2018 Living Future unConference: Inspiration Abound

by Halie Colbourne, BCCI Assistant Sustainability Manager

A few weeks ago, an inspired group of builders, designers, manufacturers, sustainability consultants, owners, and operators convened in Portland, Oregon for the 2018 Living Future unConference. The conference was attended by over 1,200 people from 61 different countries including 850 ILFI Ambassadors. Amanda Sturgeon, ILFI’s CEO kicked off the first night introducing this year’s theme: Authenticity + Action. She began, “The wounds of the world are not our fault, but they are our responsibility.” While the etymology of responsibility doesn’t exactly stem from the two words response and ability, Sturgeon aimed for us to see it as our duty in our lives and careers to heal those wounds. Further words of action played out throughout the conference and were highlighted by the exceptional keynote speakers: Terry Tempest Williams, Raj Patel and Majora Carter.

During the 15 Minutes of Brilliance keynote subset, inspirational words were also spoken by young climate activists and siblings, Miko and Isaac Vergun who shared their global work for Plant-for-the-Planet, a nonprofit founded to plant trees around the world. These young teens are giving their peers the tools to speak with local and state representatives about addressing climate change and global justice. The Trillion Trees Campaign which started as a 4th-grade project is now a global initiative that has already planted 15 billion trees to combat climate change.

The keynote speakers spoke with authenticity about the actions that led them to the podium that evening. On Wednesday the eloquent and lyrical Terry Tempest Williams asked us, “What is work in the face of awe?” Each conference attendee knows the grueling work it takes towards constructing a regenerative future. However, we are commonly bound together by our love of the earth and helping to protect its natural resources. Our passions reinforce a triple bottom line framework and drive our industries. The numerous conference tracks iterated the driving forces – Equity, Net Zero Energy, Organizational Best Practices, Biomimicry + Biophilia and Healthy Materials to name a few. Williams stressed that we need to commit to not looking away – we need to have the difficult conversations. “Can we continue to fall in love with our earth even as our hearts break? That is our challenge.” Williams emphasized that our world doesn’t need more successful people. Our world needs people who listen which will ultimately as she suggested, evoke real change.

The following morning attendees met for Raj Patel’s enlivening keynote before the first full day of sessions and networking. He spoke of the history of gender inequality and that patriarchy defines today’s circumstances. The Generation Food Project is working to transform the world food system and close the gap in gender roles. Despite an increase in food production, Malawi was experiencing increasing infant malnutrition. The organization’s Recipe Day educates families on the importance of men helping women prepare and serve meals for their children. Initiatives such as this help to build healthier communities, combat hunger, and grow more food.

Mark Lakeman of Thursday’s 15 Minutes of Brilliance shared about connecting with our neighborhoods. Portland is pushing the boundaries with initiatives such as The City Repair Project which allows residents to reclaim their public spaces through artistic and ecologically-oriented “placemaking,” fostering an inclusive and sustainable community. Through this program, people are taking control and becoming part of the solution to sustaining healthy environments.

As the conference came to an end with Friday evening’s Closing Circle, we were reminded to work as the land and remember our roots. By gathering at places like Living Future, we’re able to have difficult conversations and work towards building a regenerative future.

Click here for Part 2 of BCCI’s Sustainability Team’s Experience at the 2018 Living Future unConference


The International Living Future Institute is part nonprofit, part think-tank and part regenerative design framework. The institute’s most prominent rating system, the Living Building Challenge (LBC), has congruent aspirations to other systems. Like LEED, LBC strives to reduce our impact on the environment by encouraging commissioning and efficient water fixtures. Parallel to WELL, LBC underlines the importance of human health in facilitating healthy lifestyle choices and less toxic material selection.

The ILFI and LBC, however, move past LEED and WELL in beckoning a paradigm shift in how we consider green building. Instead of innovating within established norms, the breakouts, keynotes and networking sessions at Living Future were oriented around building in ecologically and socially restorative ways. The ILFI is interested in how structures can enhance and restore systems in communities, whether it involves water cycles, embodied carbon in materials, urban agriculture or energy storage. We spent several days discussing ways in which buildings could be viewed as habitats for humans, and contribute rather than take from local geographies. The LBC’s framework allows designers, architects, and contractors to step outside of the box- striving towards constructing impressive buildings such as these:

Kern Center, Hampshire, NH: 46 acres dedicated to permanent conservation; 1.6 acres for organic farm production

Phipps Center for Sustainable Landscapes, Pittsburgh, PA: Embodied carbon in materials; net zero energy

ARCH | NEXUS, Sacramento, CA: Contribution to public bicycle infrastructure; net zero water

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