Our Climate Crisis and a Sustainability Journey

Yesterday hundreds of thousands of students from 1,600 cities around the globe walked out of school to protest the climate crisis.

The “School Strike for Climate” movement was started by Greta Thunberg, a Swedish teenager who, at 15, started her strike last August in Stockholm outside of the country’s Parliament.   Greta’s passion and singular action has sparked an international climate movement.  Yesterday’s strike was the most recent organized event following on the heels of a strike on March 15th which brought over 1.6 million folks out to demonstrate from 133 countries around the world.  It is expected that yesterday’s turnout surpassed those numbers…

In light of this, I thought today was a good day to share a recent conversation and interview I had with Charlie Szoradi, someone who has committed his entire life to sustainability.  His passion and interest in sustainability was first sparked in 1979 at 13 when he waited in the gas lines to fuel their family car, and he started thinking about alternative transportation. For his science fair project that year, Charlie, with two of his friends, built Omega Boat of the Future and won the Science Fair Popular Prize, which set him on the path that fueled his passion for a career in sustainability.

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Charlie is an architect, inventor, author, entrepreneur and CEO of independence LED Lighting.  He is committed to energy-saving solutions and global cost-effective sustainability.  Charlie’s book “Learn From Looking – how observation Inspires Innovation” was published in 2017 and it covers over 20 years of travel insights and drawings from around the world on 400 pages with 200 sketches.  The book focuses on actionable intelligence for innovation, sustainable design and critical thinking.  The drawings herewith are Charlie’s, taken from the book.  Charlie studied architecture at the University of Virginia where he first became friends with Krister over 30 years ago.   This is the first of several posts that I will share about Charlie and his work that focus on the ecosystem of sustainability.

I share snippets of our conversation below.

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CA: My blog August Ardor is about passion and sharing stories about people’s passions to inspire others.  I often encourage people in my writing to slow down and pursue things they love, to reflect on what’s important, and live in the moment.  I love how in your book “Learn from Looking – how observation Inspires Innovation” you talk about taking an “observational pause” – the change in tempo lets us look closer at certain things that we may otherwise take for granted and this can inspire innovation and learning.

 Is Sustainability your main passion and are your initiatives outgrowths of this – the book, founding the LED lighting company, Future Food films, the online resource Green and Save….?

CS: Yes, sustainability in the purest sense is to think beyond the immediate element that you might be impacting.  If you buy a water bottle from the vending machine you need to think about where the bottle will end up.  Thinking in this way impacts everything –  lighting, air conditioning, algorithms and architecture – how you design your home.  Thinking about the purchases you make is a vote – you vote with your dollars.  If your purchase can be functional for you and have an aesthetic that you like, but also fit into the context of the community, not just you personally, you can make the greatest impact.

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 CA: Can you tell me more about your passion for sustainability, what you do and why?

CS: Voltaire wrote in Candid (1759) that, “we must take care of our garden.” I am passionate about improving the world through micro actions that lead to macro change. You can lead by example in the decisions that you make to cultivate your own “garden,” and others will see those actions and perhaps emulate some aspect of them. I live in a solar house, ride my bike wherever possible, work for a company that focuses on energy-saving lighting, travel the world to continually learn more, and share insights on sustainability from my work and travels with anyone that may care to listen and engage.

 

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CA: How do you define “sustainability”?

CS: For me, sustainability is the concept of stewardship with an understanding of the actions and reactions that are part of an integrated eco-system. I don’t see sustainability as an obligation but as an opportunity to explore lifecycle costs and find lifecycle benefits. Sustainability is a wholistic approach to long-term thinking focused on the most cost-effective means to use resources and clean technology to achieve desirable results for the individual and the collective.

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CA: Who inspires you with their work in sustainability?

CS:  Two architects inspire me. Kinya Maruyama is a Japanese architect, who was one of my Master’s degree professors at the University of Pennsylvania. Kinya hired me to work with him in his Tokyo studio and served as my mentor. William McDonough is an American designer, advisor, author, and thought leader. Both of them have dedicated their careers to sustainability.

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CA: The term “sustainability” is being used more and more in the market place and investment community.  Any thoughts on this?

CS: The market has started to catch the “green” wave, and in many cases, corporations have increased their attention on sustainability initiatives. The positive eco-trend increases demand for cost-effective solutions, which in turn attract investment dollars and opportunities. The key to sustainability success is to look at the bottom line with ROI and clean-tech job growth as bookends to a myriad of performance metrics.

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CA: Please elaborate on what you do to support your work and ideas in your book, Learn From Looking?

CS: I pause to observe and think carefully about the impact of each of my actions. In my daily life, I think of my environmental carbon “footprint” as if it were the footprint of everyone else. This approach extends from what I eat to how I can meaningfully share information with others.

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CA: Please tell us about other trends you are seeing in sustainability – like Microgreens…

CS: Microgreens are a great example of a new generation of eco-friendly smart food. Direct Current (DC) microgrids along with light-emitting diodes and energy-smart houses are other examples of trends that will become increasingly part of the fabric of our clean-technology landscape.

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CA: What do you see as the biggest challenges or barriers to the ‘field of’ sustainability?

CS: One of the sustainability challenges is the perception that “green” is a politically liberal cause that requires subsidies rather than an economic driver that can create jobs. Sustainability and economic prosperity are not mutually exclusive.

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CA: What would you tell the next generation about the field of study of sustainability and its integration into actions?

CS: I speak at many schools in addition to conferences and other events, and I tell people young and old that we are individual spokes on a wheel. The wheel rolls on because of our interconnectivity to each other and to the living fauna and flora. The word eco-system has “system” in it, and we should not forget that we are part of a greater system.

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CA: If you would have us leave here today with one core idea and one actionable step for us to take related to it, what would that be?

CS:  Think of each purchase of a product or service, no matter how large or small, as an “eco-smart vote.” A cheeseburger requires over 600 gallons of water to produce, given the water needed to grow the food for the cow. The cap on a single use plastic water bottle may end up adding to the massive plastic waste in our oceans. You can think about the lifecycle impact of what you do and vote with your wallet to embrace environmental stewardship from a salad to a re-usable drinking container. One action to retain: Pause before you purchase.

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Charlie Szoradi is an architect, inventor, and the CEO of Independence LED Lighting. He is passionate about cost-effective sustainability and is a sought after speaker. As an entrepreneur, Charlie has pioneered groundbreaking new energy intelligent products and services. He graduated from the University of Virginia and earned his master’s from the University of Pennsylvania. Charlie has authored numerous articles, op-eds and the biography of Leon Battista Alberti for the Encyclopedia of Architecture. He lives with his family in a solar home that he designed outside of Philadelphia.

 

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Carrie Allen created this site as a way for people to share stories about things they love.  She loves chasing quiet, authentic moments and sharing them with her family and friends.  Read more about her inspiration here. 

Hannah Dunscombe – Naive Melodies

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There’s a little boy and girl who live across the street from me in a handsome pink Victorian house. When I first moved into my shabby apartment building with a condemned front deck five years ago, the girl across the street was just a toddler, and an only-child. About a year and a half after I settled in, a large cradle appeared in their front window and a tiny new person appeared in her parents’ arms.

As I’ve watched the kids across the street grow, I’ve felt more and more removed from the comfort of my own childhood. When I first moved to Boston, I was excited to make my first real apartment after college into a home. I created a studio, decorated the walls, cared for plants, adopted pets, mopped the floors, and lovingly kept our dishes clean. But I didn’t really feel like an adult.

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I was working a minimum wage job that I didn’t care much about, barely scraping by, and every year that went by was another year that I hadn’t done much with my education. I could never afford to go home for the holidays, so I missed them. I found that I had some of the fatigue of being an adult – of having big plans but always being too tired to see them through, and instead focusing on cooking dinner, running errands, and getting as much sleep as I could so that I could do it all over again tomorrow – but I felt removed from the autonomy that I had always imagined all adults possessed. And even then, I didn’t have nearly as much of the responsibility that I observed in the parents across the street.

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I sometimes use childhood photos as inspiration for paintings and drawings. They both remind me of my childhood and allow me to better relate to my parents. I use photographs of strangers on the street or at the park and use them as subjects, and imagine what their lives are like. Sometimes I change the backgrounds to expand the plot of the scene. I’m most drawn to photos where the subjects’ faces are turned away from the viewer because I can relate to people more without the specificity of facial features and expressions. There is more available for interpretation in posture and gesture. I can read into their story like a picture book without words.

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Last year, I was staying home sick when I heard the sounds of an aluminum ladder making contact with the dilapidated deck outside my room. Over the course of the next two months, the landlord paid a construction team to sand off all the old paint, build level floors, install handrails, and put on a fresh coat of white paint. For safety reasons, they had screwed my door shut from the outside when they started construction. But as soon as they wrapped up, I was so eager to stand in a place I had never stood before in my own house that I climbed out of my roommate’s window with a screw driver and unfastened the door myself. I noted that when the door closed, it made a satisfying “click” when the latch caught on the strike plate. I brought out a collection of secondhand chairs that I had collected from the side of the road, and invested in hanging flower baskets and a watering can. My house of four years had suddenly grown a new limb, and I now had a place to look out over the street and feel like a part of the neighborhood rather than its eye sore.

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There are little shifts like these that slowly budge the breadth of my understanding of being an adult. Shifting to a full-time job. Adjusting my expectations of how often I can create artwork. Commuting two hours each day. Securing health insurance. Starting a retirement plan. Watching my parents retire. Breaking off a longterm relationship that began when I was still a teen. Watching my brother marry his wife. Watching my ex marry his wife. Seeing my grandfather for the last time and recording his voice. Paying the bills. Building credit. Having a deck where I can come home from a long day and daydream about having a place of my own, while I watch the parents across the street shepherd the kids home from school.

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As I get older and accumulate more adult experiences, I find myself relating more to the parents than the children in my drawings and paintings, even though I’ve only ever played the role of the latter.

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I’ve noticed that in most of my compositions, the parents are often off to the side, or in the background, guiding the children, sheltering them, reading the paper, making sure everything is well. They are not the center of attention, and not engaging in anything exciting.

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I think about how my parents did this for my brother and I when we were children, after a decade of shabby apartments and piecing together their rent. They bought a house near a park. They bought us new shoes every year that we wore on walks to the park. They bundled us up in hats and snow pants and pulled us on sleds. They brought home books from the library so they could read to us every night. There is a lot of selflessness there, to raise a child into an adult, but the children must figure out where to go from there. Meanwhile, the children I draw are playing, exploring, and being comforted. They exemplify vulnerability, hope, and energy. Drawing the parent/child dynamic allows me to meditate on the different roles that we play throughout childhood and into adulthood and parenthood.

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I was recently sitting on the deck after just having finished a book. It was a Sunday afternoon and I could hear the local high school band playing “Pomp and Circumstance”. It took me a second to recognize it. Its echo was diluted by the sounds from the main road and the train tracks. The kids going by on scooters. The neighbors across the street were ushering the kids to the van. The younger brother came out of the house singing, “N-G-O! N-G-O! N-G-O!” I was in the process of spelling this out in my head when he followed up with, “And Bingo was his name-o!”

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Two different groups of kids sharing songs that convey the beginning and end of childhood. It took me a little while to recognize both.

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Hannah Dunscombe is a photorealistic painter and portrait artist from Upstate New York. She graduated from Alfred University in 2012, studied Old Master techniques in Paris, and currently lives in Brookline, MA. She spends as much time as possible out on her deck, reading, writing, and drawing.  http://www.hannahdunscombe.com/