Global Sustainability Panel Poised to Inspire

Next month, IIDA WMCC and Sustainable Working Group are hosting a Global Sustainability Panel event in Washington, DC.   For some, sustainability is a buzz word, for others – like me — it’s a religion. And still for others, it complicates their projects.

We hope that the panel will answer some deeply rooted questions about what it means to be green.  So let’s get the creative juices flowing now though, shall we?

Panelist’s Meeting

What does it mean to be sustainable?

Does it mean outfitting your project with motion sensors? Does it mean adding in space for recycling bins? Maybe it’s making sure all of your equipment is energy star rated.

Well, yes, these things are green. They help make the building, “less bad.” But, it just feels like an afterthought in these examples. I mean, have we really thought about new construction techniques that work as one with the environmental resources available?

Sometimes yes, but frequently the answer is no. Many of the most commonly sought-after LEED credits are quick fixes that help reduce energy use, water use and resource use in general. There’s nothing wrong with that. We all have to start somewhere.   Anyone who doesn’t go for the low-hanging fruit is going to find themselves unnecessarily hungry.

If sustainability isn’t at the core of one’s design philosophy for any given “green” project, then can that project ever truly be successful?   

In order to measure our success, we have to know what our goals are with the entire sustainable movement as a whole.  The ultimate objective should be buildings that are self-sustaining; buildings that actually produce energy, clean water, food, and other resources. A building like that is not “less bad,” but it’s good. Make sense? It doesn’t just use fewer resources but actually produces.  Ever heard of the living building challenge?

William McDonough, renowned architect and sustainability champion speaks on this topic:

“…perhaps becoming native to our place means something else. Perhaps the question is: How do we find our kinship with the natural world? When do we see ourselves as part of nature? When those become our guiding questions, worrying about making our current industrial system more efficient or a little less bad begins to seem like an uninspiring prospect. Is being less bad being good? Or is it simply being bad, just less so?

Isn’t it ironic that in the English language a double negative is a positive. In Russian a double negative is a reinforced negative. If you’re not not coming in Moscow, you are not coming. Isn’t it also interesting that in no language is a double positive a negative? When a Stanford professor pointed this out to his class a kid in the back of the room said, “Yeah, right”. Being a professor is not easy, as any of us could attest.

But I think perhaps it’s time to leave behind trying to be less bad and start trying to be 100 percent good. Rather than stewarding the planet into oblivion why not awake to our kinship with all life and leave behind a footprint we can delight in? Why not make the human influence on the planet restorative, vital and good? Why not follow the laws of nature so that we can generate fecundity and good growth? As an architect I have to follow the law of gravity. It’s not just a good idea, it’s the law. Understanding the laws of nature is fundamental to design…”

This is where the global sustainability panel comes in.  Wouldn’t it be fascinating to take an in-depth look at other cultures and their use of resources as it pertains to the built environment?  I guarantee we will learn something, even if it’s what not to do!

Panelist’s Meeting

I urge us — as a community of designers, architects, engineers, and innovators — to continue brainstorming this immense topic of environmentalism. As the program states; let’s think outside the recycling box.  Let’s build buildings that truly work in concert with their surroundings.  Don’t stop once you’ve achieved 40% recycled content — keep going.

Join us Sept. 15th at Teknion for a look into what it means to be green in other parts of the world!

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