By IES Staff

A contingent from IES, representing a variety of perspectives, journeyed to Pittsburgh for the recent LP17. Staffers attending were Mariah Kurtz, Shavon Prophet and Irene Winkelbauer, healthy building materials specialists; Clark Semon, systems designer; Patrick Brannan, director of people and organization; and Donald Mulhern, senior sustainability manager. Owner Charley Stephenson was also on hand and joined other panelists for an educational discussion on Leveraging the Living Building Challenge to Achieve Healthy, High Performing SpacesFrom diverse perspectives, all participants share a commitment to healthy, sustainable buildings and products. They offer here some quick impressions of this significant annual event.

On presenters and workshops:

Charley: Paul Hawken’s figures on CO2 reduction/sequestration/continued containment really stood out. Shifting the conversation from doing less harm to addressing the root of the CO2 issue was very enlightening. It is so hopeful to consider how natural systems can be harnessed to draw down atmospheric CO2.

Patrick: The keynote speakers were particularly inspiring and thought-provoking. I was especially impressed with Paul Hawken. He presented a common-sense approach to climate change that frames the effort in terms of actionable steps that give people an understanding of what we can actually accomplish. For me, it really struck a chord and made a lot of sense.

I found it particularly enlightening to hear from manufacturers who are striving to produce healthier products, yet confront some of the same challenges we face among their own industry partners with regards to transparency and disclosure. We also drank beer in a church. So that was nice.

Charley Stevenson presenting on healthy building materials. photo credit: Shavon Prophet
Irene: I was encouraged to hear the keynote on Tuesday night—Paul Hawkins, executive director of Drawdown. I am impressed with his initiative to seek out actual efforts that are measurable and can be pursued, in a hierarchy of order of effectiveness, to address anthropogenically-induced climate change.

Along these lines, I attended Designing with Nature as a Practice and was moved by an exercise where we were asked to reflect on places and environments that had a great effect in our lives and shared these experiences in small groups. I saw a thread of identification within my mixed-aged group of seven participants. We briefly shared stories of the places of our childhoods that left deep and memories for everyone.

The exercise made me think of how important it is for all people to have access to nature starting in youth. It makes even more sense to me why public Environmental Centers are leaders in LBC initiatives—but also why work spaces like Etsy and Google are pursuing LBC and designing with nature using biophilic elements of daylighting, visual connectedness with the outdoors, interior living walls and other features that bring us into a connection with life forces and our role on this planet.

Mariah: Attending speeches and sessions, I was so heartened to commiserate and celebrate the nuances of working on Living Building Challenge projects with folks outside of my office. Day-to-day it is so easy to forget that there is a whole web of people out in the world working towards the same goals we are. The realization that we aren’t in this alone was the comfort blanket I needed handed to me at my first International Living Future Institute conference.

Phipps Conservatory. photo credit: Shavon Prophet

General thoughts and impressions:

Mariah: While attending the Living Product Expo 2017 was a treat in and of itself, there were plenty of gems throughout our three days in Pittsburgh. The first thing I noticed when I walked into the keynote on Tuesday evening was that the folks attending LP17 were not the usual grey beard crowd, which as a professional woman under 25 was really refreshing (though it seems we have a ways to go in getting the room to be less than 95% white).

I was able to witness the spectrum of opinions on the sustainability (or lack thereof) of PVC, which prior to the session I knew little about. The conference inspired me to do more of my own research on new topics I found interesting.

Shavon: A recurring theme I heard over the course of the Living Product Expo is Millennials as a driving force in a market increasingly demanding transparency from businesses—from the building industry to cosmetic makers to food producers—and freedom from chemicals that make us sick. That made me proud! I was encouraged by the host of young professionals in attendance, and especially the surprising number of young women comprising panels and lead sessions.

Irene: Juan Rovalo, a biologist who has spent his career consulting architects and designers, spoke movingly, in very personal terms, of the importance of our stewardship on this planet. Amanda Sturgeon, CEO, International Living Future, Institute informed us of a tool she has just launched called—The Biophilic Design Map-

Patrick: It was energizing to be among such dedicated and passionate people. The entire experience filled me with a greater sense of hope, both for our efforts at IES and for the overall mission to create healthy buildings.