On Saturday, January 21, I joined 5 million other people worldwide for the Women’s March. In over 80 countries, on every continent, women and men marched peacefully in solidarity for women’s and LGBTQ right, health care, immigration, the environment and racial justice. Although I’ll try not to contribute overly to a political confirmation-bias echo chamber, it was an incredibly powerful movement to be a part of; Seattle alone had 175,000 attendees of all ages, nationalities and lifestyles. To march with the strong women in my life, my allies, my community and my parents gives me hope. The overwhelming feeling of love, acceptance and courage is exactly what I need right now.
Our world is changing, and with 82% of the population living in cities, how we design and build our cities should be changing too. At this point, we need drastic measures that reverse the effects of years of planetary neglect. The Living Building Challenge, developed by the International Living Future Institute, is a rigorous set of building, material and operations criteria that result in beautiful, contemporary net zero energy projects. Only five buildings worldwide have achieved certification so far, but over 190 additional projects are in some sort of design, building or operation phase. And Seattle is pioneering net zero energy in a new way.
It’s impossible to deny that Seattle is at the forefront of sustainable building design in the US. Although there are more than 500 LEED-certified buildings in the city, LEED only lessens the damage of large construction projects. More developers are aiming for a Living Building Challenge, which creates net-zero buildings (and Seattle already has twice the number of certified projects than most other US cities). In order to reach these ambitious goals, integrated design is becoming increasingly important to the building process. Many investors see it as a serious commitment of both money and time, a commitment they are often unwilling to make. But Seattle’s variety of green buildings prove that integrated design produces structures that are economic, environmental, and enjoyable to work in.
The town of Twisp is fewer than fifty miles south of the Canadian border. It spans an entire 1.18 square miles and has a population of 900 living in the surrounding National Forest area. Located in Washington’s Okanogan County, Twisp is surrounded by the Cascade Mountains, the joining of the Twisp and Methow rivers, and over a million acres of federally-protected forests. There is a history of hard-working people who respect the land, and respect the industries that thrive on it – particularly the Forest Service. Twisp is the original Old West town of Washington, and its past is paving the way for a future built on community and creativity.
The Downtown Emergency Services Center (DESC) started in November 1979 as an emergency overnight shelter in the ballroom of the Morrison Hotel in Seattle’s Pioneer Square. A small staff served nearly 200 chronically homeless Seattle adults that, “due to their severe and persistent mental and addictive illnesses, were not being served by the existing shelters of the time,” according to their website. Over the next decade, DESC partnered with the City of Seattle, the Greater Seattle Council of Churches, and Washington Advocates for the Mentally Ill to assess the shortages in providing resources for the vulnerable homeless people in the community. The organization rallied in 1984 to create the first severe weather overflow shelter in King County.
If anyone is qualified to be the president of the super-sustainable Bullitt Foundation, it’s Denis Hayes. On April 22, 1970, he organized the first Earth Day, an environmental protection event that is now celebrated in over 190 countries. Hayes was also the head of the Solar Energy Research Institution during the Carter administration, was named Time Magazine’s Hero of the Planet in 1999, and has received a national Jefferson Awards Medal for Outstanding Public Service. Hayes has been with the Bullitt Foundation since 1992.
The Grand Canyon is 270 miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and took approximately 17 million years to form. Think about that, 17 million years. To put that into context, that was about the time of the cycle of Ice Ages began, and was at least 10 million years before the earliest form of humans evolved (Creationists, please exit stage left). What appears to be nothing but a jagged crack in the parched Arizona landscape is actually a thriving oasis of life in the middle of a red desert. It also provides an incredibly accurate slice of what happened to this geographic area completely beyond our scope of Now.
Eric Brende began at MIT to understand and deconstruct what media theorist Neil Postman calls our Technopoly, “a way of life that seeks technological answers first before other means, or even before thinking through the questions.” Since the relatively recent introduction of modern technology into our society, Moore’s Law (named appropriately for Intel’s co-founder) dictates that electronic tech grows exponentially: as our tech becomes more sophisticated, it is used in turn to produce even more complex systems. This expansion was a catalyst for Brende; he writes, “What I wanted to discover was a balance between too much machinery and too little, or better yet, how to arrive at it wherever one found oneself.” And so, tired of being surrounded by people who drive their cars to the gym to get exercise, Eric and his new wife decided to experiment with living completely tech-free.
Biomimicry provides an environmentally-friendly solution to the energy crisis. Derived from the Latin bios meaning organic life, and mimesis meaning to imitate, biomimicry is the study of gaining design inspiration from natural processes to solve human problems. The act of evolution over time ensures that everything that is alive and thriving today, from plant functions to the hydrodynamic shape of fish, is successful and imaginative enough to adapt through millions of years of testing. The goal of the Biomimicry Institute in Montana is to “nurture and grow a global community of people who are learning from, emulating, and conserving life’s genius to create a healthier, more sustainable planet.”
Whenever I mention that I am enthusiastic about sustainability, I get two reactions: people who assume I am talking about green buildings and architecture, and people who are tired of hearing about being eco-friendly. It’s true that the media has saturated our society with messages of the virtues of being sustainable, but only if we buy more things. “These plastic bottles of water have 15% less plastic in the cap than before, but are still sold in twice-wrapped 24-packs.” Green washing has become a major selling point, but people only remember what’s in front of their faces. How did the idea of sustainability become so warped that people roll their eyes when it comes up in conversation?
Because we have the wrong idea about sustainability altogether.