I feel privileged and honored to have attended the International Living Future Institute’s (ILFI) Living Future UnConference 2016 in Seattle, WA. I found the conference to be nothing short of inspiring, transformational, and uplifting. A perfect blend of technical analysis, big thinking, and spiritual exploration, the UnConference challenged all in attendance to take big leaps (not small steps), cultivate a vision for a beautiful and living future for our children, and, most importantly, bring our whole selves to our work and allow our passion and spirit to lead us to greatness.
At first glance, one might find the spiritual component to be a little “woo-woo,” as one speaker put it, and one might also wonder what it has to do with net-zero energy, climate change, or healthy building materials.
I’ll put it to you this way: We already have the technical expertise to tackle all three of these challenges and more. What we lack is the spirit, will, and courage to actually put this knowledge into action to solve the great challenges of our time. How do we continue to show up to work day after day against obstacles, skepticism, and inertia? How do we push on in spite of all the forces stacked against us? By bringing a passion and commitment that inspires and empowers our friends, partners, and stakeholders to pursue greatness. To do this, we must awaken our spirit.
The theme of this year’s conference was “Truth & Transparency,” which is as much about looking within ourselves as looking at the world around us. It’s about being uncomfortable – and being vulnerable. A major thread of the UnConference was about stirring the soul, which is what affected me most profoundly. I wanted to share a few of these experiences:
- Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods and founder of Children and Nature Network stated that children and young adults today have been told most of their lives that “it is already too late.” What happens to a culture when it has no images of a beautiful future? The vision we offer of our future is grim –the most popular genre of books for young adults is dystopia, such as The Hunger Games. According to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a culture will fail if it can’t paint a picture of where people want to go. The vision some of us espouse for a sustainable future is vague and abstract, and is widely viewed as being mostly about energy efficiency. What about beauty and life? Humans are the loneliest species and we long to be surrounded by a nature-rich, biodiverse life. “I am who I really am when I am surrounded by other species.”
- Kurt Hoelting, who runs the Cascadia Mindfulness Institute, shared the role and practice of mindfulness in unleashing greatness in people to make a beautiful and living future. Mindfulness is knowing what you’re doing while you’re doing it, which helps you exhibit your best self. It’s about paying attention (self-monitoring). On purpose. In the present moment. Non-judgmentally. Mindfulness is turning toward the uncomfortableness in ourselves, not away from it, with curiosity and open-heartedness.
- A group from BKSK Architects and Building Green explored the concept of hygge (pronounced HUE-gah), a concept of Danish origin that transforms ordinary day-to-day activities into experiences that are special and meaningful. The group created a space at the conference that was intentionally arranged to foster openness, trust, and authenticity, and was used both for an education session and as a place of refuge and relaxation for conference attendees. Hygge helps put individuals and groups in a state of being that is conducive to positive and collaborative group engagement. It could be used in a charrette, for example. But hygge also requires people to bring their best selves:
- Be willing and ready to be moved;
- Be open, trusting, and earnest;
- Set aside controversy, cynicism, and pessimism;
- Dare to be naïve (as Buckminster Fuller would say);
- Be present, attentive, and empathetic;
- Listen more than you speak;
- Act slowly;
- Be content, be grateful.
- Lastly, I want to share what I call “Jason’s Rules.” Jason McClennan is one of the founders of ILFI, who, after 10 years at the helm of the organization, recently passed the torch of president to Amanda Sturgeon. Jason shared his guiding principles, which were the underpinning of ILFI’s accomplishments to-date, including the Living Building Challenge, Living Community Challenge, Living Product Challenge, and Declare and Just product labels, among others. As we strive for greatness through catalyzing change at Green Building Alliance, it behooves us to employ many, if not all, of these guiding principles:
- We need big ideas now! Don’t wait until they are all the way done to share them. Like a good cookie, bake them three-quarters of the way and let the universe finish the job;
- Make everything beautiful and well-designed – don’t let the medium hinder the message;
- Shine light on the truth – embrace the inevitable conflict that comes with it;
- To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete (Buckminster Fuller);
- Get outside your paradigm – and your comfort zone;
- Find maximum leverage – think like a trim tab;
- Lead through inspiration, not shame or guilt;
- Have a sense of humor;
- Offer people a compelling vision of the future;
- Seek optimization of all concerns and don’t focus on single-issue successes;
- Build a movement around a coherent vision, but don’t try to create a vision by committee;
- Reward the leaders – the choir needs practice;
- Work hard – f***ing hard (Jason is well-known for his colorful language).
We were ecstatic to see numerous other attendees from the Pittsburgh region at this year’s conference. We truly hope that the GBA community can tap into this emerging global network of sustainability and green building leaders, both at next year’s Living Future UnConference (May 2017, Seattle) and the Living Product Expo, which for the second consecutive year, will be hosted in Pittsburgh this September 13-15!
Thanks so much to the conference organizers, speakers, and attendees for a brain-stretching and inspirational experience. We look forward to bringing many of these innovative ideas back to our work in Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania. Until next year, I urge you to consider how your personal spirit and passion can converge with your professional aspirations – not in a way that you feel you are working all the time, but in a manner that allows you to bring your whole self to your avocation. And then find ways to feel a little vulnerable and get out of your comfort zone. It might just change your life.