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To change something, build a new model

Carlo Battisti, president of Living Future Europe (LFE), sustainable innovation consultant and project manager; InnoRenew CoE International Conference 2020, “Integrating sustainability and health in buildings through renewable materials” keynote speaker


  • Where were you living in childhood and where do you live now?

I was born and grown in Brescia, a mid-size Italian city between Milan and Verona (close to Garda Lake), a quite unknown jewel with historic buildings spanning 20 centuries from the Roman age onwards, including the UNESCO Heritage site of the Santa Giulia complex. My family has origins in South Tyrol, and, at the end of the 90s, I moved to Bolzano for family reasons. Bolzano is the capital of South Tyrol, a German and Italian speaking region in the Dolomites, generally considered a leader in Italy for developing and promoting a culture of energy efficiency and sustainability.

  • What have you studied and what were the motives for your decision?

I have a degree in civil engineering from the Politecnico of Milan and experience of about twenty years in construction companies, with different roles. I received a master’s in management and organizational development from MIP, the Business School of Politecnico di Milano. Moreover, I earned a few green building professional qualifications including Living Future Accredited Professional (LFA). I’ve always been interested in engineering and construction; about a dozen years ago, I discovered innovation as a driver for competitiveness in the building industry and sustainability as an unavoidable way to address climate crisis through the built environment. Since I discovered the Living Building Challenge, I immediately got into it, and I’m proud and happy to promote its development across Europe.

  • How would you describe your work to someone outside your field?

Sustainable Innovation Consultant and Project Manager. Working for construction companies, I understand the importance of project management. About a dozen years ago, I took up the cause of sustainability as a strategic approach to our development. I’m working as a consultant for innovation and sustainability in the building industry, helping developers, manufacturers, professionals and communities to find a sustainable approach in the built environment. For two years I have been honoured – as president of Living Future Europe – to support the growth in Europe of the Living Building Challenge and related tools – the most ambitious sustainability framework in the world, created and developed by the International Living Future Institute (ILFI).

  • What does your typical working day look like?

My typical working day is divided in parts of one hour, or half an hour, dealing with the sustainable innovation projects I’m consulting on and support I’m providing from our Living Future Europe (LFE) office at NOI Techpark in Bolzano, South Tyrol, to our network of professionals and volunteers across most of Europe, with regard to new project opportunities, products and sustainable strategic development of companies. We are currently very much involved in dissemination opportunities, organising events, workshops and presentations about the Living Building Challenge in many cities across Europe throughout this year, as we did last year, with 50+ events in 30+ cities in 20 EU countries.

  • What makes you excited about your work?

I feel I’m working at the cutting edge of solutions and strategies for a sustainable built environment, and, given that construction is responsible for at least 40 percent of all environmental impacts (energy, water, materials, waste, etc.), the way we are addressing this issue may actually create a difference. The good news is that ILFI created the right tools for what we believe is one way to slow down the climate disaster. And this will help us take concrete steps through LFE to achieve the ambitious 2050 European Green Deal goals. Each of us can work toward a living future in Europe, and I’m excited to play my tiny role in this story.

  • And what is the biggest challenge at your work?

Main challenge for me is in the name of our framework ? The Living Building Challenge is the world’s most rigorous standard for green buildings. Living Buildings strive for net-zero or net-positive energy, are free of toxic chemicals and lower their energy footprint many times below generic commercial structures. Very often this challenge is neither technical (technologies for living buildings are available on the shelf) nor financial (there are already many studies and examples of the business case for green buildings). Main barriers we find are related to existing policies and regulations; we need strong advocacy to close this gap and advance progress in the market.

  • Which scientist or scientific achievement are you fascinated by and why?

I feel myself close to all innovations and findings regarding construction, design, from architecture (even in the past) to engineering, infrastructure, etc. One of the leading figures we love most (me personally but all of us at ILFI) is Richard Buckminster (Bucky) Fuller, an American architect, systems theorist, author, designer, inventor and futurist. Two of his quotes above all:

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

“Make the world work, for 100% of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation, without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone.” This has become the ILFI and LFE mission.

  • Tell us about the work of art (books, music, movies, theatre, dance, visual arts) that has a special place in your life.

I love cinema. I put on a pedestal Stanley Kubrick, an absolute genius in every genre he addressed. Then I love (and I watched all their movies) François Truffaut, Alfred Hitchcock and Woody Allen. Plus, many others: Orson Welles, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Werner Herzog, Clint Eastwood, Billy Wilder, the Coen Bros …

I like reading books on sustainability and innovation, especially two titles: “Confessions of a Radical Industrialist” (Ray Anderson) and “Our Iceberg Is Melting: Changing And Succeeding Under Any Conditions” by John Kotter. I also like crime books very much, specifically from Scandinavian authors like C. Läckberg, L. Marklund, Leif G. W. Persson …

And I love music, from jazz to soul (not heavy metal!), from Prince to Joni Mitchell to Keith Jarrett …

  • What have you read, listened to, or watched lately?

I’ve been totally impressed by “Parasite” (I ran to the cinema to watch it the day it won several Oscars). Bong Joon-ho is a genius; there are contents in this plot to film 2-3-4 … movies.

  • Characterize your life’s guidance or an important realization (or epiphany) you have experienced.

I’m particularly proud of the progress our RESTORE project (EU funded under the COST program) is having, three years after its start. Sustainable buildings and facilities are critical to a future that is socially just, ecologically restorative, culturally rich and economically viable within the climate change context. Despite over a decade of strategies and programmes, progress on sustainability of the built environment fails to address these key issues. Consequently, the built environment sector no longer has the luxury of being incrementally ‘less bad’, but, with urgency, needs to adopt net-positive, restorative sustainability thinking to incrementally do ‘more good’.

The RESTORE Action’s aim is to affect a paradigm shift towards restorative sustainability for new and existing buildings across Europe, promoting forward thinking and multidisciplinary knowledge, leading to solutions that celebrate the richness of design creativity while enhancing users’ experience, comfort, health, well-being and satisfaction, inside and outside buildings, and in harmony with urban and natural ecosystems, reconnecting users to nature.