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David Orr's Oberlin Project: Sustainability Learning Lab
Amanda Reed, 7 Apr 10

If you haven't heard of The Adam Joseph Lewis Center (AJLC) at Oberlin College, click here. Even though this project is over ten years old, it still remains one of the most innovative green buildings ever built. Its website is also a great resource for tracking and evaluating building performance, as it provides real time and historical performance feedback on the building's systems through a Building Dashboard interface.

The man who spearheaded the AJLC is David Orr, the Paul Sears Distinguished Professor of Environmental Studies and Politics and Special Assistant to the President of Oberlin College, and he's back at it with a larger green development project: The Oberlin Project, which aims to turn a 13-acre piece of land Oberlin college owns in downtown Oberlin, Ohio into a LEED-Platinum neighborhood.

Sustainable Industries recently interviewed David Orr about The Oberlin Project and how his perspective on sustainability has changed over the last 20 years. In the interview he shares how The Oberlin Project, which seeks to combine art and science and business and academics, can be seen as a tool for "deepening the dialogue of sustainability": this dialogue about sustainability, which is now a global conversation, we have difficulty connecting the emotional part of the mind with the analytical part of the mind...The conjunction of this particular project of art and science is particularly important in deepening the dialogue of sustainability, what it means, what it will call on us to do.

Orr also talks about his excitement for The Oberlin Project functioning as a 'learning lab' for many different areas of sustainable living and development, as well as eventually integrating with a larger network of national sustainability sites:

If we could see a town, in this case Oberlin, Ohio, as one giant school, we’re going to learn collectively how we rejuvenate the economy, build great buildings, eat better food, rebuild the local ecological infrastructure around us, make it look good, work well, end poverty—at least take a big bite out of poverty ... How exciting could that be?

... These guys from the Joint Chiefs of Staff looked at this and we began talking about developing it as a first of a network of national security sustainability sites, I mean, how cool could that be? All of a sudden, you’ve moved it out of politics just into the realm of practical necessity and it goes beyond Republican and Democrat and conservative and liberal and you begin to think of how do we build vibrant, robust, resilient and prosperous communities.

To read the whole interview see Sustainable Industries.

An audio version of the interview is also available here.

Image of the The Adam Joseph Lewis Center courtesy of Flickr photographer t..jones under the Creative Commons license.

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Back in the '70's we developed throughput technology designed for urban centers which would allow them to compost a combination of unsegregated residential and light commercial solid waste with sewage sludge. Primary sludge was most effective. The process took 12 days to complete, it was accomplished without odor, completely inside a building and was believed capable of achieving a shortened retention period of 6 days after one year of operation. It was all fully tested in a pilot facility over a 13 year period.

It seems to me the first and most indispensable step toward sustainability is to reestablish the biological connection between our urban centers and the organic based agriculture that must eventually surround and infiltrate these centers. A partnership where the city transforms its organic waste into a useable form, ships it to local farmers who use it to promote the soil fertility required to enable them to produce food for the city. The biological loop is closed and continuous, forever.

It's all here for us, a complete, tested technology all tied up with a nice ribbon and waiting for the vision and resources. If you have to rely on food sources beyond your borders you can never, ever be sustainable.

Posted by: rich albertson on 8 Apr 10

Thank you so much for the link to Oberlin's Lewis Center. Their strategies for sustainability are so clearly laid out on the website, and their downtown project is inspiring. As a New Yorker I can only pray that a whole neighborhood could go LEED. As for the Building Dashboard interface, it is fantastic to see that the energy-efficiency of a building can be monitored in such a straight-forward manner. It would be wonderful to see some combination of the Dashboard with the more in-your-face but sexy "green" strategies that are being embraced by uber-modern buildings now: over-the-top solar panel systems, wind turbines on the tops of skyscrapers, etc. Practical/informative and seductive need to meet somewhere in the middle.

Posted by: Peter on 10 Apr 10

What great work!!!! I want to ride my bike over to Oberlin from Chicago.....and take a look at this myself!!!!

Posted by: Oscar J. Sanchez on 15 Oct 10

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