Foreign Policy Blogs

Urban Green Expo

So while presidents, premiers and prime ministers were over at Ban Ki-moon’s Summit on Climate Change today saving the world, some pretty extraordinary innovators were elsewhere on Manhattan Island talking about green building.  I went to the Green Buildings Expo back in June and visited a lot of folks at their booths and talked with them about some of their fascinating work and products.

At the 2009 Urban Green Expo today, I did a little talking and listening at the exhibition booths, but also sat in on a couple of presentations.  One was on the Empire State Building.  This is heady stuff because not only are they going to retrofit this world landmark to reduce energy use by 38%, but they are also very much in the business of sharing the tools and knowledge applied here with other big commercial building owners who want to get at the same task.  The Clinton Climate Initiative is helping to foster the work of getting the word around.

I also sat in on a completely compelling talk by Bill Browning, founder of Terrapin Bright Green, a consultancy to help clients “… think creatively about environmental strategy, policy and related opportunities.”  Browning was talking about Biophilic Design.  What is that?  “Biophilic design is about humanity’s place in nature and the natural world’s place in human society…”  As one of the Terrapin Bright Green partners puts it, “We will know we’ve succeeded when human systems start to function more like the systems we find in the natural world.”

Here’s an article, reprinted from “Environmental Building News,” posted at the website of the American Institute of Architects:  Biophilia in Practice: Buildings that Connect People with Nature.  (The AIA, not incidentally, has done extraordinary work in pioneering green building over the years.)  The article looks at specific design strategies – Browning talked about green roofs and daylighting among others – but also looks at the co-benefits of energy efficiency, increased worker satisfaction (thus better productivity and decreased absenteeism), heightened sales in retail environments, and better health outcomes in medical settings.

Certainly some of this elegant, humane and, in many ways, self-evident thinking derives from the work of Ian McHarg, the author of Design with Nature.   McHarg’s prayer was that we act as agents to restore some balance to the earth, for each of us to be a “benign planetary enzyme.”  That’s very much what the brilliantly creative and committed folks in the green building world are doing.  Tomorrow’s final keynote speaker is truly one of the brightest of these stars:  Amory Lovins.



Bill Hewitt

Bill Hewitt has been an environmental activist and professional for nearly 25 years. He was deeply involved in the battle to curtail acid rain, and was also a Sierra Club leader in New York City. He spent 11 years in public affairs for the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation, and worked on environmental issues for two NYC mayoral campaigns and a presidential campaign. He is a writer and editor and is the principal of Hewitt Communications. He has an M.S. in international affairs, has taught political science at Pace University, and has graduate and continuing education classes on climate change, sustainability, and energy and the environment at The Center for Global Affairs at NYU. His book, "A Newer World - Politics, Money, Technology, and What’s Really Being Done to Solve the Climate Crisis," will be out from the University Press of New England in December.

Areas of Focus:
the policy, politics, science and economics of environmental protection, sustainability, energy and climate change