Home ~ Health ~ Humanity

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A recent column by Nicholas Kristof entitled Are You a Toxic Waste Disposal Site? raised some disturbing issues. None of it, sadly, was news to me. The United States has delayed appropriate testing of industrial chemicals over and over again, largely due to the influence of lobbying groups. Mr. Kristof’s column said that “Scientists have identified more than 200 industrial chemicals–from pesticides, flame retardants, jet fuel–as well as neurotoxins like lead in the blood or breast milk of Americans, indeed, in people all over our planet.”

 

 

As the pioneer of the sustainable design movement, I have spoken out for years in favor of non-toxic, chemical-free built environments to support our health, and the well-being of our families. I believe that your home, your health, and the future of humanity depends upon it. My clients know that whenever I can use a “green” alternative in fabric, upholstery, paints and floor finishes, wood furniture and cabinetry, that’s what I choose. I created the phrase “eco-elegant (TM)” to demonstrate to people that homes can be beautiful, sophisticated, and serene, and still maintain their health through clean air and furnishings that do not off-gas potentially dangerous fumes.

 

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My philosophy is simple: to live in a way that shows respect for all life on earth, we must be open to questioning the impact of our choices. One of my environmental heroes, Chief Oren Lyons of the Iroquois Confederacy, described to me the tradition of tribal leaders in making decisions: Not only do they consider the impact on the next generation, they also examine the consequences all the way to the seventh generation.

 

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I wrote my book, Comfort Zone: Creating the Eco-Elegant Interior, to show a healthier way of living. I urge anyone who cares about their health and a holistic approach to lifestyle and the earth to read it. On pages 232-233, you’ll find an easy-to-reference listing of green products that is the culmination of my lifetime of work selecting the most eco-friendly products. It includes everything from bedding and carpeting, to duct work and adhesives, to vacuum cleaners and products for your pets.

 

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I promise you, there’s a healthier way to live, and the changes are not difficult to make. Ready to protect yourself and your family, friends, and companion animals from a poorly regulated industry? I want to help. Click here to take the first step toward the Eco-Elegant Life.

 

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Tell the Good Stories

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There’s a wonderful quote by Howard Thurman: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

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I felt doubly blessed after reading those words, because I’m convinced that what makes me come alive is also just what the world needs. I recently had the privilege of attending two multi-day conferences–The Nantucket Project, on Nantucket Island in September, and The Design Futures Council’s  (DFC) Leadership Summit on Sustainable Design in Dallas, Texas in October.

The speakers were among the most renowned politicians, business leaders, philanthropists and artists in the world. The topics they spoke on were self-selected, and reflected their deepest beliefs and best work.  It’s easy to become discouraged when we focus on the world’s problems, but it’s also possible to focus on solutions. Pete Seeger once said: “The key to the future of the world is finding the optimistic stories and letting them be known.”

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At both conferences, I was completely captivated by the number of intelligent, thoughtful, creative and dynamic thought-leaders and life-changers on this planet, and the optimistic stories they told. I was uplifted, inspired, and re-invigorated in my desire to keep spreading the word about sustainable design. I want to do everything I can to help make the earth a cleaner, healthier place to raise our children and grandchildren, and take good care of our elders, too!

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The Nantucket Project bills itself as a convener of thinkers and ideas, a think tank and an academy of learners. If you believe in being a lifelong learner, as I do, then I hope you’ll attend one of their annual island gatherings. Steve Wozniak was there, from Apple Computer, Inc., and Ben Carson, a Republican presidential candidate. Regardless of your political leanings, it’s always good to be exposed to the thoughts and ideas of people on the public stage.

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Tony Blair, Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland for ten years, spoke on the Africa Governance Initiative, designed to challenge the African continent with needed reform and reduce poverty. Neil Young introduced the concept of PonoMusic, bringing high resolution music to music lovers around the world.

After that experience, I couldn’t imagine anything that could compare to what I had just seen and heard, or that any other event could match that one for integrity. But then I headed southwest, to Dallas, and to the Design Futures Council’s Leadership Summit on Sustainable Design.

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The first Leadership Summit on Sustainable Design was held on Nantucket, 14 years ago. I had long had the desire to to have an “awareness-raising” conference for architects, landscapers, designers and contractors, to provide a platform for knowledge and understanding for an environmentally-conscious built environment. My friend and colleague Jim Cramer was the first to make that conference a reality by supporting it with his following in the Design Futures Council.

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I am deeply gratified to have been a part of this movement from the very beginning. At our first gathering we established The Nantucket Principles, offering a path for a strategic approach to sustainable design. Every year for the past fourteen, design leaders from around the world have convened to share their thoughts and ideas, to challenge outdated beliefs, and to make a positive contribution to the world.

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At the Sustainable Design Summit, I was honored as a new Senior Fellow for the DFC, an unsought recognition that I treasure as a firm believer in the DFC’s mission.

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Here I am being honored as a Senior Fellow, with Scott Simpson, Managing Director, Greenway Group, and James P. Cramer, Chairman and Principal, Greenway Group, and President, Design Futures Council!

I was enthralled by the speakers there: Jason McClennan spoke on Living Buildings for a Living Future (watch his TED Talk here); Dame Ellen McArthur educated us on “The Surprising Thing I Learned Sailing Solo Around the World” (watch her TED Talk here), and we talked about the Building Blocks of a  Circular Economy.

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Those two conferences changed my life, not by altering any of my values, beliefs or passions, but rather, by reaffirming what I already knew: that there is a world filled with possibility, that the right time to give up hope is never, and that together, we can create something beautiful. Both conferences told me a story that I could believe in: that we can change the world.

As Tom Scott, co-founder of The Nantucket Project says, “If you want to be good at making outcomes, you’d better get really good at telling a story. And you better make sure that story has integrity.”

We can all do this in our own lives. Let’s find the good stories, stories with integrity, and tell them to each other, every day.

This is Impossible Concept with Graffiti on Gray Cement Street Wall.

The great thing in the world is not so much where we stand as in what direction we are moving. –Oliver Wendell Holmes

A Window to Our Future

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Earlier this month, I participated in the Leadership Summit for Sustainable Design, hosted by the Design Futures Council, as a member of the Delegation of 100.  The Summit was an amazing gathering of leaders in the sustainable design movement, who share a belief in our ability to shift the relationship between humans and the environment, and to create systems that are truly sustainable.

My involvement with the Design Futures Council is one of several commitments I have in place to work toward a more sustainable earth. It encompasses both my “green” design work and my dedication to educating my clients and readers, as well as a personal passion for protecting the environment.

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Held this year in Minneapolis (guess whose statue this is!), the participants and speakers inspired me to believe in a future for our children and grandchildren that can support both the growing numbers of humans on the planet as well as the fragile environment we live in.

I’ve heard the term “a conga line of geniuses and scientists” applied to the Ted Conferences before; it certainly applied to the Summit as well.  It was hard to choose what is most important to share from such a list of exemplary individuals, all who exhibit such “intellectual rigor” (one of the bywords of the conference!).  I finally chose architect and author Ed Mazria, for his work with his organization Architecture 2030.  It’s so important for all of us to understand what’s at stake in the world, and what we can do to help!

I am greatly concerned, along with leading environmental scientists, about climate change and global warming.  The risk to us all, and to future generations, is in doing business as usual.  We need to make changes to bring the world’s temperatures back to where they were in the pre-industrial era; at the very least we must keep our global warming to under a 2 degree increase.

 

The architecture and design community must take the lead in transforming the way we live, work, and utilize the eco-system.  Our built environments must reflect a genuine concern for the next generations, and a willingness to engage with government, business leaders and public policy to find the right balance.

Mr. Mazria has reshaped the international dialogue on energy and climate change to incorporate building design through his organization Architecture 2030.

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Architecture 2030 recognizes that buildings are the major source of global demand for energy and materials that produce by-product greenhouse gases.  Mr. Mazria’s impassioned support for innovative sustainable design strategies is leading a new generation of concerned industry leaders to embrace his vision for the future.

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Specifically, Mr. Mazria has emphasized the need to keep the global temperature increase below the two degree centigrade threshold.  Entire species disappear when the temperature changes only a fraction of a degree.  The recently released Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPPCC) Fifth Assessment Report concludes that to keep the increase below two degrees, global greenhouse emissions must peak by 2020, and then begin a rapid decline.

Mr. Mazria has focused on China, currently urbanizing at a rate unmatched in human history, as an opportunity to create healthy, resilient and integrated regional infrastructures, cities, towns and buildings that are models of economic and urban sustainability.  Projections indicate that within 20 years, China’s urban population will grow by 350 million people, creating 221 cities with more than one million inhabitants.  In order to take advantage of the opportunity to plan and design sustainable, carbon neutral built environments that protect and enhance natural resources, Mr. Mazria and Architecture 2030 are working toward a carbon neutral China Accord.

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The China Accord urges that cities, towns, urban developments, new buildings and major renovations in China be designed to be carbon neutral, meaning they use no more energy over the course of a year than they produce or import from renewable energy sources.  If reaching carbon neutral is not practical, then they urge developments to be designed to be highly efficient with the capability to use renewable energy sources in the future.

Architecture 2030 is organizing signatures from all those who have offices in China, or current or future plans for projects in China, to add their signatures and pledges to the Accord, to influence urban development in China and throughout the world.  More information is available at architecture2030.org.

Architecture 2030 isn’t just concerned with China, however.  Mr. Mazria’s 2030 Challenge is about reducing the carbon footprint of architecture everywhere, first by eliminating the use of fossil fuels in new construction, and then by cutting the use of fossil fuels in existing buildings by 50% by 2030.  He plans to hit those targets through a new initiative called the 2030 PALETTE:  an online design tool to help produce low impact, people friendly projects.

For instance, this “green” school utilizes daylighting from multiple sides to cut energy consumption.  It provides more even lighting, and reduces glare, often created when light comes primarily from one side. The online tool gives advice on how to properly daylight a building, from providing windows on opposite walls, to incorporating high ceilings and walls with light shelves to direct sunlight deeper into a space.

The online tool provides information ranging from the micro–daylighting in buildings–to the macro–defining growth boundaries to limit urban sprawl.  The work of Architecture 2030 is critical to our future, and will help to determine whether climate change is manageable or catastrophic.

Important work is being done by other concerned groups as well.  In late September, I attended the annual conference of The Nantucket Project, an organization that hosts a gathering of some of the world’s leading thinkers and visionaries to help shape the dialogue on the most important issues we face. I was gratified to attend this year along with Senator John McCain, Chris Matthews, Greg LeMond, Michael Pollan, Louis Schwartzberg, and many others for presentations, discussions and education from experts in a variety of fields.

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Here I am with John McCain at The Nantucket Project

I learned so much at both of The Nantucket Project and the Leadership Summit; there’s so much more I wish I could share with you.  Here are three more inspirations:

Check out Jim Harris, the author of A Crisis is a Terrible Thing to Waste.  The book presents hundred of case studies showing how environmental leadership can drive profitability and improve the bottom line.

And available through Netflix, there is a must-see documentary film called Chasing Ice.  It’s environmental photographer James Balog’s record of the world’s changing glaciers, captured through time-lapse photography. He compresses years into seconds to show how these ice mountains are disappearing at an alarming rate.

Last, please watch the film Nature’s Beauty Inspires Gratitude, a short film by award-winning cinematographer Louie Schwartzberg shown at a TEDx talk.  His time lapse photography captures breathtaking images through, as he says, “beauty and seduction–nature’s tools for survival.”   I was so moved by his film treatise on water, “One Drop.”  I hope it becomes widely available for viewing soon.

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Our world is vast and fragile, and climate change is real and deadly.  I”ll continue to share my thoughts on how we can take action together.  I’d love to hear your thoughts, too.