Related TopicsEnvironment & Sustainability, Conscious consumerism, Conservation / protection, Energy, Housing, Natural resource management, Public policy, Information & communication technology, Urban development, Water management, Civic Engagement, Development & Prosperity, Business & Social Enterprise
This profile was prepared when Jason McLennan was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2012.
The New Idea
Recognizing the limitations of current approaches to the built environment, Jason has created a framework and platform that catalyzes systemic change through regulatory reform, market pressures, and design innovation. Whereas green building practices focus on reducing negative impacts of building, Jason orients the building industry to pursue a new end point: To create “living buildings,” structures that are self-sustaining and contribute to virtuous natural cycles, like plants. Recently, Jason has expanded his focus from individual buildings to “living communities” that follow the same set of principles. This allows Jason and his team to leverage efficiencies based on different levels of scale, recognizing that the optimal scale will vary across ecosystems. For example, in some places, net zero water may be more appropriate across a neighborhood rather than an individual house. The principles he sets out are relevant far beyond buildings and apply to anything that is built from furniture to bridges to parks and roads. The mindset shift he advances, codified in a novel certification approach, considers the interconnections among and between indoor air, energy, water, walkability, local food systems, and other factors that shape how humans interact with buildings across their lifetime. The result of Jason’s approach is that builders and designers conceptualize buildings or neighborhoods as a whole, and therefore avoid shifting burdens from one environmental or social objective to another—for example, creating a building that compromises water usage for the sake of walkability. Considerations of beauty, nature, and social equity are central to Jason’s approach not for moral and aesthetic reasons but because they energize practitioners to assume roles as innovators, taking action as it is needed to modify local building codes, detoxify building supply chains, liaise with local planning committees, and problem-solve the myriad of other challenges—practical, ideological, and economic—that arise. Through a robust communications strategy and ambassador program, Jason is shaping a talent force across the industry that will continuously and iteratively evolve new approaches as challenges arise.