Lessons from the Living Future unConference

I just returned from my first outing to the Living Future unConference, hosted by the International Living Future Institute. From conference keynotes to session leaders, I heard some things that were worth writing down…and some that I even want to frame in my house for daily inspiration! In honor of my lessons learned, I present an (un)blog post.

1) Favianna Rodriguez: As the conference’s first-ever artist in residence, Favianna led a session on re-shaping culture through art-based interventions, hosted lunchtime “healing art clinics,” and served as a speaker at the opening night reception. During the latter, she appealed for more active inclusion of artists in the sustainability community. She made a strong case.

  • Artists are willing to create juicy narratives for change and are a huge untapped resource. (Consider this: when Leonardo DiCaprio used his Oscar win to create a platform for climate action, Google searches for “climate change” rose by 261 percent and tweets about climate change and global warming went up 636 percent, according to The Independent.)
  • Artists help us see the world through vastly different lenses, and we need imagination to solve society’s problems.
  • To ignite social change, we need action in culture, politics, and economics – and culture often arrives there the quickest. (For example, Favianna noted that, in 1997, Ellen DeGeneres became the first openly gay lead character on TV in an episode viewed by 44 million people. That was nearly 20 years before the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage across the U.S.)

Van Jones delivers the opening keynote.

2) Van Jones (CNN political contributor, best-selling author, founder of DreamCorps):  “You will make great buildings…but will you make a great society? A great civilization?” – on what our green building community can do with our expertise 

3) Amanda Sturgeon (CEO, International Living Future Institute): “Every building can be a catalyst for change.” – on the ability of buildings to educate and inspire our communities

4) Kirsti Luke (chief executive, Tūhoe Te Uru Taumatua, Ngāi Tūhoe’s Tribal Authority; conference keynote speaker): “The Living Building Challenge is hard. But nature is full of hardships and we should welcome them.” – on achieving the Living Building Challenge certification

5) Mikhael Davis (Interface): “There are no sustainable materials. A sustainable material only comes from a sustainable system and we don’t have any of those. It is a value judgment. We have to make those decisions based on what is most important to us.” – on selecting the perfect building materials

Finally, Jerome Partington (sustainability manager and senior associate, Jasmax), provided this beautiful Karakia timatanga blessing (usually used to greet the day or start a meeting) when he introduced Kirsti Luke’s keynote address:

Puget Sound and the Cascade Mountains provided a stunning setting for the conference.

Cease the winds from the West
Cease the winds from the South
Let the breezes blow over the land
Let the red-tipped dawn come
With sharpened air
A touch of frost, a promise of
A glorious day.


Pittsburgh made a strong showing at the conference and I found myself on the receiving end of many questions about our green transformation.

  • Carnegie Mellon University’s Vivian Loftness spoke in a session about using research to accelerate biophilic design.
  • PJ Dick’s Noah Shaltes and Bohlin Cywinski Jackson’s Patricia Culley gave a presentation regarding the design and construction of the Frick Environmental Center.
  • Patricia Culley and GBA’s Jenna Cramer participated in a session with Emerge Leadership’s Kathleen O’Brien on addressing mindsets and creating conditions for change through conversation.
  • The launch of ILFI’s Living Product Hub in Pittsburgh (led by long-time GBA friend Benson Gabler) was celebrated during Amanda Sturgeon’s opening address and I met several people throughout the conference who wanted to learn more about it. Super cool!

If you are looking for a mix of intimate discussion, (un)heard perspectives, and personally challenging thought exercises, you need not wait nor travel to Seattle. Check out ILFI’s Living Product Expo right here in Pittsburgh and spend September planning next year’s vision board!

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