The drink options at lunch were threefold: a hibiscus nectar cooler, sparkling ginger lemonade, or tap water. After I finished a forest and earth mushroom polenta cone—a tasty concoction featuring organic, local and seasonal ingredients and void of any processed starches or sugars, meat or dairy products—I then debated how best to divvy up my leftovers into the provided containers: Were they recyclable, compostable, or trash? Task accomplished, I headed off to an afternoon educational session in a room where abundant natural daylight allowed the electric lights to remain off (alas, Powerpoint remained on) and wide-open windows brought in cool breezes off the San Francisco Bay. Needless to say, I was not at your run-of-the-mill conference and exhibition.
Most recently, I attended West Coast Green in San Francisco and over the course of three days, I filled my notebook with questions that other attendees had asked. In one session regarding renewable energy options, an attendee questioned whether the U.S. power grid would be able to support developing technologies or whether feeding new energy sources into it would make it more prone to blackouts. His neighbor questioned whether positive-energy homes were even possible, and another asked whether taxation should be part of energy policies. The second-day keynote, Ray Anderson of Interface, announced that “Nature truly is the goose that lays the golden eggs, and it is being strangled to death.” Quoting Albert Einstein, he noted, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them.”
What stuck in my mind most, however, was a statement from the very first day. Addressing the crowd, Daniel Kammen, Class of 1935 Distinguished Professor of Energy in the Energy & Resources Group at the University of California, Berkeley, noted that the conference should be treated as the anti-Las Vegas. That is, what happens there should most certainly not stay there. Indeed, returning to Washington, DC, a few days later, I couldn’t help but wonder: After celebrating innovation for several days, what happens when we all go home?
On a related note, on Oct. 2, President Obama declared October “National Energy Awareness Month 2009.” The official proclamation notes that “As American scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs bring new and improved energy technologies to homes and businesses in this country and around the world, they will be showing American leadership and vision while also making clean energy the profitable kind of energy. During National Energy Awareness Month, we recognize the contributions of individuals, organizations, and companies that are committed to advancing energy innovation and efficiency, and we promote the importance of a clean energy economy to our Nation.” But shouldn’t every month be energy awareness month?
It is increasingly clear that not only do we as a country have to change the way we’re building our cities and their structures, but also that we, as a global community, have to do so drastically and quickly. Sustainable thinking and development should not—and truthfully, cannot—wait for once-a-year awareness or support. Recognizing and supporting green development and outstanding environmental building performance year-round is a core tenant of Eco-Structure, one we seek to fulfill online, in print and in person. It’s great to convene for a three-day retreat where conversation is abundant, innovation abounds, and organic food options are the norm, but it is even better when that conversation continues on a daily basis, as we seek to do on our website, ecostructure.com. That being said, I look forward to your feedback on the issues that drive your business and your passions, whether it comes face-to-face or, for the more digitally inclined, via email or Twitter (follow us at http://www.twitter.com/ecostructure).