Reflections on Living Future 2012

So often we go to conferences, learn a few new things, feel inspired (or not), and return to work a little behind on our to-do lists. Living Future 2012, attended by a handful of us at NBI, was an exception. The purpose of the conference was to inspire, yes, but also to serve as a critical reminder of the need to act now for the future. This year’s theme, “Women Reshaping the World,” reminded us of the interconnectedness of our work, dedicated primarily to energy performance in buildings, and the many efforts and systems that impact our world. In his keynote message, Jason McLennan said “Surround yourself with smart women, they will challenge you.” Through the wise words of numerous women and men, we were also reminded to consider the whole as we engage in our often focused scopes of work, keeping our sights on our shared goal of true livability in a restorative world. Returning to the office after the conference, Curt Nichols, NBI’s new Senior Manager of Strategic Initiatives, reflected on what inspired him—and how to put that inspiration into action. Read Curt’s top takeaways from Living Future 2012 (excuse our bias towards energy performance):

1) Collaborative partnerships are key

If you want a project to be a success, pick the right partner—and lots of them. Planners and architects in Chicago were able to work with the City of Chicago to get some slightly scrubbed utility bill disclosure, a huge benefit to work they were doing.  The Phipps Conservatory found that a living building would be the ideal place to house their soon-to-open Center for Sustainable Landscapes.  The General Services Administration in Portland literally pulled together an impressive team to assist with their total renovation of the Edith Green Wendell Wyatt building, allowing for what turned out to be an ongoing design charrette benefitting communication, information sharing, design optimization and, ultimately, the project timeline.

2) Retrofits are still the new black

This year, existing buildings were the stars of the show. Numerous presenters talked about deep energy retrofits in single buildings and across smaller portfolios that have, or are poised to, achieve impressive energy savings and returns on investment.  One example was the work BC Housing is doing to cut energy use in their multifamily housing stock.  Squeezed between more traditional commercial and residential buildings, multifamily properties have always been a hard market to influence.  From the use of thermal imaging to understand the building’s shell to the use of tenant engagement to give them a better understanding of how they can impact energy use, BC Housing is showing that significant savings are still possible.  The Facility for Low Energy eXperiments in Buildings (aka the FLEX Lab) being constructed by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory will bring more capabilities to testing of various technologies in ‘real’ buildings.  This test bed will really prove the performance of various retrofit technologies. Finally, GSA’s Pat Bruner showed that even when working within the constraints of federal facilities, deep energy savings are possible.  In addition to the 60% improvement in energy use intensity they’re targeting for the Edith Green Wendell Wyatt building, the new hydronic HVAC system will provide more leaseable floor space–one more example of the benefits of integrated strategy in building retrofits.

3) “Think big, start small, act now.” — Thomas L. Friedman

After three eye-opening days, the time for listening, networking and theorizing has passed. The importance of acting now was expressed repeatedly throughout the conference from the wise, poetic words of Dr. Vandana Shiva to simple, but urgent calls to action from a variety of speakers. Now is the time to ensure a thriving and restorative future.  With or without all the answers, we must continue to take real, if small, steps toward our shared goals.  Jennifer Cutbill from the University of British Columbia challenged each of us to leverage 1% of the time we spent at the conference (approximately 15 minutes for those of us who attended each day) into measurable action.