Summit on Sustainability Inspires Local Change

“Holy cow, this is a smart group of people.”

That’s the phrase that runs through my mind every year when I arrive at the Design Futures Council’s Leadership Summit on Sustainability. Design Futures Council (DFC) is a group of thought leaders who come from the design industry; the group’s overall goal is to be a leadership voice within the industry. That means leading in technology, sustainable design, design as a whole, advocacy… and the group takes its job seriously.

I’m always inspired by the exciting and impassioned presentations and break-out sessions I attend during this event. This year was no different; from vertical gardens to zero-carbon emission buildings, tons of great ideas were shared. And as I started to recap those ideas for you, I realized there were just too many that left me inspired. Instead, I thought I’d recap a few great ideas in a series of blog posts. Here is the first of three topics that made the biggest impact on me.

Big Idea: Integrating the natural world into the built environment

By the year 2050, nearly 80 percent of the earth’s population will reside in urban centers… which presents an incredible challenge related to food production and farming. Dickson Despommier, Ph.D., believes he has the answer.

An emeritus professor of microbiology and public health at Columbia University, Despommier pioneered the concept of vertical farming over the course of 10 years of study. His concept is simple: indoor greenhouses, many stories high, will be built in the heart of the world’s urban centers.

What it Means

If successful, these vertical farms might offer the promise of urban renewal, sustainable and varied food production and the eventual repair of natural resources damaged by traditional farming. The concept is already underway at urban farms like Gotham Greens in New York, which installed greenhouses on the roofs of Whole Foods Markets where fresh produce is grown and harvested—right on site.

But the idea isn’t without flaws. While vertical farming could solve the world’s needs for fresh, local produce, there’s a practical question: What about the meat? For this idea to be truly sustainable in the long-term, American diets would have to eliminate corn and red meat… cows grazing on a rooftop just isn’t practical. That’s a major mind shift, and not likely to happen any time soon.

Making it Practical

We can modify the vertical farming concept to make it practical, and that’s the essence of what Summit on Sustainability seeks. For example, SHP is currently in the midst of designing a new elementary school in the Talawanda school district in Oxford, Ohio. I’ve been working to integrate vertical farming silos into the design for the courtyard, to serve both an educational and a practical purpose. It’s my way of driving change at the local level and at a minimum, I’m helping raise awareness.

In my next post, I’ll delve into the 2030 Challenge pioneered by Ed Mazria to design carbon neutral buildings in the next 15 years.