Seattle, Vancouver and Squamish: a sustainability visit.

Having just returned from a visit / tour of sustainability projects in the Cascadia, NW pacific area of Seattle, Vancouver and Squamish, combined with a outdoor vacation, I am now sorting copious notes, photos and observations from the trip that will form future blog posts and inclusion in my forthcoming book, FutuREstorative.

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There were so many ‘highlights’ of the trip that will feature in future articles, but, as a quick summary:

The lack of snow inhibited any real winter sports without really venturing deep into backcountry. I was later to learn that this year ‘pineapple express’ wind and low snowpack levels will have an adverse affect on water aquifers across the region.

Walking and biking in forests where bear, cougar and coyote roamed and (worryingly, so early in the year) had been spotted during our visit introduced a fission of alertness not known in the UK or Europe and made for interesting discussions on re-wilding the UK countryside!

A return visit to the Austrian House at Lost lake Whistler, a Passive House gift from Austria to the 2006 Olympics and Canada’s first PH registered project.

Understanding the distinctive heavy timber architecture of the Squamish area, and visits to buildings at the stunning location of Quest Campus, Squamish and the Environmental Learning Centre at the North Vancouver Outdoor School in Brackendale (winner of a Wood Design Award held in Vancouver that week)

Meeting with Sustainable Leadership Conversation co-host and friend Andrea Learned who took me on a great cycle tour through her ‘hood –  the Seattle Ballard area and along the Waterfront with stop offs at the Tractor Tavern (home of garage and grunge) Stone34 (Leed Platinum Brooks HQ) finishing with great social media / sustainability discussions over dinner.

Visits to Living Building Challenge projects, the CIRS building at University of British Columbia, the Bullet Centre in Seattle and the VanDusen visitor centre Vancouver as well as understanding other notable sustainability buildings such as the MEC HQ in Vancouver and Stone34 in Seattle.

Water featured in visits and discussions, in particular that we should start to address water in the same way we do for energy performance in buildings – from the impact on “fossil-water” through to buildings, like the Bullitt Centre acting like trees and returning 80% of water that falls on the building to the aquifer and in using the 20% many times in closed loop systems. And of course those waterless composting toilets …

Whilst in the Bullitt Centre it was fun to to provide a live update back to and converse with the Living Building Challenge UK Collaborative water petal workshop in Leeds.

But it wasn’t just the big restorative sustainability concepts that inspired, often it’s the small but awesome detail that is essential in reinforcing the messages, like the CIRS building on UBC where the solar aqua filter plant room is positioned at the entrance, viewed by all entering the building as a reminder. But perhaps the best message being in CIRS café area where two vegetarian meals are served for each meat meal, reinforcing the message of the resources in land and water to provide the meat meal compared to that of the vegetarian.

File 17-03-2015 09 03 34It was of course great to visit the Bullitt Centre and question behind the stories covered on the web and numerous articles; it really is an inspiring building and lives up to its green reputation. But now the real challenge starts – “to replicate the Bullitt Centre a thousand, a million times and fast” Over an iced tea with Denis Hayes we discussed the real possibility of a Bullitt Centre type project in Manchester as the hub for iDSP, the Institute for Design Space and Place.

Many inspiring chats and discussions gave insights into restorative sustainability for example with Tim Herrin at CIRS, with Brad Khan who really knows the Bullitt Centre inside out, with Denis Hayes, with the LBC team (great to meet and catch up with Amanda Sturgeon, Eric Corey Freed,  Hilary Mayhew, Stacia and Bonnie) and, completely by chance, at a Vancouver dinner party, a planner involved in the LBC certified Childcare facility at Simon Fraser University. An evening meal with Ken Carty, author and retired political scientist at UBC provided interesting insights into Canadian politics.

I guess no visit to the Pacific NW could be complete without getting to understanding some of the environmental politics – particularly to the north of British Columbia where the TNG and the proposed Northern Gateway oil sands bitumen pipeline is being fought to prevent environmental damage to an awesome wilderness areas. A visit to the newly opened, community located, Patagonia store in Vancouver provided further insights to Patagonia’s environmental and responsibility activity in the area via their excellent ‘zine booklet published for the stores opening ‘In the Land of the Misty Giants’ (issuu version here)

I should of course mention the reason d’etre for the trip was triggered by my partner, Soo Downe and her midwifery week at UBC with the highlight of her public lecture at the Inaugural Elaine Carty Midwifery Programme (Storify here)

But who would of thought that Cows would feature in my tour. Denis Hayes kindly gifted me a copy of his new book Cowed co-written with his wife Gail Boyer Hayes. Cowed provides a fascinating insight to how Cows impact so much both on our lives and the environment and was a great read on the long flight back from Vancouver.

So, many people to thank for such a great vacation and study tour, from Brett at the awesome Squamish airBNB, Andrea Learned, the ILFI team, our friends and hosts in Vancouver, those who gave time to talk or provide tours, Denis Hayes, Tim Herring, Brad Kahn and many more. And of course great company, thanks Soo, Chris and Emma

Future posts will use the hashtags #futurestorative and/or #VanSea2015

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