Part 1: A Deeper Green, Takeaways from Living Future 2015

New Sustainable Design Strategies, Regenerative Design

Earlier this month, Susan Kaplan, CCS, LEED AP BD+C, HLW’s Managing Director of Sustainability & Specifications, and Michele Neptune, LEED AP, BD+C, HLW’s Director of Sustainability, attended the Living Future unConference 2015 in Seattle, WA. Kaplan presented at an affiliated event, the Declare Summit, sponsored by the Living Product Challenge.

Living Future 2015 is a forum for leading minds in the green building movement seeking solutions to the “most daunting global issues of our time.” The conference’s innovative format, which is equal parts interactive learning, networking, and inspiration, provided participants with a wealth of resources and research associated with cutting-edge green technology and design strategies. However, we couldn’t help but ask, how exactly do you go “Deeper Green” in a mainstream project?

Transitioning from a Building Footprint Mentality to Green Handprint

Michele Neptune commented on how energized she is after attending Living Future 2015. “Although the standards of Living Building Challenge (LBC) are rigorous, requirements for achieving net positive energy, net positive water, material transparency, and social justice, to name just a few key goals, speak volumes about the green community’s commitment to move from building-focused to globally oriented strategies.” Neptune explained that a shift in thinking has occurred. Whereas before sustainable practices and rating systems primarily emphasized measuring and reducing demands on the earth’s resources, a reenergized green community is now examining how to have (and measure) positive environmental impacts. After assessing your building footprint, consider its green handprint, its capacity to positively impact the environment.

The running tagline for Living Future 2015 was, “The time for ‘do less harm’ has passed. It’s time for the beginning of being, the beginning of a Living Future.” Speaking during a morning plenary and referencing a transitional period in sustainable building and design, Ibrahim Abdul-Matin addressed the need for our industry to move from an extractive economic system to a regenerative one. In an engaging speech, he emphasized a core principle of environmentalism. We have just this one planet. It is our responsibility to care for it as if our lives depend on it, which they do.

Intersection of Ecology and the Built Environment

The pursuit of a deeper shade of green for the building industry may start with an examination of local ecologies. Michele Neptune emphasized that biomimicry can be an effective tool for architects, engineers, planners, and other design professionals. She described the advantages of observing how ecosystems in your region use nature’s “tried, tested, and proven methods” in response to environmental conditions.

A case study from one Living Future 2015 session illustrated how some plants bloom just prior to the rainy season, producing a variety of broad leafs interspersed with spikes. When the downpours arrive, the spikes divide the droplets of water, reducing their size. The multiple levels of leafs further disperse the rain and allow for increased evaporation. Tiered roof construction strategies involving a variety of plantings, is just one example of how to mimic this specific model of ecology and the built environment. “It’s about scaling-up nature’s model to a building and community scale,” said Neptune. “If the old model was a universally applicable glass box, the new practice involves a studied evaluation of local place to inform a design functioning as an integrated system within an environment.”

In the next installment, we will discuss several more concepts associated with Living Future 2015. This post will address regenerative design strategies in more detail, including ideas associated with Building Materials Transparency, the user experience, and the building certification process.