2019 Living Future Unconference: A Call to Action

Last week much of the Seattle design and building community gathered at the Hyatt Regency to talk movement, collaboration and change. The 13th Annual Living Future Unconference, held at the Hyatt Grand Regency in downtown Seattle, began with a sold out opening night where over 1300 attendees listened to impassioned speakers about the necessity of action. Our CEO and co-founder, John Wells, was in attendance last week. His words follow.

Our CEO, John Wells, sorting through wood slabs

“There is a reason why the ILFI calls this an “Un” conference. What I noticed immediately about the event is that there was a lot of heart and soul present – people doing meaningful, visionary and necessary work, directly addressing where we are in the arc of human and natural history and the evolution of our species. We are facing an existential threat in climate change, a "clear and present danger." This Unconference and ILFI as an organization address this issue head-on, with intelligence, grace, heart and humor.

Attendees gathered in the lobby for a quick lunch break in-between lectures.

Unlike many conferences that are all mental and analytical, the opening night gathering had moments of tears, passion, and edginess, with the overall impact of a call to action. The event approached performance art, with real content and real action behind it. The most touching moment for me was the memorial for my good friend Patty Southard, who recently passed away. Jason McClennan and Amanda Sturgeon spoke beautifully about her passion and persistence in challenging the status quo particularly in the arena of green building. As the leader of King County's Green Tools, Patty was influential beyond her position. Her vision of creating 10 Living Future buildings in King County will be surpassed by 2020. Her personal and professional legacy will not be forgotten.


The "15 minutes of brilliance" speaker was Jami Sari Margolin, a 17 year old student who is one of the leading voices of the climate justice movement. She started off with a fierce and well articulated challenge to the establishment in a demand for justice for her generation and future generations. Institutions like patriarchy and capitalism were called out as directly standing in the way of justice for marginalized groups including people of color, women and children. She drew convincing parallels between the institutions we take for granted and the root causes of climate challenges we face, and left little room for excuses. It was a powerful presentation of ideas and a serious call to action for the future of our species, and for justice now to those that are marginalized.


Bill McKibben, a writer and activist who started 350.org, a climate activist network, spoke with humor and grave seriousness about the impact and immediate threats of climate change around the globe. As he spoke, he showed a series of photos of supporters of his organization from all around the globe, dramatically illustrating how this issue affects us all - but as he pointed out, it adversely affects the poor and the marginalized people the most. While they have little or no means of addressing the root cause of climate change, they also have little means of finding solutions for the disruptions of their lives that are caused by climate change, including sinking islands, and places devastated by shrinking water supply and extreme weather events. It is the wealthy who have precipitated the issue of climate change, and only the wealthy who have the resources to address the problems. 


He went on to say that less than 100 corporations are directly responsible for the catastrophe of climate change. He espoused the power of activism as one of the few effective tools to overcome corporate power and financial greed. He implored the audience to use every waking hour available to make a ruckus and fight the corporate powers that are diminishing our planet's potential to host life as we know it. It was a powerful and motivating speech, and inspired me to do more to protect this fragile home we share for the sake of my children and all the children of the future, human and otherwise. In the words of Seth Godin, what is the change we seek to make? I am very clear now on my answer to that question, for without taking action now, we are unlikely to have the choice to make changes in other areas--nothing could be more important than addressing this issue with extraordinary vigor, right now. The remaining question is how to be the most effective change agent possible, and that is the question that I was left with at the end of the night's events.

At Meyer Wells, we strive not just to be "sustainable" but to have a restorative impact on people, places and the planet. Our goal from the beginning has been to create beautiful designs with natural materials that our customers love to use every day. We strive to do that using materials and processes that lead us toward an ecologically restorative future state, where everything we do creates benefit for the people we serve and the ecosystem that surrounds us. There is always more we could do and our focus this year has been to find ways to make the more happen. Collaborating with local organizations to initiate a “tree for table” program, working to ensure our products are free of materials on the “Red List” and continuing to use local vendors and materials are just a few of our commitments to positive impact.

Sustainability Brochures from other companies in attendance at the event

I am so grateful to have this community of motivated professionals to bring this event to Seattle, and remind us all of the urgency of change that is required. With significant strides in solar panel efficiency and lower prices in recent years, we have the technology to make huge changes cost effectively and dramatically reduce carbon output from some energy sources. Now we need to act, to continue to work toward more, greener solutions to change the course of history for the benefit of humankind and all our relations."


John Wells

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