Living Future 2019: The takeaways

Living Future 2019

The biggest news out of last week’s Living Future 2019 arrived in a bundle: the unveiling of Living Building 4.0, the new Core Certification standard and a volume-certification pilot program for the LBC. (Read our story about those three major developments.)

But here are a few ah-ha moments from friends, colleagues and Tweeters who attended the world’s largest gathering on regenerative design and construction. And near the bottom of this article, you’ll also find a list of major announcements from the conference, aka “news” … which was fairly substantial this year.


From “Better Ideas, Greater Commitment, More Fun”

My favorite session didn’t mention the words “living building” once. The facilitators walked us through a series of exercises designed to generate feedback quickly and equitably. The big idea is that the best ideas are not “yours versus mine” but are those that emerge from combining and creating something new – “ours.”

Led by Julie Huffaker, a consultant who has a doctorate in organizational leadership and change, the facilitiators briefly gave us a bit of background on the science of “groupthink” and the brain’s emotional responses to feeling included or excluded. The primary focus was on providing tools to take to group interactions to make our collective thinking more powerful. To share these tools with others, they recommended this website.

It was one of the few conference sessions I’ve ever attended that brought me joy. I left feeling that I’d truly connected with other participants in the room.

— Drew Cutright, program manager, Administration and Finance, Georgia Tech


From Bill McKibben’s kickoff keynote


From former Irish President Mary Robinson’s LAST day keynote

Robinson still is a true leader on climate change. Her Friday keynote was both sobering and inspiring. We can solve the climate crisis, she told us, but only if nations work together and if we gather up the political will. She’s not the first person to say that we need a “moonshot approach.”

But how do we overcome divisions and scale solutions up to a level that actually will reverse the current trends? Robinson says women, young people and the disenfranchised are key, and that supporting the emerging movement for climate justice is the best strategy for building a global political will. “We need to prioritize the furthest behind,” she said.

The challenge is daunting: We must learn to change our habits, to use less, to employ a circular economy. And those in power surely must do more. But she’s encouraged that this human-centered movement is building towards a tipping point.

Robinson also praised the wisdom of elders. She offered examples from two South African Nobel Peace Prize winners: When the Rev. Desmond Tutu was asked why he was such an optimist, he answered: “I’m not an optimist. I’m a prisoner of hope.” And quoting Nelson Mandela, she said: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

— Dennis Creech, fund advisor for sustainability, Kendeda Fund


From one of many special interest meetups


From the “Summit for a Carbon-Free Future”

It was heartening to see tech giants, including Facebook, Google and Salesforce, along with a handful of developers, represented at this all-day, pre-conference session. Later at Living Future, we learned that Google is committed to piloting volume certification of the LBC 4.0 while Salesforce is doing the same with Zero Energy certification. Smart young workers are driving such changes by demanding that prospective employers become part of the solution to climate change.

With progress being made on energy in building operations, the spotlight is turning at least partly toward embodied carbon. And there’s hope there, too: The Carbon Leadership Forum’s new Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator, which is being rolled out at Greenbuild in Atlanta, will provide a open-source tool for measuring all the carbon embedded in all kinds products and materials.

— Ken Edelstein, editor, Kendeda Living Building Chronicle


From the “Biophilic Design Summit”


From “Carbon Drawdown Now! Prefabricated, Carbon-Storing Building Components Built Before Your Eyes”

I went because of the catchy title. It turned out to be a paradigm-shifting hour-and-a-half.

To summarize, we cannot “net zero” our way out of the climate crisis. Net zero only addresses operational carbon. By focusing on embodied carbon, we can turn buildings into carbon sinks. The presenters tweaked Michael Pollan’s famous seven words about food to make their point: “Build shelter. Not too big. Mostly plants.”

By incorporating carbon-storing components (think: straw bales, hemp, bamboo), buildings can pull more carbon out of the atmosphere than they’ll ever emit before they’re even built. When coupled with net zero energy, buildings can help us drawdown atmospheric greenhouse gases. And because so many of the materials are plant-based, a shift to climate responsive buildings can boost the economies of agricultural communities across the world.

— Shan Arora, director, Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design

This session was extremely well done, and showed embodied energy in both the micro and macro scales, with the baseline argument that all decisions need to be made based on data — not rules of thumb, or what may make sense in another climate. It was great to see some of their data showing how much the grid can impact overall carbon in a project and thus should impact our decisions on embodied energy of certain materials, because a change in the grid power source can end up driving the “right” decision on some envelope items like insulation (if it’s high embodied energy like expanded foam).

— Joshua Gassman, sustainable design director, Lord Aeck Sargent

From “Net Positive Ecology: OUR work outside”

This session expressed the need to fully understand what’s happening on a site in its complete context — from the soil microbiome, to site ecological history, to hydrology, to how all of these relate to the region. These elements — and diverse teams that include biologists — are all important factors for design teams to understand to create a regenerative world through our work.

— Gassman


From NYC Sustainability Chief Mark Chambers’ “15 Minutes of Brilliance”


… and in other news

  • In addition to rolling out LBC 4.0 and the new Core standard, the International Living Future Institute unveiled Just 2.0 — the second iteration of the social justice and equity transparency tool for corporations and other organizations.
  • Google and four other multiple property owners announced that they’re participating in a pilot program for volume certification of LBC 4.0.
  • Two other large corporations — Kingspan and Salesforce — will participate in a similar volume certification program for Zero Carbon Buildings.
  • Three manufacturers — Armstrong Ceiling, Interface and Superior Essex — are participating in yet another pilot project, this one to measure embodied carbon in their products and to include the results on their Declare Product disclosures.
  • The Frick Environmental Center in Pittsburgh and the Hitchcock Center for the Environment in Amherst, Mass., were recognized as 22nd and 23rd buildings to earn full LBC certification. The two full certifications were the lowest number in recent years but six other buildings earned LBC Petal Certification over the last 12 months, bringing the total number of LBC certifications (Full and Petal combined) to 82. (We at the Kendeda Fund particularly proud of that Hitchcock is a Kendeda grantee.)
  • A geographically diverse group of 10 building professionals were named Living Future Heroes. They are: Amira Ayoub, of the  Egypt Green Building Council; Kathleen Ave, climate program manager for Sacramento Municipal Utility District; Joel Cesare, sustainable projects manager for the City of Santa Monica; Jenna Cramer, executive director of the Green Building Alliance in Pittsburgh; Bert Gregory, partner and former chairman of Mithun in Seattle; Amy Johns, director at Williams College Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives in Massachusetts; Victor Montero, president of Costa Rica Natural Design Advisors; Lisa Petterson, principal at SRG Partnership in Seattle; Rochelle Routman, chief sustainability officer for Aspecta Flooring in Calhoun, Ga.; and Lauren Sparandara, REWS Sustainability Manager at Google.

I know we missed a lot here. If you also attended, please feel free to add your own takeaways in the comments section.

PHOTO AT TOP: David Arkin (left) and Jacob Deva Racusin install samples of energy-sequestering materials during their Carbon Drawdown Now! session. Photo by Ken Edelstein.


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