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

Embedding BIM into the fabric of sustainability.

calgary treesBIM has a far deeper application than just a design modelling, construction or facilities management tool. This fact has been highlighted recently through a number of events and conversations, for example;

A couple of weeks back, I interviewed Denis Hayes as part of our Sustainability Leadership Conversation (#sustldrconv) series. Denis was founder of earth day way back in 1974, and is now CEO of the Bullitt Centre in Seattle, obviously no newcomer to environmental issues or deep green sustainability, but I was interested in Denis’ views on the role of BIM and ‘Big Data’ in todays sustainability agenda. here is an extract from a soon to be published article based on that interview

MB Denis, how do you see the role of BIM and Big Data in deep green sustainability?

DH Analysis of big data is key, living buildings need cerebral cortex and Central Nervous System to function, big data helps see patterns, offers vast potential, but right now there is too much noise and not enough signal and analysis.   

Also in May, during the Construction21 Virtual Expo, I was inspired by the conversation with Delta Development CEO Coert Zachariasse. Delta have applied Cradle to Cradle thinking to their business and projects, For example, they don’t own the materials in their buildings in the traditional sense, but view buildings as material banks, with every building having a residual value at the end of its life through the value of its materials. (A value that is recognised, included on the budget sheet and reduces the project costs, the alternative, more common thinking is that demolition and waste adds costs to the project)

Whilst this is inspiring, the fact that BIM provides the engine behind this approach is very interesting – using BIM to track and maximise residual value, providing the data to create material passports and undertake the value decisions.

As I tweeted from that conversation:

“BIM meets #CradletoCradle – Delta Development use #BIM to develop Material Passports thru supply chain,  Coert Zachariasse CEO at #EXPOC21”

Later in the day at EXPOC21, during the panel debate on the need for a European Building Performance Directive, Frank Hovorka – President- Sustainable Building Alliance commented that BIM is the essential core for any Building Performance Directive

But of course built environment sustainability is ‘just’ not about energy or building performance, it is also, or more so about health and social dimensions as well. The data needed to make informed decisions for sustainability needs to encompass stories, context and knowledge. However with knowledge reduced to a status of information in todays digital universe, we need the skills to unpack information from BIM and Big data

Embedding BIM data into the fabric of sustainability is key, and to borrow the brilliant expression from Casey Rutland and Vicky Lockhart at ARUP – its all about SustainaBIMity.

Regarding BIM through this lens, we in the built environment need to move quickly, to clean the data we have from noise, provide better analysis, and make informed regenerative sustainable decisions. In an age of disrupt or be disrupted – if we don’t do so from within the sector, someone from outside will.

A tipping point for sustainability

Could this be one of the key important concept diagrams for sustainability and environmental impact?

Snapseed‘Restorative sustainability’ in one simple graphic.

This brilliant  slide came to my attention via a @melanieloftus tweeted picture  taken during Jason McLennan’s presentation, Mind the Gap at the Living Futures conference, positioning Living Building Challenge beyond LEED. 

Reflecting on this simple model, we can visualise the impact of our current built environment sustainability approaches – are they just doing less bad, or really doing more good and making a restorative, positive contribution?

And importantly we can visualise that tipping point for sustainability, from less bad to more good.

The urgency for reconsidering ‘sustainability’ was emphasised in the recent report State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible? The term sustainable has become essentially sustainababble, at best indicating a practice or product slightly less damaging than the conventional alternative.

Is it time to abandon the sustainability concept altogether, or can we find an accurate way to measure sustainability?

The Living Building Challenge, as a philosophy, an advocacy and assessment scheme has real significance. It enables us to cross the sustainability rubicon, setting a vision for a future built environment and encouraging owners, designers, constructors, operators and users to track towards it. As commented on the opening of the Bullitt Centre in Seattle a LBC accreditation hopeful, such approaches are driving a wedge into the future so others can see whats possible.

I feel honoured to be a Living Building UK Ambassador, spreading the message of the Challenge as fresh sustainability thinking into the UK built environment agenda.

For more information and planned events for the Challenge in the UK , check out our presentation to Green Build Expo, visit the Living Building website,  follow us on @UK_LBC on twitter or say hi via email. (We even have a facebook page to like!)

Related Post: Have we picked the low hanging fruit of Sustainable Construction?

Built Environment Earthday Inspiration

Today, April 22nd is Earthday.

Earth Day is an annual day on which events are held worldwide to demonstrate support for environmental protection. Earth Day is observed on April 22 each year. The April 22 date was designated as International Mother Earth Day by a consensus resolution adopted by the United Nations in 2009. Earth Day is now coordinated globally by the Earth Day Network and is celebrated in more than 192 countries every year.

Google once again is celebrating with an interactive doodle. gearth

“Today we are celebrating Earth Day with an interactive doodle that captures a slice of nature’s subtle wonders,” wrote Doodler Leon Hong. “We hope you enjoy discovering animals, controlling the weather, and observing the seasons. Use the sightseeing checklist  to make sure you do not miss anything!” (end of blog below)

But for Built Environment inspiration on Earth Day – take a look at the video on the philosophy behind the Bullitt Centre in Seattle – “driving a wedge into the future of buildings”, officially opening today and now home to the Living Building Challenge.

Seattle’s Bullitt Center: The World’s Greenest Office Building from EarthFix on Vimeo.

An inspiration for the UK Built Environment. The UK Collaborative was launched on the 3rd April (see Introduction here) Find out more and keep in touch with Living Building Challenge UK via @UK_LBC

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