Highlight From West Coast Green: Eric Corey Freed's Sustainability Plan


"The McConaughey Plan" photo from Eric Corey Freed's bullet-point free presentation

Trying to cram in three days of West Coast Green is like trying to fit a buffet table's offerings on two slices of bread. There is just so much to take in at this sustainability conference held annually in San Francisco, California. Many people, I noticed, were sitting in the aisles during the sessions trying to catch parts of multiple talks. But no matter which session people had attended, when I asked them what their favorite part of the conference was, the response I kept getting was that it was the overall spirit of inspiration and community. This mood was highlighted for me in Eric Corey Freed's Saturday talk, Spills, Sins and Starbucks: How Oil Has Negatively Altered Our Built Environment. During the talk, Freed had attendees (including me) in the Herbst Pavillion, laughing in their seats.Eric Corey Freed, has almost two decades worth of experience in green building under his belt and has also authored four books, including the popular Green Building for Dummies. During his West Coast Green talk, Eric discussed how our dependence on fossil fuels was the root cause of the gulf oil spill and what drove us to the current state of affairs. We are dependent on fossil fuels, because we are dependent on cars. This auto dependency has dictated the design of our cities and suburbs throughout the 20th century. For his work, Freed often travels and meets with sustainability directors and non-profits to find out what problems each city is facing. While doing these listening tours, he has devised a plan to help avert future environmental disasters and climate change in a manner that is both serious and humorous.

Freed thinks we should improve the green message by no longer calling climate change global warming. Global warming can sound awfully pleasant on a cold blustery day. Even climate change, often only draws a yawn in response. To get people to pay attention and fear what may be a scary future if we don't act now, Freed suggests we call it Climidia.

He also humorously showed an Onion like heading: "large air spill at wind farm," to illustrate that we rarely hear about negative impacts of many forms of alternative energy, such as wind power. If Denmark can do it, so can we.

He also offered solutions that others have advocated: free parking for hybrid cars, returning parking meter revenue to the neighborhoods that the meters are located in, creating development boundaries around the urban core (similar to Portland's Urban Growth Boundary), and shopping at local farmers markets, or at least buying local when possible.

Some of the other strategies Freed offered were:

Reburbia- offering the suburbs some of the interesting elements of cities, such as more mixed use development and pedestrian friendly amenities, like shops and restaurants. He also recommended a book (which he didn't write) called Sprawl Repair Manual and another one called Retrofitting the Suburbs.

Along the 5 freeway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, there are foul odors that emanate from the Harris Ranch slaughterhouses near Coalinga. Freed asked attendees to imagine what else could be done with a place like this, a place that critics call "cowschwitz." Instead of penned up cows, he asked attendees to imagine that the gas from all the manure and farts could be harnessed to form biogas, "the moo plan", suggesting that the in the future we might start to think differently about this place.

Freed recommended the "McConaughey plan," named after actor Matthew McConaughey. Freed recommended that, instead of spending billions of dollars on Matthew McConaughey's films (which Freed said always flop), Hollywood studios should direct this funding towards environmental efforts.

As an architect, Freed also often thinks about how people move around in cities and use public space. He asked a friend, where he spends the majority of his time, the friend responded that he only goes to six places: the hardware store, the dry cleaners, the grocery store, the mall, the post office (I was surprised to hear this one) and Starbucks.

Starbucks was the key to one of the final strategies that Freed offered. Freed said that he overlaid U.S. maps of Starbucks per capita and LEED certified buildings per capita, and noticed that these maps were highly correlated. Although he thinks Starbucks is a good company, in that they are the largest buyer of fair trade certified coffee, and spend more on healthcare for their employees than they do on beans, he still thinks they need to do more in the sustainability arena.

Freed suggested that even though Starbucks has improved their to-go cups to be 30% recyclable that they could go even further. Instead of throwing away globally 58,000,000,000 cups per year, Freed said, Starbucks should strive to find a cup that is 100% recycled paper and truly create a market for recycled goods. Alternatively, Freed also suggested that Starbucks could give their most loyal customers (customers who come in at least 5 times a week) a mug to bring in for future visits. The free mug would shortly pay for itself by reducing the amount of cups that the stores needed to buy.

While some of these strategies may not be new to TreeHugger readers, Freed infused his talk with arresting visuals and sometimes shocking humor. After hearing his talk, I couldn't really explain it, but I just felt better. I felt more upbeat about the future after being able to laugh about it. Perhaps in addition to trying to live green, I will try to remember to laugh my way to a green future. Freed said that after his talks, people often want to hug him. I didn't hug him, but I did oddly sort of want to.

More on Eric Corey Freed
organicARCHITECT
Organicarchitect Announces 2007 Organic Awards
More on West Coast Green
West Coast Green 2010: Michelle Kaufmann Interviews Adam Werbach
West Coast Green 2010: Michelle Kaufmann Interviews Peter Yost

Tags: Corporate Responsibility | Global Climate Change | Global Warming Solutions | Hybrid Cars | Public Transportation | San Francisco | Walking