Think maybe over but thinking goes on

It was disappointing to read Phils blog post yesterday that the Think sustainability conference and exhibition is to be discontinued by CMP, but the reasons given do make sense.

Having visited both Think 07 and Think 08, I would say that Think 07 made an important contribution to built environment sustainability, shaping agendas and providing a forum for discussion and innovation.  I am afraid I cannot say the same for Think 08.   Was it as Phil suggests the lack of ‘names’ (07 had Al Gore on video link for example), or was it the all too corporate feel of 08?  (see 08 thoughts from 08)

It should be noted the sterling job Phil did with Think, and it is a pity lessons cannot be learnt to have a Think 09. But whilst Think may be over the thinking goes on.

One of the topics this raises is the face to face event versus the virtual on line event. I have blogged many times on this, arguing for a mixture, and making real event material available online at the same time, either through closed streaming or through public streaming into second life. There is always the cost (and now carbon travel debate) of attending real events if you are not in the host city.

Paul (fellow Be2camp unorganiser) also comments on this at EvolutionExtranet noting from  Sustainability Now (also organised by Phil ), that pure online events are not the perfect alternative either. (see my comments on sustainability now)

So are large national exhibitions and conference days numbered?  Logic would say yes, maybe being replaced by smaller, regional and local events.  But then the Green Build and Eco City mega conferences in the USA tend to suggest otherwise as they attract tens of thousands to the event with many thousand others tuning in online. One noticeable aspect of these is the live blogging, podcasting the open approach to have a myriad of blogging media partners across the globe. This use of Web2, allows dialogue into and out of the events months before and months after the actual physical event, making them much more of a web presence than an event.  There is even the opportunity to twitter questions live into panel debates.

Looking ahead to upcoming sustainability events I am involved with actually gives comfort that we will / have avoided the issues Think may have fallen into.

Be2camp

The idea for an ‘event’ to explore web2 approaches within the built environment came from attending other barcamp and pecha kucha events. These have a unique buzz and vibrancy lacking at corporate feel events.

Be2Camp to be held on October 10th (London) is being organised on unconference or BarCamp principles, with a very open approach to determining the agenda, the attendees decide!  The organisers based in three continents communicate through twitter, skype and blogs, again very open, allowing anyone to contribute. Consequently it has the feel of being very much a peoples event, and grows in spirit and scope as more join the planning.  It is planned to stream happenings out from the event onto the web and possibly a parallel event within second life.

Constructing the Sustainable Way

The Elevate East Lancs sustainability conference scheduled for October organised through Creative Concern. This has been referred to as the eco build or green build of the north, but is much much more than that. Yes it will have names, but will also be the celebration of the local sustainable stars competition that  has been running for months. Care has been taken to ensure that the workshops are practical, learning and sharing sessions, there will be second life link ups and open mic pecha kucha question time evening events planned.  Again it is shaping up to be a peoples event.

(The website for this event is scheduled to go live today I am told – so watch this space)

08 thoughts from think 08

I attended Think08 yesterday afternoon, visiting some of the free seminars and chatting to a good number of exhibitors. It was also good to meet up with fellow bloggers Phil, Mel, Paul, Rob and Casey for an early evening drink.

My impressions from the afternoon was that it didn’t quite have the buzz of last year but again a very worthwhile event to attend, pushing the boundaries of sustainability … but …

Resilience is the new sustainability

The biggest impression was that sustainability as a green label has run its course – has it been highjacked to mean sustainable business as usual, sustainabily? Someone at another online event recently planted this idea – sustainability is so 1990’s. We need a new describer – resilience. (A link to a post in draft)

I captured my key thoughts during the afternoon which coincidently numbered eight:

  1. its the way we use buildings, operate them and manage energy use that will have the biggest initial impact on energy performance – not necessarily new green ‘kit’
  2. focus on existing building stock not new build however ‘green’
  3. like wise focus on make existing communities sustainable – not new build eco towns and try to make them sustainable
  4. all this reinforces my view that sustainability in the built environment is a facilities management issue not a construction one – but when the fm sector will wake up to this is another post.
  5. among the exhibitors there were more planners / developers / investment organisations than noticed before, and encouragingly more colleges and universities
  6. does this lead to promoting services and competing on green issues – and the danger of greenwash though? – “choose use, we are the greenest with the best green credentials” and have been doing it for years
  7. why is nearly everyones sustainability concept, strategy or objectives a pastel coloured wheel?
  8. not as much focus on going zero – was that last years thing?

And Highlights for me – for being different:

Footpint friends– giving young people a voice on climate change and global warming.

Verveproperties and the Paintworks

I picked up far too much information which I will plough through – of note though was the information, papers and articles from the Town and Country Planning stand – informed views on sustainable communities and eco-towns.

Think08 reviews and posts

On route to Think08 today so watch this space for live twitters and blog posts, so if you are attending and see me – please say hi !

Comments, reviews and posts from Think08 will also be carried by the group of UK bloggers who are meeting up later today at Think08, including:

carbonlimited

Elemental

extranet evolution

sustainability blog

profit from sustainability?

Is there profit to be made from sustainability is a question I am often asked at sustainability events, presentations and workshops. It has cropped up again today on publicity for the excellent Think 08 event next month.

In some ways the question misses the point on what sustainability is about – ie the triple bottom line of economic, social and environmental sustainability – where profit is a key element of economic sustainablity.

Within our industry if we could really move from lowest price thinking (ie meaning competition is on profit levels), start moving to ringfenced profits, then we can start to focus on the other two ‘bottom lines” with more vigour. Allowing real profits through the supply chain would have the same affect. Energies applied to trying to make a project profitable can be applied to environmental and social sustainability issues, whilst the project players remain economically sustainable.

Really tackling the 30% or so waste within our sector, (waste in time, costs, materials and most importantly management energy), would more than pay for sustainability improvements whilst allowing a profitable, viable and economically sustainable industry.  For example, recent on-site studies have shown the true costs of skips to be £1300 or so.  One medium size contractor I was working with recently used on average 12 skips a week across 20 projects.  Do the math, as they say!

I often quote Yvon Chouinard – a mountaineering and eco hero of mine – founder of Patagonia clothing, who says that “every time I have done the right thing for the planet I have made a profit…even if the right thing cost twice as much”. Of course it needs the appropriately correct organisational ethos in place to achieve this. (see Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman for inspiration)

Take a look this review extract of Let my people go surfing:

Yvon Chouinard is one of the most important business leaders around today because he’s made a values-lead business highly profitable. Any aspring business leader (and, more importantly, those already running businesses) should be forced to read this. It’s the future.

So yes, there is profit in sustainability – currently, we cannot see it for the barriers and blinkers within the baggage we carry.  We cannot fix todays problems with the same thinking that created the problems.

time for built environment transition?

We may now have a handbook for sustainability change in our sector.

When facilitating sessions on sustainability in the built environment, I often get delegates to ‘stand in the future’, 2030 is always a good date, imagine what buildings and our use of them would be like, and try to identify what messages they would send back to today. Often they talk of well insulated, 100% sealed construction, 100% renewable energy (which often drives the car), bright, vibrant, natural light and ventilated environments, and more in touch with the natural environemnt. They talk of more team work, long established supply chains from the local area and more use of natural material.

Interesting they very rarely describe the current approaches of today – ie Eco-Home, Code 6 or Passiv House, BREEAM or whatever. (Maybe through current lack of real understanding what these concepts are). What they describe, unwittingly perhaps is a post oil built environment, even a post carbon (ie post carbon being a driver or worry)

Rob Hopkins, architect of the Transition Movement, in his excellent book The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience takes a similar approach, also using 2030 – but sees the Passiv Haus as being the home of the future, (for our sector he predicts; in 2014 the Passiv Haus model became the standard for all new domsestic construction across the UK, 80% of materials are locally sourced, an explosion of local industry for clay and cob blocks and in 2017 the government initiated the Great Reskilling of construction workers) . In this, the central chapter, A Vision for 2030, looking back over the transition, Rob paints a picture of construction, of energy (UK nearly self reliant, based on the 2010 crash programme of 50% reduction in use and a 50% renewable scale up), of transport, education and the economy.

Central to the book are the themes of post oil and reslience (resilience being the ability of a system to continue functioning in the face of any change or shocks from outside). Littered with well placed quotations, tools for community engagement and learning, templates to use and a history of transition, it is in essence the guide to tranistion movement, but far more than that. I can see this aspirational book one I will read more than once, to dip into and to learn a lot from. Divided into the head (for the ideas) the heart (for passion) and the hands – (for action), it could be seen to be the activists handbook for community based societies and enterprises.

There is a sense of the tipping point concept running throughout the book – given enough direction and empowerment, communities and people will tip the swing towards sustainable environments. Here perhaps is one key to the future – one of communialism rather than the approach of accommadationism we are taking tat the moment.

If any feeling of ‘concern’ exists on reading the book, it is in the tools. Focused at social and communtiy enterprise thinking people they work exceedingly well. To engage main stream built environment companies into the post oil and tranistion concept, a new set of tools maybe required – sharper and aimed at business survial and resilience

The closing chapter is aspirational – Closing Thoughts – “Something about the profoundly cahllenging times we live in strikes me as being tremondously exciting” Rob writes. and closes with a quote from Camus, In the depth of winter I finally realised there was in me an invincible summer

A quick scan of reviews for this book indicate its potential importance: for example:

The newly published ‘Transition Handbook’ is so important that I am tempted just to confine this review to five simple words ‘You must read this book!’ But to do so would, of course, completely fail to communicate its message which is, I believe, so profound and inspiring that I want to do my very best to encourage its spread far and wide.

Wherever you are on the sustainable journey … Transition Handbook will be of assistance. It is on the one hand a very worrying read, on the other inspirational. Through out I kept asking myself is our design, construction and FM sector ‘resilient’?

Maybe it is time for the built environment sector to take on and learn from the transition movement, to reach the tipping point for change. It is encouraging to see Rob Hopkins is talking at the Think 08 event in May. Will this be the catalyst I wonder?

More information and discussion over at the Transition Culture web blog.

are green buildings usable?

It seems we are becoming awash with green buildings, eco homes and eco towns.

There are some great sites out there with green architecture eye candy (check out Mad Architecture for example).

We have some major and significant conferences and events on the horizon – from the international Eco City 2008, Green Build 2008 and West Coast Green, here in the UK Think 08, and more locally the Elevate Exemplar event in September and the Lancs Best Practice Club July event.  All very different and important to their target audiences.

Even in Second Life there are great green and sustainable ‘built environment’ demonstration and education projects

And yet in all the design, conferences, events and working groups I see very little about the usability of green buildings – what is it like to work, live and play in them?  What does the comfort level  within (and around) green building do for health, for productivity and for well being?  What is it really like to be a citizen of a eco-city such as Auroville?

Once again I am convinced its not the building – green or other wise – but the way we use buildings that is paramount importance on the sustainability agenda – as Prof Keith Alexander down at the Center for Facilities Management comments – its about building consumption – not production. 

Time to turn the telescope around?  Is the green / sustainability movement in the built environment stuck in the building production with eye candy design, at the expense of the usability of the buildings?

As a Friday comment – I am throwing down a challenge for comments and evidence – are  Green Buildings usable?

I invite guest posts here and links to sites that discuss this issue.

UK sustainability events

I seem to be on a conference theme this evening so I should give a plug for two important UK events, (or Phil will be after me)

Think 087 and 8 May 2008

Think08 is a free exhibition and high level conference about thinking through and delivering sustainability in the built environment. With over 100 exhibitors and 80 free seminars, Think provides free content, networking and learning from thought leaders, alongside vibrant social events such as the Think Ball and Regatta.

(and a bloggers convention is promised)

Sustainability Now 1 and 2 June 2008

Sustainability Now is a unique virtual event, highlighting the essential issues that matter right now for those creating a sustainable built environment.