care of – by the four horsemen. And spare me the profanity, please.

Other than that, the conference was a blast. See you there next year.

Kathleen O’Brien is the Editor of the Building Capacity Blog, President of O’Brien & Company, and author of the Northwest Green Home Primer.

Did you enjoy this article?  You might also like these Building Capacity Blog articles: 
Living Building Challenge: Bertschi School’s New Science Wing
Living Building Results from a Living Vision
Living Future 2011
Envisioning a Net-Zero Water Future

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