Bringing together nearly 1,200 people
dedicated to the principles of sustainability in one of the worlds
greenest cities is very likely to produce a provocative conference
experience. EnvironDesign6, held this past April in Seattle, WA,
definitely delivered. Said one attendee:
I feel so excited and energized since going to the conference!
The speakers were great, the attendance was phenomenal and it was
such an honor to just be there!!
The keynote speakers were the people who made this conference
successful. They covered an extremely broad perspective, which helped
bring the issue of sustainability to a greater understanding and
relevance. Its been a very long time since I have been moved
by a speaker. This conference had several.
Although EnvironDesign6 included a wide variety of offerings, it
was perhaps the keynote speakers who generated the most palpable
excitement. Most of the attendees said they liked the good depth
of speaker expertise and the different perspectives presented: design,
It all began with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who gave an impassioned
and inspiring address reflecting both his distinguished heritage
and his love of nature. His talk, moreover, centered on a central
theme of the entire conference: the idea of community and the challenge
that we all have to design communities for our children that have
the same opportunities for dignity and enrichment as the communities
that our parents gave us. The infrastructure of the community is
the environment, the natural systems that connect us to our history,
our culture and our sense of common experience.
Our success as a democracy is tied up, he states, in how we distribute
the goods of the land, the public trust assets that we all hold
in common: the air that we breathe, the clean waters, the dunes
and wetlands, the wandering animals, the fisheries. The present
shouts, the future whispers, Kennedy states, and as a well-known
environmental lawyer, he uses the legal system to inject the interest
of future generations into the political and industrial dialogue.
He is justly proud of his work with The Riverkeepers, whose efforts
resulted in polluters paying almost $3 billion in remediation of
the Hudson River, which is today an international model for ecosystem
protection. An ardent advocate, he fights for environmental stewardship
for the benefit of our economy, our democracy and for ourselves.
When we destroy nature we diminish and impoverish our communities,
our children and our lives. Our children need to know, he
concluded, that they are part of a continuum.
In his keynote presentation, Governor John Kitzhaber of Oregon captured
the role of community in environmental responsibility that Kennedy
identified as so crucial. As a western state governor, he believes
that sustainability represents the next major stage in the evolution
of human endeavor. Just as products must be designed, so must our
governance in order to define a society where economic prosperity,
community livability and environmental stewardship are interdependent
and synergistic as opposed to separate and in conflict.
Oregon has approached sustainability on two different levels and
in two different roles. The first role is as a very large business,
employer and consumer of resources; the second is as a facilitator
where it tries to empower people by creating a setting in which
citizens can come together to build quality communities and to solve
shared place-based problems. As a business the state has addressed
sustainability in a proactive yet traditional way. The state as
facilitator, on the other hand, is based on the recognition that
in many ways the very structure of state government hinders the
kind of creative thinking that supports sustainability. The majority
of Kitzhabers talk detailed how his administration is attempting
to design a community-based governance structure, one that provides
both the place and the opportunity for people to come together and
find sustainable solutions.
As he has done at every Environ- Design, Bill McDonough opened the
first morning of the conference. Joined by his partner, Michael
Braungart, the architect and the chemist raised two questions theyve
challenged us with for years: How do we love all children of all
species for all time? When do we become native to this place? Their
talk attempted to provide answers, as does their new book, Cradle
to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, just published and a
brisk seller at the conference. Their premise revolves around the
concepts of rematerialization and celebrating abundance rather than
trying to reduce our negative impacta completely different
approach. As the only species on the planet that produces waste
we need to look at ways of creating nutrients for biological and
technical cycles. They cautioned that we mustnt try to minimize
our ecological footprint through increased efficiency, but rather
put eco-effectiveness into practice. Their presentation was blunt,
confrontational without being incendiary, and as is their habit,
filled with humor and hope. Much of the audience was attending EnvironDesign
for the first time. They, as well as those who have heard McDonough/Braungart
before, came away wiser and inspired.
I thought that most speakers had great ideas for integrating
sustainability into actual projects. Also, they all had innovative
ideas on how to inspire others outside of the design community to
EnvironDesign has continuously tried to expand its audience by presenting
speakers and workshops on topics that go beyond the expected or
traditional. A presentation by J Mays, the vice president of design
for Ford Motor Co., not only underscored this years introduction
of a sustainable mobility track to the conference, but also presented
to the audience a fresh and somewhat different perspective on the
influence of design. As a designer of automobiles for Audi, Volkswagen,
BMW and now Ford, Mays is well aware of the environmental conundrum
that his industry facesan industry that has been producing
automobiles, using natural resources and dirtying the planet for
the last 100 years. Ford, however, has set out to change its paradigm,
whether it is through low-emissions, electric, hybrid or hydrogen
vehicles, or the redesign of its Rouge manufacturing facility. Ford
has, he states, 100 years of innovation ahead of it. Mays, however,
spoke primarily about products and why people buy theman important
point if environmentally responsible products are to take hold.
He cautioned that ecological features are not enough to capture
the mainstream marketplace.
Many of the other issues concerning sustainable transportation were
dealt with in a series of four workshop sessions addressing fuel
and fuel cells, the supply chain and future mobility products. Ten
different tracks were presented overall by over 60 experts in fields
as varied as green business practices, high performance buildings,
tenant improvement, market transformation and regenerative design.
In addition, Carl Frankel, Sim Van der Ryn and Hardin Tibbs presented
a general session on promoting creativity through breakthrough thinking
within the frameworks of nature, futurism and humanism. A product
learning center showcased the resources available to designers as
they move toward sustainability. As one attendee explained, From
now on, I am going to try and do more business with these firms
after learning what they do to help the environment!
The exhibit area was enhanced this year by the presence of special
displays put together by an extremely enthusiastic and committed
Seattle community. IIDAs Washington State Chapter elected
to hold its very successful GreenWorld event concurrent with EnvironDesign6.
Manufacturers were paired with teams of local designers, who assisted
them in creating unique exhibits to illustrate their green story.
Participants also responded to a questionnaire based on ASTM standards
that examines the sustainability of their products. The IIDA Washington
State Chapter also presented a pre-conference workshop on life cycle
assessment and a certified wood tour.
Terrific contributions were also made by the AIA Seattle Committee
on the Environment (COTE), which held its annual What Makes
It Green event at EnvironDesign. Through a pre-conference
panel discussion and an exhibit, it showcased a diverse selection
of regional projects that incorporate the principles of sustainability.
Its organizers believe that the program is a wonderful example of
volunteer and community commitment to advancing responsible buildings.
COTE also organized three post-conference tours.
The Cascadia Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council planned
two overnight tours, to Portland, OR; and Vancouver, British Columbia,
Canada. However, it was its Behind the Seams fashion
show that provided a delightful kick to the conference. The Northwest
Pacific region is home to numerous clothing manufacturers and retailers.
They, along with many good sports from the local design community
who served as models, used style and panache to bring the big issues
confronting this industry to everyones attention.
Many other groups contributed to the success of the conference.
The International Design Awards Exhibit illustrated new and traditional
green strategies in materials, product design and architecture.
Five Pacific Northwest artists provided an exhibit of public art
works entitled Activism: Sustainability, Art & Culture
that celebrates a new way of thinking about buildings, landscapes
and cities. Finally, thanks to the efforts of the Leonardo Academy,
EnvironDesign6 was a Level 5 Cleaner & Greener Certified Event.
I appreciated the range of approaches provided by the speakersfrom
the political and pragmatic to the idealistic and abstract. Many
of the speakers had provocative and thought provoking ideas.
The last speaker at a conference can often be a let-down, especially
when they follow a line-up of exceptional presentations. In this
case, however, Environ-Design6 arguably saved one of the best for
last. Peter Senge, a senior lecturer at MIT, the chairperson of
the Society for Organizational Learning and author of The Fifth
Discipline, quite frankly, wowed em! Its difficult to
summarize his talk without absurdly oversimplifying. He challenged
the commonly-accepted notions of design and its ability to dig our
way out of our problems. He defined how enterprises use design to
create their ideas, systems of governance, management, measurement
and artifacts, and believes that in doing so have ignored certain
realities. Senge readily acknowledges that design really matters
and advocates that success in finding out how to live in harmony
with the living world and with nature will come from a combination
of a design revolution and something elsea revolution of awarenesshow
we think about ourselves, our reality and what it means to be alive.
Harmonizing the world of design and the world of enactment will
only come when we realize that a reality exists independent of us
Heavy stuff, to be sure, but Senge didnt leave us hanging
with our minds struggling to find the significance of it all. Rather
he captivated us with slides of frozen water taken by a Japanese
photographer. No two are alike, but Senges slides showed the
extraordinary variations that occur when the ice crystals are exposed
to different environments, not just in the usual sense of where
they came from, but also what happens when they are stimulated by
music, words and emotion. This is a reality in which we all participate
in ways we cant even see. He left us with a view of a world
independent of us as observersa world of separate things.
This was my third EnvironDesign and I really appreciated
the breadth of topics covered by the speakers. I was challenged
to think more than I have in the past. I think that the speakers
challenged the conference to move beyond dealing with the believers
and strive to make the ideals mainstream. I would encourage the
planning committee to continue to push the envelope of diverse speakers
in an effort to engage every aspect of sustainability.
We shall try to do just that next April 30th through May 2nd in
Washington, DC, at EnvironDesign7.EnvironDesign is co-sponsored
by IS (www.isdesignet.com)
and green@work (www.greenatworkmag.com)
magazines. Additional information on EnvironDesign6 and information
about ordering tapes of all the keynote speeches and workshop sessions
are available at www.environdesign.com.