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Please Consider the Environment before Printing October 3, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in change, environment, questions, sustainability, transformation.
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I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden (1854)

Just back from the Design Futures Council’s 8th Annual Leadership Summit on Sustainable Design held Sept 30 –Oct 2 at the Fairmont Hotel in Chicago where I served as a delegate, observer, and participant.

 Why did I attend this conference and not the BIM Forum in Phili, or the AIA’s Changing Times|Time for Change conference just down the block? I suppose that I went for a number of reasons: the promise of stimulating and challenging discussions between thoughtful professionals, out of curiosity and plain flattered for having been invited. 

But most of all I attended the Summit because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of sustainable design, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach me, and not, when I came to return to work on Monday, discover that I had not learned.

I came to kick-start and reboot something in me that had – despite my LEED –AP cred, become dormant. For me, the Summit was a reboot camp for the soul.

So, at conference’s end, two weeks into a 21 day detox – having voluntarily (some would say foolishly) given up caffeine, sugar, alcohol and gluten in addition to meat and dairy that I abandoned long ago in becoming a vegan – I make the following observations. I don’t pretend that they’re definitive or objective – this is a blog after all. Nor are they entirely representative of what went on at the Summit. Think of these as things to think about if we are to remain relevant for a while:

  • Our charge as designers, to do more with less. As poets have for millennia


  • What was particularly moving about Adrian Smith’s presentation is that he didn’t talk about himself or even his work. (A first for an architect?) In presenting AS+GG’s self-funded, in-progress Chicago Central Area De-Carbonization Plan, one soon comes to the realization that even if the entire city went carbon-neutral overnight it wouldn’t be enough to meet the 2030 challenge let alone offset the onslaught of global warming. We must look elsewhere to meet this challenge.


  • Self-guided tour of the new Renzo Piano designed Modern Wing is just a fancy way of saying walk around the museum for an hour


  • Art/design and sustainability are mutually supportive, mutually beneficial


  • We were wisely encouraged by Greenway founder and author Jim Cramer to look at the presentation subjects and data with a “constructive paranoia,” not with myopia or blind optimism


  • Our goal: to minimize the impact of climate change on the city


  • A realist defines sustainable development as that which meets all the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. An optimist defines sustainable development as that which meets all the needs of the present while improving the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.


  • A pessimist asks: What future generations?


  • Raising animals in order to eat them leads to land degradation, climate change, air pollution, water shortage and water pollution, loss of biodiversity, and the consumption of 760 million tons of grain – to animals – that could otherwise help feed the starving.


  • And so: The wisdom of serving steak at a sustainability conference?


  • Not convinced? The amount of feed it takes to feed an animal to create one 8-oz steak could fill 50 bowls with cooked grain.


  • Veganism is the new Prius


  • Autonomy is the enemy of collaboration


  • Unless its an autonomous team 


  • We all know the benefits by now. Let’s move onto co-benefits.


  • Someone ought to revise Maslow’s hierarchy pyramid to reflect the fact that people don’t care about climate and the environment until their basic needs are met


  • We ought to first focus on meeting people’s basic needs (and fast)


  • Dfn. Sustainability: not cheating on  the grandkids – David Adamson


  • There are metrics available that can put hard numbers on soft effects


  • “We’re just about Burnhamed-out.” – Wellington “Duke” Reiter


  • People are not excited by charts. People aren’t motivated by statistics. They’re motivated by statistics they can feel. Challenge: How to make the message compelling?


  • We need to talk about what we know in a way that people can understand


  • Problems growing faster than the solutions


  • U.S.’s #1 export: suburbia


  • We don’t have to be experts in each of these subjects. The beauty of design is to be the catalyst


  • Developers are motivated by money, fear and guilt. The rest of us by money, fear and consciousness


  • Guilt is Jewish/Catholic consciousness


  • The essence of religion is faith. The essence of science is doubt. – Richard Feynman


  • Our #3 problem: How to reach out beyond the design community? How to get the message about global warming and sustainability out to people who will be impacted by it?


  • Our #2 problem: Nobody wants to hear it from an architect. Architects cannot come across that they have the answers.


  • Our #1 problem: Architects are implying that they have the answers.


  • Recognize what it is we do have


  • Architects ought to borrow a page from doctors and – in building on this planet –  strive first and foremost to do no harm


  • Learning is remembering what you are interested in. – Richard Saul Wurman


  • You have to have a purpose bigger than your product


  • So we resorted to focus-group brainstorming sessions arriving at advertising-like taglines in time for lunch


  • Please Consider the Environment before Printing


  • What the design community needs to do. What people need to do.


  • You get the sense that we’re waiting for someone to step up. A hero, someone to champion the cause. To provide hope. To provide direction.


  • FedEx days: when you have to deliver something – at work – overnight.  – Dan Pink


  • “The Sentence comes from a story Clare Boothe Luce told about a conversation she had in 1962 in the White House with her old friend John F. Kennedy. She told him, she said, that “a great man is one sentence.” His leadership can be so well summed up in a single sentence that you don’t have to hear his name to know who’s being talked about. “He preserved the union and freed the slaves,” or, “He lifted us out of a great depression and helped to win a World War.” You didn’t have to be told “Lincoln” or “FDR.”  – Peggy Noonan


  • What is your sentence?


  • “Make sure what you do doesn’t turn around to bite you in the ass.”

The real value for having attended something as rich and diverse as a Summit cannot be summarized in a sentence (not even The Sentence.) What resonates after the last session is over are the relationships and friendships that were made, the meeting of minds and hearts, and the knowledge that there is a community of likeminded individuals that is greater than the sum of its however impressive parts. And for that reason alone the Summit ought to live on as long as the planet is able to support it. I came away from this event recharged, and yes, remembering what I am interested in.