Category Archives: Paul Hawken

Living Future a Deep Dive into What’s Possible…and Necessary, says Noted Paul Hawken

The following post is by Kathleen O’Brien:

Seattle. May 15-17. Living Future 2013 marks the 7th annual deep dive into the Living Building Challenge and high performance building.

With more Living Buildings coming on line (such as the recently LBC-certified Bertschi Science Wing and the Bullitt Foundation headquarters here in Seattle), the vision of a Living Future becomes more and more possible. It’s not just a pipe-dream! In remarks keynoter Paul Hawken e-mailed to me this morning, he comments:

“We are in an intense period of cultural and structural change, the depth of which is obscured by our tendency to cling to the past. Fundamental to cultural change is a complete transformation of the built environment, as different today from buildings of the past as a smartphone is from a rotary dial landline.

“In a world of increasing resource constraints, buildings are changing from structures that sit upon and harm the land to systems that interact with and support the biosphere. This is what the Living Building movement represents. Today, buildings are sinkholes for energy, water, and toxic materials. From what has been learned and implemented in the past ten years, we know conclusively that buildings can be the source of energy, water, and purification of in- and outdoor air.”

Hawken is one of three celebrated keynoters for the conference (David Suzuki and Jason McClellan being the other two), which has as its theme “Resilience and Regeneration.”  In his e-mailed remarks to me, Hawken argues that it’s not just possible, but absolutely critical to restore the qualities of resilience and regeneration to our built environment:

“These qualities are inherent in all living systems, organisms, and the planet as whole. Without them, life could not have evolved to what we see today. What we have witnessed and participated in during the past 200 years is a thermo-industrial system that ate its host—cultures, land, riparian corridors, topsoil, watersheds, coral reefs, and more. In the process, innate attributes of life were eroded and stripped away. Given the disruptions that we can now easily foresee with respect to climate disruption and its myriad impacts on food, water, cities, and people, it is imperative that we reach deep into the playbook of nature and reinvent what it means to be a human being living on the only earth we will ever have.”

Over 1,000 green building professionals and thought leaders will be at the conference hoping to learn and share cutting edge knowledge. Although most attendees will be from the Northwest, if last year is any indication, the gathering will include delegates from all over the world.

Kathleen O’Brien is a long time advocate for green building and sustainable development since before it was “cool.” She lives in a green home, and drives a hybrid when she drives at all. She continues to provide consulting on special projects for O’Brien & Company, the firm she founded over 20 years ago, and provides leadership training and mentoring through her legacy project: The Emerge Leadership Project. She’ll be conducting an introduction to the EMERGE Leadership Model at Living Future this year.


Janine Benyus at Living Future: mimicking nature and how it will save the world

Some keynote speakers leave you satisfied, some leave you disappointed and some leave you angry that you just wasted two hours of your time. Then, there are keynote speakers like Janine Benyus that leave you wanting more.


Benyus spoke last night at the Living Future Conference in Portland. Her talk was warm, personal, funny

and informative. Having never heard Benyus speak before, I now understand why she’s considered such a big deal. The talk was pretty amazing.


The talk began with Sam Adams, Portland’s mayor (who is funny!!!), welcoming people to Portland. He was pretty straightforward about the general fear that you can’t make any money being green. Not true, he said: “If you take nothing else away from your trip to Portland, take this away: you can make money being very, very green.” Portland, he said, keeps millions in its economy because of its public transportation and green business.


Jason McLennan, Cascadia’s CEO then glowingly introduced Benyus, saying “I think you’re one of the most important figures in the planet today, period… I think you represent our species really well.” Not every day you hear that!


Then Benyus took the stage. She said the uncertainty in today’s financial markets can be used to the benefit of biomimicry, building design and creating a better world. When cultural certainties disappear, she said, so does arrogance. She said the recession is creating a similar attitude that happened after the World Trade Center attacks – where “the world is open to listening to the next question … As long as they’re listening, let’s make the vision as big as we can.”



In this same vein, she said building models for a place can be created by looking at how natural organisms in a location treat things like fire, wind etc. “Our buildings could have general organisms as their models.”


Benyus said she hopes we will be able to fly over cities in the future, and have them be functionally indistinguishable from the natural environment. That, she said, would be sustainability.


Benyus also plugged a tool she has been working on for the past year called The tool, she said, allows designers to ask how nature would fix a problem and learn from it. She also discussed how future areas of technology can be inspired by animal organisms. She and Paul Hawken, for example, are working on a new solar cell that is inspired by photosynthesis.


But in the end, she said, new technology or new laws aren’t going to save us from ourselves. She said the only thing that can save us is “a change of heart and a change of stance towards the rest of the world.”

These are just a few of the items she discussed. For more, stay tuned to a future story in the DJC. If you attended the talk, please comment below and tell me what you thought of it – or what you’ve thought about Benyus’ previous talks. If you didn’t attend the talk, I’d love to hear your comments. Is mimicking nature the future of building? How important is it compared to meeting netzero energy or netting zero water?

Sim Van der Ryn takes his shirt off (and hates the term ‘sustainability’)

I must say, I have never been to a presentation where the first thing the speaker does is take his shirt off. I know I shouldn’t focus on this, but it’s true and definitely leaves an impression, especially when that speaker is Sim Van der Ryn, a leading pioneer in ecological design.

Ryn took his shirt, a very nice red checked dress one, off to don the new t-shirt of the Living Future Conference, here in Vancouver, B.C. The shirt is charcoal and has a simple message on its front that says ‘living.’

Jason McLennan, CEO of Cascadia, introduced Ryn as the “father and grandfather of the green design movement.” To learn about the many things Ryn has done in his career, press here.

Ryn spoke about beauty, inspiration and design. Being a conference largely focused on sustainability, you’d expect him to address that topic. He did at the end of his talk in a way that might have shocked some in the audience as he announced that he did not like the term one bit.

“It’s there, we’re going to keep using it, but I don’t like it,” he said. “Part of it is wound up in the metrics… the reality is we don’t have the metrics to measure this stuff.”

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First full day of Living Future done!

The first full day of Living Future is done and Paul Hawken’s vision of the future (see last post for that) has definitely permeated the conference. It seems everybody, in sessions or personal encounters, is repeating the main message: things are changing quick, we need to help facilitate that and we need to be prepared for a new world. I’m also meeting a lot more people from outside the Cascadia bioregion than I do at these events… people from California, Wisconsin. Interesting.

The conference itself seems very local. It’s exponentially less frenetic than Greenbuild and less straight-laced than Globe: people are having a good time batting around ideas here. (Though the scenary certainly helps. The Westin Bayshore is on a beautiful, open, sunshine-laden, waterside site).

Depending on the session, people also aren’t sugar coating their messages. Earlier today for example, Tracy Bowen of the Alice Ferguson Foundation in Maryland (doing the project discussed below) said she was surprised by how even the greenest people and teams in the construction industry aren’t integrated enough in their building work. “I think it’s really limited,” she said. “It’s boxy, it’s very linear. It’s just shocking to me.” (More on this topic later.)

Bowen spoke during a session on living buildings and the precautionary principal, featuring Sandy Wiggins of Consillance LLC in Philadelphia and immediate past chair of the USGBC. Wiggins spoke about the project, a future living building the foundation’s Maryland farm. He spoke like a virtual poet using phrases like “colorful cacophany of spring” and “children weaned on asphalt and blight.” Do phrases like this help draw you in or turn you off?

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Paul Hawken’s take on the world – it’s gonna be a brave new one

Paul Hawken spoke last night at Living Future in Vancouver. He covered a wealth of topics from the future of buildings (self sustaining) to the purpose of nonprofits (to join together) to cities being the best birth control available. He also said he reeallly likes engineers.Paul Hawken

But at its core, Hawken’s talk offered a central warning for those in the green building movement: get ready because things are going to change so quickly it will shock the world.

Hawken said we’re heading for a world where the price of everything will keep rising in a seemingly endless cycle. To get at oil and natural minerals, drills will dig deeper, which will use more energy, which will spread to cost hikes in basically everything including food. He calls it the “red queen dilemma.” It’s this price rise, he said, that will be the catalyst for the world changing the way it does things.

“I believe we have shifted from one regime to another. One that subsidized us and our lifestyle… to one that is going to radically change our relations to ourselves, sustainability, mini-mansions….”

That change will put designers, architects and developers that are already at the forefront of green building through practices like the living building (in its base definition a building that is self sustaining) in the spotlight, as all the world turns to them for advice and leadership.

But before you, green building professional, throw your hat in the air at all the new business you will retain, Hawken’s next sentence offered a warning. “I just want to caution you. I think your star may rise faster than you’d want it to… I’m not saying this to flatter you. I’m saying this to warn you.”

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