Reporting from Living Futures 2018


by Corey Z. Squire, AIA, Lake|Flato Architects

When I was a freshman in college, Majora Carter spoke to my Environmental Science 101 class about environmental justice. She had just won a MacArthur genius grant for her work revitalizing her community’s forgotten waterfront with her organization, Sustainable South Bronx, and she discussed her experience as an advocate for the community and the environment. Last month, I got to hear Carter speak for a second time as the keynote of the 2018 Living Future UnConference. Her talk and her work were just as inspiring as it had been more than a decade earlier, but this time, instead of introducing herself as an advocate, she introduced herself as a developer.

Her story arc, from advocating for change to running the show, is a good parallel to how the Living Future Institute has grown over the past decade. A few years ago, the Living Building Challenge was an unattainable goal with the entire building industry and socio-political establishment standing its way. At this year's conference, the challenge seemed not only possible but exactly what we should have been doing all along.

Leveraging its success at shifting the conversation and upending the conventional wisdom, The Living Future Institute has now expanded beyond buildings and is leading the charge to rethink the sustainability of everything. The first products to be certified under The Living Product Challenge were announced this year and the Institute launched The Living Food Challenge, tackling the major non-building source of global carbon emissions.  

Food, and the environmental and social issues that surround it’s production, distribution, and consumption, was one of two major areas of focus for the UnConference. An entire track of sessions and one keynote was dedicated to rethinking food systems even as the difficulty of the topic was on display at the breakfast buffet (ham sandwiches, tropical fruit, disposable coffee cups, etc.). The other major focus was on socially equitable business practices. Topics such as salary transparency, unlimited vacation days, and non-hierarchical corporate structure come up just a frequently as paid family leave and gender income equality. If history is any guide, It's only a matter of time until ILFI pushes these more progressive practices into the mainstream as they did with Red List chemicals and operable windows.    

If LEED is a tool for market transformation disguised as a green rating system, then LBC should be seen as a tool for paradigm transformation. The number of certified Living Buildings will likely never be great, but by shifting the conversation from what's possible within the existing framework to what's actually possible, real widespread change can be realized. With this conference, ILFI seems ready to move beyond buildings and take on the world.

Corey Squire, AIA, is the Sustainability Coordinator at Lake Flato Architects in San Antonio.