Sustainable Design


Designing a better future for all

According to one recent study, energy production in the United States is equivalent every year to about 90% of the country's actual consumption. Three major fossil fuels make up the vast majority of this use - including petroleum, natural gas and coal. But what a lot of people don't realize is that on a global scale, nearly half of all energy expenditures are coming from the exact same place:

The buildings we live in.

Another recent study conducted by the United Nations Environment Program indicated that buildings account for not only half of all global energy expenditures, but also 40% of greenhouse gas emissions, 25% of this planet's potable water and are responsible for about 20% of all solid waste generated in developed countries.

This, in essence, is why sustainable design is so important.

At its core, sustainable design is exactly what it sounds like - a viable way to help minimize the environmental damage (not to mention the energy consumption) associated with the buildings we inhabit on a daily basis. Yes, new construction using innovative design best practices is a big part of this - but these techniques can also be used to retrofit existing buildings to increase energy efficiency, too. Sustainable architecture can bring to life new buildings with renewable materials and energy-efficient technology, and can breathe new life into the ones that are already here via solar panels, insulation and low-energy heating and cooling systems.

But it also happens to be a topic that brings with it a wide range of different implications that are certainly worth exploring.


Why Gather?

How We Will Find a Creative End to the Climate Crisis


These challenges aren't insurmountable.

THE WALDEN GATHERING Searched to answer questions:

“What can we do as a designer?”

“Design Vs. Demand”

“What has nature already designed that we can mimic?”

Working Together

A Sustainable World, Created Through Collaboration

Building a sustainable material world isn't something that can happen overnight. It will require not only hard work and perseverance, but also a deeply rooted collaboration with organizations who value the possibility of a better tomorrow over the profits of today.


setting the tone through INTRODUCTIONS

We started the day with a rigorous networking hike around the Walden property. A steady uphill climb among the leafy coastal oaks, let us breathe and introduce ourselves in a relaxed style as a group of individuals from diverse backgrounds and fields joined the discussions.

Where are you focusing your efforts now?


Sustainable models for the world to accept

Think long term

Act now

Sustainability is the 4th rail

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Sustainability for all

Designing for impact does not have to be expensive

Water accessibility to low income areas

Sustainable homes / shelters for those in need

Rethinking the future: It is a profound challenge, at the end of an era of cheap oil and materials to rethink and redesign how we produce and consume; to reshape how we live and work, or even to imagine the jobs that will be needed for transition.
— Ellen MacArthur

Gathering Discussions

“We use a design-thinking format around the table, walking discussions on nature trails, and guided meditation to inspire the group to solve big problems. Instead of the hyper-intense networking of your typical conference, participants spend the entire day outside with a carefully curated small and diverse group of people.”

After the Gathering intro, members presented current issues, focused on:





During these discussions, participants break up into groups to increase contributions and engagement. Topics are addressed, opinions are shared and summaries are presented to all.

Key Themes


Using Nature As Inspiration


Key Takeaways from Discussions

Nature is the #1 designer, therefore we should look to it, to help it

Like nature, design does not need to be perfect at first, but can constantly evolve, as long as we continue to make progress

Do not become satisfied

We are all stakeholders of Earth

Solutions can be right in front of us

Mimic what is around you

Go outside and just take a moment, inspiration will likely find you.

Using Nature as Inspiration in Design

For all the innovation and technological advances modern humanity has made and continues to make, we have one bad habit we seem unable to break. It always seems that as soon as one major problem is dealt with. It is always a matter of the next disaster, the problem at hand, the pressing concern, and then as soon as it no longer seems to be a matter of life and death that must be immediately dealt with, it's no longer dealt with at all, it is relegated to the back of the line as new crises take its place, sometimes the new crises arising directly from the solutions that were implemented to solve previous crises.

Long before humankind was designing and constructing anything, quite frankly long before humankind existed, nature was designing all sorts of complex structures. And the end result exists all around us, endless blueprints that contain fascinating and elegant solutions to problems that we have never considered.

Nature does not see a problem and then set out to find a solution. Rather, nature reacts to the present reality not with solutions but adaptations. It takes what is already there and builds what will fit. The designer that is nature doesn’t look for problems to solve, but opportunities to grow and to innovate.

When we look at one of the most famous examples of nature inspired design, it’s easy to view the innovation as being born to solve a problem. The shape of the front of the Shinkansen bullet train used the inspiration of the design of the kingfisher bird’s beak in order to solve the solution of the loud tunnel boom that was created when the train moved transitioned from different air pressures at extremely high speeds when it exited a tunnel. And while the engineer, Eiji Nakatsu, did use his love of bird watching to solve that problem, that same solution also led to the Shinkansen train traveling 10% faster while using 15% less energy. Those are pretty great side effects to have when implementing the solution to a problem: it will fix the problem, but also it will save money, be more efficient and better for the environment. That is quite the win-win, but it’s not a coincidence that the solution that comes from nature provides results that are even better than what was originally needed.

When nature, the designer, designed the kingfisher’s beak, it didn’t say, “well the problem is that the kingfisher needs to go from air to water without making a splash,” and then make a beak that provided a solution to the splashing problem. Rather there were once some birds, the ancestors of the kingfishers that had a beak that was especially well-shaped for going from air to water. And those birds successfully caught and ate fish and had offspring and passed on the effective shapes of their beaks to the young that were successful to survive and have offspring of their own. And as the beaks changed over time, it wasn’t the beaks that were best shaped to minimize splashing that were naturally selected, rather it was the beaks that were most effective overall, the ones that allowed the bird to move most efficiently, using the least amount of energy and allowing the bird to most effectively catch its prey. And that’s what we get every time we use nature the designer as our inspiration. Designs that have been created not to solve problems but to find and create opportunities to flourish.

What I see in Nature is a grand design we can understand only imperfectly, one with which a responsible person must look at with humility.
— Albert Einstein
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Consumerism needs to be Recreated


Key Takeaways from Discussions

Think before we do

Valuation from the consumer & producer should not depend on just the easiest and cheapest options

Positive buying habits need to evolve into the mainstream

Fearless leadership is needed on all sides of the market, from policy, to producers and consumers

Shift thinking

Learned scarcity

Take what you need


What Can We Do?

What you can do as a consumer

Even if you're an average, everyday person who is NOT currently in the process of building or designing a home, there are still a few key things that you can do to help make the impact that we collectively desire. These can include but are certainly not limited to steps like:

  • Installing well-built, energy efficient appliances that are designed with longevity in mind.

  • Installing a composting and/or storage unit in your home that is specifically designed for sorting waste in composting and recycling.

  • Installing high performing, low impassivity windows.

  • Embracing the environmental benefits of simple upgrades like low flow faucets and fixtures.

  • Using LED bulbs instead of traditional light bulbs.

  • Purchasing energy or water efficient products with labels promoting Energy Star or WaterSense certifications.

All told, achieving a sustainable home doesn't have to be an "everything or nothing" affair. None of the items on that list are particularly difficult to execute - or expensive. But never underestimate just what a powerful difference each one can make not only on its own, but together with everything else.

What Role Can Designers Play?

Likewise, designers can also enjoy a wide range of additional benefits if they make sustainability an organic part of the work they're doing on a daily basis. Even something as simple as picking the right materials can make a big, big difference:

  • Timber is not only lighter than alternative materials like steel and concrete, but it is exponentially better for the environment, too. Timber can even be used to create massive structures, like eco-friendly skyscrapers.

  • Bamboo can grow by up to four feet in a single day, making it not only a highly sustainable material - but one that is literally twice as strong as steel, too.

  • Using recycled materials like cardboard, plastic bottles or even scrap metal for essential elements like insulation or carpeting. These choices produce significantly less carbon than others and can be used on both the exterior and on the interior of buildings.

  • Self-heating concrete, which is often used for the foundation of many sustainable buildings. Not only does this once again reduce carbon emissions, but it also eliminates the need for infrastructure improvements and thus can help prolong the lifespan of a building to a major degree.

Materials like these don't just help create more sustainable buildings - they help create better, longer-lasting buildings as well. There's absolutely no sacrifice to be made, here. Any opportunity that allows designers to create higher quality work for their clients is one that is absolutely worth taking advantage of and sustainable design helps them do precisely that in many, many ways on a daily basis.

What consumerism really is, at its worst getting people to buy things that don’t actually improve their lives.
— Jeff Bezos
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Sustainable Communities


Key Takeaways from Discussions

Diversity Matters

Only way to make an impact is to scale with communities

Communities are both those we live in, and those we interact in

Living spaces are a great way to promote community

As real estate communities adopt sustainable building practices a trickle down in life choices are noted

Let a home stand as the foundation of lifestyle practices

Reach toward our outer circles

The Positive Impact of Sustainable Design on Our Communities

Naturally, a move towards greater sustainability will require a massive shift in thinking from all parties involved - but most importantly, from those who we're currently sharing our communities with. Thankfully, a lot of this shift is already taking place and people now have a greater expectation than ever that new construction projects are being designed with an eye towards minimizing their overall impact on the environment.

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Things have gotten to the point where sustainable design practices are even being incorporated into model building codes, alongside other efforts like the NSPE Code of Ethics that now encourages engineers to stick to sustainable development principles whenever possible. This wouldn't happen if our communities didn't recognize what an essential impact we can make on the environment in both positive and negative ways depending on the situation.

All told, the major takeaway from all of this is as simple as it is profound. Embracing sustainable design is NOT always up to the designers and creators of these buildings. People need to work together so that they can encourage this shift, pushing the market to make the right choices for the right time in our history. Thankfully, many communities around the world seem more than willing to do just that.

Real, sustainable community change requires the initiative and engagement of community members.
— Helen D. Gayle



While ideas are shared throughout the day, we gather to create change.

In order to improve the world around us, we must not only speak about the issues at hand, but work towards solutions. The point of the discussions is to establish the framework for identifying and understanding the problems.

What follows, is most important.


Find ways to offer our “superhero powers” (tech, education, network) to others that need it

find ways to make our private lives better for public good

promote interconnections

share design to increase impact

turn right and hang with others

use our actions as examples to others.

We are all interdependent

All stakeholders need to be treated equal

Humankind = not us V.S. them

Reach towards our outer circles

Expand our circles of

Evolve constantly

Immediate steps

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Actionable Solutions

Design with impact in mind

Offer help to others that don’t have access to our tools and tech

Design inclusiveness into our work and lives

Big Picture

In an era where commercial buildings alone make up an estimated 38% of all carbon dioxide emissions and use about 39% of total energy in the United States due to the large heating requirements according to the Environmental Protection Agency, it's beyond clear that now is the time to embrace sustainable design with open arms.

It doesn't just benefit consumers, the communities they live in AND designers. It's a choice that ultimately brings with it the most important advantage of all:

The ability to give an entire generation of people a chance to say that they helped to leave this planet in a better condition than the one it was in when they found it.

Honestly - what could be more important than that?

Design is a formal response to a strategic question.
— Maiona Lopez



We aim to bring together passionate individuals, groups and organizations to gather, learn and collaborate in small groups on how best to contribute and invest their time, talent and resources to innovative solutions -- and then take them back into the world.   We see everyone who joins as an equal expert at the table because we believe in the wisdom of the crowd to find solutions.

Karen Baxter | Cary Bernstein | Kelly Dyer | Mohan Mahal |NathaN Nasseri | Stephanie Stimmler | Rosemary Wells | Christine Wilkinson |
Nick Jekogian

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