Keynote Hat Trick at Living Future 2013

The recent 2013 Living Future conference presented a new challenge.  The event was a testimonial to the growth of a movement that started with making buildings less bad for the environment, to considering methods for constructing buildings and communities that are resilient to extreme weather and ever changing climate conditions. The challenges is for the design and build communities to move toward restorative design, where strategies can be developed to nourish versus only extract the earth’s limited resources.  As David McConville, President, Buckminster Fuller Institute, said in his presentation on celestial spheres and our position among the many galaxies, “there is no [out] there that we can escape to that can support life as we know it.”

Three themes were illuminated in the conference keynotes.  David Suzuki, Canadian Geneticist and Environmentalist, and founder of the foundation that bears his name, shared the gains made in protecting natural resources and indigenous habitats but then lamented; in recent times those gains were only temporary.  He said, “I am tired of fighting,” and suggested that demonizing any side of the climate change debate will not bring us closer to real and permanent change.  We need to find what is simpler and agree on those priorities first.  “We all have the right for clean air, clean water, healthy soil for growing nutritious food and energy from the sun,” he added. Though in his mid-seventies and clearly tired, he is still hopeful that we can deliver this mission with compassion, and tools that are not even invented yet, “to protect the diversity of nature and our quality of life, now and for the future.”

Jason McLennan, CEO of the International Living Future Institute, offered a passionate speech along with a visually impactful PowerPoint.  People thought the Living Building Challenge introduced at LF 2010 was too hard and that it wouldn’t work, and here we are today certifying projects around the world and an increased number being registered.  We have clearly changed the conversation, he stated, and are inspired by the creativity in our marketplace including our own living commercial building laboratory, the Bullitt Center.  Jason’s message was clear; we must love the planet, nature and all of humanity if we are to nurture it back to thriving ecosystems.  “It is about transparency, trust and innovation,” he said.  “It’s about setting the stage for future generations to stand on the shoulders of pioneers from Rachel Carson to Denis Hayes.  Social justice and equity are issues that are a tangent to the ‘buildings’ themselves, but that needs to change.  It’s not about serving the building, but the community that should be the priority for designers, architects, builders, developers, bankers, lawyers, and landscape architects.”

On the final day of the conference, Paul Hawken, Environmentalist, Entrepreneur and Author, offered us the most hope and a new framework for looking not at the problem, but at solutions.  Rather than continue to use language that has been ineffective in the environmental movement, consider, he said, changing from “battles” and win/lose mentality to common ground.  His new book, Carbon, looks at how this basic element for life can be part of a positive solution and not a pejorative one.  After all he says, “Carbon likes to shake hands with many other elements to support life.“ With a huge nod to the good works of the ILFI, Jason and the audience, Hawken has faith in our power to love and learn from the nature we are a part of.  To paraphrase Biomimicry’s Janine Benyus, life’s purpose is to sustain itself.  When we stop hurting the planet we’ll see its remarkable restorative power.

Living Future 2013 presented three days of inspiration, calls to action, case studies, and tools to use and develop as we each do our share in creating truly resilient and restorative, beautiful and equitable communities on our spaceship, Earth.

Stay tuned for the next Living Future conference in Portland, OR May 21 – 23, 2014. I’ll see you there! — alex