Boulder – Meeting with David Johnston

After our morning tour, we drove up the hill to visit David Johnston.

From his website:

David Johnston, founder and President of What's Working, Inc. is one of the pioneers of the sustainability movement in the US. For the last 30 years he has been working to transform the building industry to become greener and more sustainable. Recently, David received the SAM Sustainability Pioneer Award, which is considered the Nobel prize in the sustainability world and acknowledges personal excellence in implementing the principles of sustainability in the corporate sector.

He sees the world as a whole system and develops strategies that deal with global climate change, resource conservation and energy efficiency. His vision of sustainability and publications are transforming how people think about home building and remodeling. To that end he has trained 1000s of building professionals over the past 17 years.

What an honour to be able to spend some time with this man! David showed us around his office, which has been built from structural insulated panels in a frame, with spectacular views to Boulder. He talked about how he had designed it to use a highly efficient heat recovery unit, but has not installed it as he found a simpler method of ensuring there is enough fresh air. This is called a "dog"! He still thinks me might install it to show that it works, but has not needed it so far. The building system allowed the building shell to be constructed on site in four days - very attractive for a whole bunch off reasons!

We then went to lunch to talk further about sustainability in the States.

Boulder has as many net zero energy projects as the rest of the States. The city has always been a leader as there are a lot of smart people (unis and laboratories) and entrepreneurs who chose to live there.

One third of Boulder's economy comes from Federal laboratories which helps to attract and keep smart people as well as stablise the economy. This was one of the first places to adopt a planning law protecting the open space - in the 60's. The citizens like to joke that it is 25 square miles surrounded by reality. Not all is perfect here - there is not much cultural diversity and the restriction on land availability has caused problems with affordable housing. Also, there is a high reliance on cars in Boulder once you leave the centre.

David has great optimism for a sustainable future based on the good things that are happening at the state and cities level, as well as what is coming from the consumers.

Should there be regulation? When a new code was introduced in Boulder in 1995, there was 100% market penetration as it was compulsory. Builders initially fought this, then began to see the benefits and opportunities that would result. They are now right behind it.

The Boulder Green Building Guild got together and created an even stronger code, which is now the strongest in the States. The Guild comprises a collaboration of people such as builders, designers, remodellers and city officials. He hopes that movements such as this will help ensure the USA does not end up on the wrong side o global trends over the next decade.

David sees that self interest is a very motivating factor in what people do. It is therefore critical to align green outcomes with the self interest of various parties in order to make them really work. He sees himself as a "trim tab" or change agent, that can help find these directions and allow self interest to do the heavy lifting.

We are looking forward to hearing more from David at the West Coast Green conference in San Francisco.

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