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The Living Future 2012 UnConference

May 3, 2012
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Current Living Building Challenge project by Miller Hull Architects, The Bullitt Center, takes shape in Seattle

This week, Portland is hosting the International Living Future Institute’s Living Futures 2012 “UnConference.”

What is an UnConference,  you ask?

Well right off the bat, it’s a lot less stodgy than your typical conference. It involves tours of local Living Building projects, lunch out at one of our famous Portland food-cart pods, and a whole lot of highly inspirational talks about making sustainable design happen. It’s about being part of the 1%.  That is, the 1% of people who care enough to make inspiration a part of their design lives; the 1% who have an opportunity to spend three days talking about sustainability in one of the most livable cities on the planet. And, as was pointed out by this morning’s 15 Minutes of Brilliance speaker, Jennifer Cutbill of Vancouver, BC’s DIALOG Architects, it’s about being an occupant of the 1% of the earth that is driving 99% of its ecology. (I found out that Jennifer is a kick boxer of note, as well,  a skill that surely comes in handy as a green advocate.)

A common theme among the speakers so far can be summed-up in this famous quote by Margaret Mead:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

There have been two very interesting keynote speeches thus far. Dr. Vandana Shiva spoke last evening about the patent battles India has waged against the Monsanto Corporation. My favorite part of her talk was when she promoted the concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH) over GDP.

This morning’s talk by Jason McClennan was also highly inspirational. He discussed his home town, Sudbury, Ontario and his grandparent’s hand built home on an island in northern Canada. Clearly the contrast between the two informed his life path and the thinking that led to the Living Building concept.

Perhaps most interesting to me, however, is the number of Living Buildings currently on the boards or already completed – projects not just here in the Cascadia region, but all over the world, in Europe, Asia and Australia. I was previously unaware of the breadth of success and the traction they have achieved. A few examples are on the current Living Building Challenge website, but I hope to see more on the soon-to-be-launched new International Living Future site.

All in all, this is a great conference, providing plenty of inspiration and well worth the attendance. It’s the perfect fuel for those of us who live in the real world and yet must continue to convince those around us that business as usual isn’t working out so well, and that real alternatives exist today.

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