TEDxVancouver – Michael Green – Love, Laughter, Sushi: World Housing and Climate Change

TEDxVancouver – Michael Green – Love, Laughter, Sushi: World Housing and Climate Change


Translator: Akinori Oyama
Reviewer: Tatjana Jevdjic I think I’m really wishing
I play the banjo right now, but it’s pretty amazing to be here at TED. I guess I’m the last.
So, let’s begin. About a month ago,
I was tucking my kids into bed, and I asked them
this question that’s up here, “What’s 3 things do all humans need
in their life, every day?” And I’m kinda asking you to think about
what you would answer to that question. But I guess, when I asked my kids —
I am going to tell you what their answer was at the end of this,
but when I asked my kids that question, I was really thinking in my own head what the answer, that I thought,
was probably what they were gonna say. That’s food,
water, and shelter. Obviously, I am an architect.
So, shelter is near and dear to my heart. But the more I started
to think about that word — shelter, [the more] I realized that as an architect,
I actually don’t use that word day in and day out in my practice,
in my day-to-day life. I talk about buildings
and I talk about projects, but I don’t really talk about shelter. I guess the reason
I don’t talk about shelter is because for the most part,
we all in the developed world, have the luxury of not actually
having to think about these 3 things each morning when we wake up. We have that luxury
of not having to think about shelter. I really have been reflecting
a lot on that fact. As an architect,
this is actually what I do. These are the buildings that my practice,
MGB Architecture, built. These are just a few of them. But the way I think about
the practice of architecture is a little bit like building one building at a time,
designing, working on one building at a time. Each of the buildings that we do,
I kind of feel like it’s sort of like climbing a hill. With the big team of people we get together
and have to climb this hill, and go through this long process
of designing the building with engineers and other architects,
with our client and a community. Each time that we climb those individual hills,
we get to the top, and we finish the building
and we all feel good. Hopefully, it’s been responsible
to the environment. Hopefully, it’s been responsible to our client’s needs
and the community’s needs. We sort of look down
on the hill that we’ve climbed. We feel good about ourselves.
We feel good about that accomplishment. That’s really been what my career, and the more of the career
of many architects, is about. One hill at a time that we climb. There was a moment about 4 years ago. For me, that was really important. There was a moment
when a really dear friend of mine tapped to me on the shoulder,
and she said to me, “You know, Michael, it’s really great
that you’ve climbed that hill and had a successful building. Congratulations on that. But, have you ever turned around
and looked at these mountain ranges that sort of lay ahead of you?” Mountain ranges that are unclimbed mountains. And these huge, huge mountain ranges,
in my mind and her mind, at the time were these two things —
world housing and climate change. The more I started to think about that,
I realized these are really the problems
that face architects today. This is the big problem to solve. These two mountain ranges. The reality is that these two
mountain ranges actually collide and they make an even bigger
mountain range. The reality is that as we work hard
to solve world housing, if we do it using the technology
of building that we have today, the reality is that we’re gonna
accelerate climate change. So in other words, what’s gonna happen
is that we’re gonna solve one human need and in turn actually make another,
which obviously can’t happen. So I’m gonna walk you through
a bit of story about how these things relate to each other. Let me take you
first through world housing. There is a staggering statistic
that exists. We don’t talk about it every day
in our modern, popular culture. The staggering statistic that exists;
and this comes from UN-Habitat — is that 3 billion people in the world
are gonna need a new affordable home in the next 20 years. 3 billion people. That reflects the reality that, of course,
world population is growing. It also reflects the reality that a billion people in the world today
live in slums and urban environments. A 100 million people live homeless
around the world today, effectively homeless. That is 3 Canadas of population
that live homeless worldwide. Obviously, as an architect,
we return to that issue of shelter, this is the problem that we need to solve. This is the focus that we should have
throughout our profession. Because 3 billion people
reflects 40% of the world. This is the biggest
building problem in the world. This is a 100,000 new homes,
each and every day that we need to build to be able to solve
this incredible human need. Most of those homes, of course,
are gonna exist in the developing world, but some here as well. The thing about it is
in today’s popular conversation that exists in architectural media
and mainstream media, you hear a lot of conversation
both about climate issues and housing issues. The kinds of solutions
that are largely talked about are issues like modular homes and prefabricated homes, or stacking, shipping containers
in interesting ways, or using wonderful materials
like rammed earth or straw bale construction, to be able to kind of solve these issues
about climate and housing. But, the truth is that for the most part all of those types of solutions
that we talk about in the main stream media are all rural, or at best,
suburban type solutions. The reality is that today 50% of the world
live in urban environments. In the next 40 years, what’s gonna happen
is that we’ll see that rise to 70%. The vast majority of that rise in urbanization
worldwide is gonna come from, is gonna happen in the developing world. So, it’s a staggering reality that the kinds of solutions
that we discuss day in and day out are actually not as applicable to the place
of the majority of that 3 billion people that need a new affordable home,
are actually gonna ultimately live. The split — in a way I like to sort of
geographically think about it — is 85:15. 15% of the world’s population live
in the 35 most developed, highly developed countries in the world. 15% of that population. 85% live [in] effectively
what we would call developing nations. So, the vast majority
clearly live in these countries. We also know that of the 15% —
that live in those richest countries of the world — they build the majority
of buildings today. The amount of square meters per person,
the amount of square feet per person, that’s built for the 15% of the world’s population,
is enormous. If we were to build
for the 3 billion people, the quantity of buildings and quantity of area
that we build today already in this highly developed nations, we would be off the charts —
that bottom gray bar, with the number of buildings
we would ultimately build and the amount of the space
we would ultimately build. Which obviously creates this question of how does that ultimately
impact climate change. So, let me talk about that. Buldings represent enormous contributor
to environmental impact in many different ways. Obviously, when it comes to climate change,
[it is] a huge contributor. When we talk about climate change,
for the most part, it’s the green house gas number —
that is up there. I am showing a range,
because it is really challenging in times to be statistically specific
about some of these issues. But, roughly 20% of world CO2, that green house gas
that we talk most about, comes from the building industry. So, buildings have a responsibility. That is huge and tackling. The reality of that is that energy, and the amount of energy
to heat and cool homes, is a huge contributing factor. But, energy solutions are gonna vary as we look at the map of the world
from region to region. Obviously, climate issues
are completely different. How we solve an energy solution
for a building in Canada is gonna be quite different than
the middle of Australia where it’s hot and dry. So, those solutions are gonna be more
regional type solutions to this problem. But, the one thing that I think
has become really interesting is that when you look at urban environments,
for the most part, the solutions are common
from city to city, from nation to nation,
all around the world. We build the same way,
the structures of what we build are the same around the world. So, that’s really become the focus
of what I am interested in and talking about. Two materials we build with today
in all these urban environments, for the most part,
are steel and concrete, and concrete masonry. We build with a few others,
brick and so forth. For the most part,
these are our dominant materials. In the developing world
the dominant material in urban environment There’s a whole conversation to be had
about what that means I’m not gonna go into that. I’m gonna stay away
from that conversation today. But what I want to talk about
is really the impact on the environment
of these two materials, and the way that we need
to begin to think about them. Concrete, this is an incredible thing
to kind of get our heads around this — After water, concrete is the largest material
man makes by volume on Earth. It is a staggering amount
of concrete we make each year. It is roughly 3 tons of concrete per person
on Earth are made every single year. That’s obviously for infrastructure
and for buildings. The making of concrete
is extremely energy intensive. Moving it and so forth, it’s very heavy.
It’s very carbon intensive. And, the best way to describe
where it sort of stacks up in the world of carbon, which is our dominant
climate change discussion, is to kind of look at what its impacts,
relative to other industries are. So, the airline industry,
we talk about all the time. It’s always coming up,
it’s roughly 1 percent of world carbon
comes from the airline industry. This is one of the most common discussions
you see in a mainstream media. The shipping industry is 3%
of world carbon. That’s a staggering amount of 15%
of the world carbon is actually related to all transportation,
but shipping itself is 3 percent. What’s really staggering is this reality that 5 to 8 percent of world carbon
comes from concrete alone. It is an incredible carbon footprint. But we don’t have a lot of alternatives. That’s what I’m gonna go into. Steel, which we don’t see as much of, is little bit better
from a carbon footprint point of view, but is actually more demanding
from an energy point of view. Steel, in a production of iron, about 4% of world energy
goes into the making of that material alone. So, really, obviously, the question
becomes what are our alternatives. And any alternative that we think about,
ultimately has to do the two things that we always have to do
when we’re talking about tackling climate change and carbon. We need to reduce our emissions. We need to find ways to store carbon. Those are our two options
to be really able to tackle the issues. In the building industry, there [are]
only really a few materials that do that. And, this is it.
Wood does both those two things. Wood is a material that is grown by the sun,
and uses the energy of the sun, while a tree is growing
it’s putting oxygen into the system, it’s extracting carbon from the system. When a tree falls to the forest floor,
and rots or burns in a fire, that carbon is given back to
the atmosphere. But, when a tree is felled in the forest,
taken and used in a building or in a piece of furniture
somewhere, something, like that, what it does is — it actually
holds on to the carbon for the life of that, whatever it has been built into. It holds onto the carbon
in roughly this equation. For every cubic meter of wood
that we use in a building, it stores about 1 ton of carbon. Whereas any other material choice we have
in the building industry is actually contributing carbon,
wood is something that extracts carbon. Way to sort of get your head around that is
the average Canadian home made of wood basically storing 28 tons of carbon,
which is about the equivalent to driving family car for 7 years. When we stack up wood, steel and concrete
as our 3 options of what we could actually build with,
and tackle this issue of what’s gonna happen
in urban environments in the future — from a green house gas point of view,
from an energy point of view — really wood is our best choice. But, there is a big but. For the most part, a huge contributor
to climate change that we know has been deforestation for the last 50 years. Deforestation has happened primarily
in the developing world around issues of clearing land to create higher value crops,
or cutting down trees to use wood for fuel. Deforestation and subtraction of the forest that’s been supplying the oxygen
to the atmosphere has been a huge problem. Obviously, we don’t want to
cut down trees in that way and obviously we want to start
thinking about how we can create a better and more sustainable
forest management plan for the world. Roughly 10% of our world forests
are actually reasonably well managed from the sustainability point of view. That can change by using wood in buildings
in some of these developing nations, instead of burning it as fuel
or clear-cutting it for a higher value crop. We can actually teach communities
to build with the wood in new ways — to actually encourage them
to consider wood as a renewable resource and renewable
economic driver for their community. That’s an important part of our solution. The other challenge with wood is this reality
that we build with wood basically the same way we have
for 300 years or more. We really haven’t innovated in wood. A long industrial revolution
brought us steel and concrete, Largely we build with those materials
without thinking as architects. We immediately jump in
as those are easy solution. Wood is something that we really
haven’t innovated with, because the steel and concrete
were able to allow us to build bigger buildings, longer bridges,
and so forth. So, we haven’t really thought about it
as a material of great capacity. So, when we go back to those
two mountain ranges that I talk about, world housing and climate change, what they create for us
is a new challenge, a new opportunity. There really is gonna be driven by
a new sense of innovation for us to start thinking about how we make
a systemic change in a way we actually build
in urban environments. That’s a hard thing to do
when it comes from architects and engineers,
who are largely driving practices with very small Mom-and-pop shop
scale companies. It is hard for us
to step way back and look at how we can contribute as individuals
toward that large systemic change. But, we can. But, what we need is to kind of change
the sense of ambition that we have about our opportunity and our role
in society as architects and engineers. I think there is
a really amazing thing that when you hand a small child —
a group of wood blocks that likely the child is going to
stack them up and see how high a building
or how high an object that they can make. It is somehow innate to us to do that. Then, when you hand somebody
a bunch of rocks, they are going to probably pile them up
and see what they can make out of them. There’s something ingrained in us as people that we are interested and curious in
what we can do to build things. Just the other day, this week, I actually came downstairs to find my son,
Makalu, had built this tower in our house. He was proud of it
and wanted his picture taken, [and] wanted him included in TED,
by the way. (Laughter) So, but it is in us. It is in all of us
to want to do that. But the strange and curious
thing that’s happened is really we’ve created all kinds
of rules and regulations throughout the developed world
to prevent our ability to actually innovate. I think it’s a facinating thing
that could be applied to many other industries,
not just the building industry, but I use a few examples
to describe what I mean by that. In British Columbia until two years ago, we were only allowed
by the British Columbia Building Code to build wood buildings 4 storeys tall. That was our limit. A lot of people worked really hard on
trying to change the code, and ultimately did. Now we are allowed to build
wood buildings that are 6 storeys tall. Now, the thing about it is that
about the same time that was happening, changing our code,
a good friend of mine, Andrew Waugh,
from Waugh Thistleton in London, England, had already built a wood building
that’s 9 storeys tall. So, our code wasn’t even keeping up with
what was happening as common practice elsewhere. The really staggering thing, though, was that I was riding my bike with my son, Makalu,
across Japan when the code change went through. Somebody from my office
emailed me and told me the story. “Hey, 6 storey code is now passed
in British Columbia. We can build taller wood buildings.” And, I quickly emailed back that,
that was great. On the other hand, I just walked out of
the building that is roughly 19 storeys tall. More importantly, that building
was built 1400 years ago. It’s made out of wood
in a high earthquake zone and similar climate
and it’s still standing. It really begs the question: why have we created regulation
that can’t even keep up with what we were able to do 1400 years ago
and how have we created systems over the last 100 years
that for some strange reason completely stifle our ability
to be innovative and solve real problems that we clearly have to solve? The other way, I kind of like to tell
that story — is with this slide. I ask the question, especially
to architects and engineers, “What would’ve happened if Cairo —
it’s said stone buildings in Cairo can only be 20 meters tall?” Obviously, we would have never had
the Great pyramid. The Great pyramid stood as the tallest building
on Earth for 5000 years. Until — What would’ve happened had Paris said, “You could only build
a wrought-iron building 20 meters tall.” Obviously we would never have had
the Eiffel Tower. Our ability to dream big is a function of our ability
to solve problems and to innovate. But when we create these glass ceilings
for ourselves we no longer can think that way. And, we need to remove that. Currently, as far as I’ve been able to research,
my friends have helped me research, the tallest wood building in the world — modern wood building in the world —
is actually this one. It is in Russia. It was built by the gentleman here
with the fur cap, oops, I am sending backwards. It is 13 storeys tall. There is a lot of funny stories
to go with them as well. I welcome you
to look it up on the Internet. But, the interesting story here clearly is if the fellow with the fur cap can manage
to build a 13 storey wood building, surely architects and engineers around the world
can jump on board and keep up. It’s an important story. And, the truth is
people are keeping up. So, the fun thing that is starting to happen —
you’re gonna see more and more, I hope, we are trying to encourage
more and more to happen is that different countries around the world, different architects, different clients,
different engineers are starting to explore the possibility
of how to build big wood buildings. Buildings that’ll actually be able to address
this human need in urban environments in a more sustainable way. That’s happening in a kind of fun way. I think it’s a little bit like the race for space,
that’s happening in the Space-X Prize. I think that spirit of competition
that existed 100 years ago when the big towers
were starting to pop-up in New York and different skylines around the world, which seem like follies.
But, in the reality, those big towers and those big sort of gestures
of what was possible, but dreaming big became a motivation for us to problem solve. A competition for us to problem solve. I think here in Canada,
we should be part of the competition and that innovation should be something
that we’re excited about and we can chase more
in a day-to-day lives. Because the solutions
ultimately do exist already. We really, actually know
how to do many of these things. Yet, for some reason, we’ve forgotten
that we know these things. FFTT, which stands for Finding the Forest Through the Trees
is a system that we’ve designed. That’s not glamourous. It’s a way to build tall wood buildings
really economically to be able to tackle
exactly what I am talking about, “How do we build
for that massive human need?” Many other systems like this are possible
or are being explored, but we are not doing this fast enough. We are not investing
in these kinds of investigations fast enough. Because ultimately what we realize
is this is a bit of race. How do we get to that 3 billion people
that need those houses — if we don’t make
a systemic change in a very fast way. The way that change
is going to happen ultimately is because the reality is the big problems,
also incredibly big opportunities. The nation that leads this charge to chase those 100,000 new homes
each and every day and chase them in these new systems is the nation that will ultimately
win economically as well. The companies that do, the individuals that do
will actually see that economic reward for doing something
that ultimately many of us feel as an altruistic and meaningful
gesture to fellow man. So, we started an organization
called House The World, which is really an organization
just to support and encourage doing just that. We set out some goals for ourselves
of what that would be. But it’s really about how to create
carbon neutral structures. The first three goals
are [realistic] and I think the second three goals
are going to maybe take quite a long time, maybe a life time. But, for the most part, we want to
encourage that level of innovation. We have a huge incentive
to contribute towards it. At the beginning of the conversation, I mentioned that I was tucking
my kids into bed, and asked that question,
“What 3 things does everybody on Earth need each day in their lives?” My daughter Elsa — there on the left — answered the question
a little bit to my surprise, and, of course, proved me wrong once again
as both my kids often do. And she answered food, water,
just like I had originally. But, the third answer she said was — love. And, then, she chimed in,
“And, of course, dad shelter can be number 4
if you really have to have shelter on the list.” But, she’s right.
Right? That’s really the right answer. I went around asking
other people that question. I mentioned at the beginning that person
that tapped me on the shoulder and said, “It’s great you have climbed these hills
and you’ve done these individual buildings, but what are you going to do about
these massive mountain chains?” When I asked her the question,
her answer was, “Love, laughter, sushi.” (Laughter) I don’t know what it means,
but I thought it was funny. Thank you very much.
(Applause)

5 thoughts on “TEDxVancouver – Michael Green – Love, Laughter, Sushi: World Housing and Climate Change

  1. Sorry, but I have to ask: What about termites, carpenter ants, and fungi? They come up from below. Once the first floor is compromised, the whole structure can tumble down. How do you prevent this in a way that does not compromise the health of the residents?

  2. From research I have done when building my house + from experience of my friends, wood is an unstable, unreliable material, which if treated with fire, rot-proofing, etc. is also hazardous. So I don't see how it could be a solution.

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