Buildings impact our lives every day. The way a building is built influences how comfortable we are during the cold winters and hot summers, the quality of air we breathe indoors, and the amount of money we have leftover after paying utility bills - to name just a few examples.

They are also a big part of Missoula’s carbon pollution (52%, according to 2014 data), and a big part of the solution to addressing climate change locally. While we know buildings will be a climate solution, the details of how we will do this in Missoula are still uncertain.

On January 15th, Climate Smart Missoula hosted a virtual “Building(s) for the Future” summit in partnership with the City of Missoula and Missoula County. The event, made possible with funding from the National League of Cities’ Leadership in Community Resilience grant program, built on the past years of climate action and conversations about the role buildings play in Missoula’s climate problems and solutions. Buildings seem to become increasingly important each day as pressures mount for development to keep pace with community growth.

You may be asking, “What does it mean to build for the future? Is that building more LEED buildings?” It’s not as simple as tying it to one particular building standard (though more LEED buildings would be great!). To “build for the future,” means to consider ways to decarbonize the design, construction, operation, and deconstruction of our building stock, incorporate measures so buildings are resilient to the effects of climate change, and to do so at an affordable price point for community members.

It is, quite bluntly, really complicated. But for us at Climate Smart, that’s a lot of the appeal. We love to convene diverse groups of community members to solve really difficult problems. As Dr. Rob Davies said at the Big Climate Change Event last February, “Sometimes the solution to a challenging issue is to make it bigger,” and we’ve taken that to heart when it comes to buildings in Missoula.

In that spirit, we called upon architects, builders, contractors, developers, engineers, affordable housing advocates, landlords, tenants, local government staff, realtors and community members to come together to plot the path forward. Over 120 Missoulians answered the call and logged on to hear from panelists ZOOMing in from across the country, as well as participate in discussion-based breakout groups on what we can unite to do locally.

With generous technical support from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), we were able to do extensive background research on the policies and programs Missoula could pursue in the realms of rental housing, owner occupied housing, large buildings, and new subdivision development, as well as ways Missoula could encourage innovation for those interested in pushing the envelope. This background research informed the conversation last week and will continue to inform our work moving forward.

During the panel portion of the event, we heard from a mighty diverse group of experts:

  • Leah Bamberger from the City of Providence, RI,
  • Stefen Samarripas from ACEEE,
  • Luke Hollenkamp from the City of Minneapolis, MN,
  • Doug Gilliland from the Whisper Valley Development in Austin, TX, and
  • Mike Maines from the Pretty Good House group in Maine.

This action packed hour touched on climate justice, green building policy, innovative development techniques, and how to build homes that are energy efficient, affordable, and beautiful (and we’ll share recordings and slides on this webpage).

In true Missoula-style we had a big team behind us that helped make such an event possible. In addition to the support from the City and the County, we’ve an amazing steering committee - experts from Loci Architecture and Design, MMW Architects, Home ReSource, McKinstry, Central Street Ventures, Clearwater Credit Union, and Hone Architects and Builders. We are so thankful to be surrounded by community members who are eager to roll their sleeves up and dive into this messy, intersectional work.

Perhaps the most common question we heard at the Summit was, “What’s next?” It’s a great question, and one that reminds me of a favorite quote of mine from the writer Anne Lamott. “E.L. Doctorow said once said that 'Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.'

You don't have to see where you're going, you don't have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you.” The advice applies to writing a novel and our climate change work. We’re getting a sense of the next few feet in front of us by going through the great commentary and input collected at the event, and then we’ll be back in the community engaging people and asking for further input.

One thing remains to be true - this work is hard, but it’s made lighter when done in community with others. Together, we can solve big problems. We’ll settle for Zoom in the meantime, though we can’t wait to have these conversations around a table together. Wear your mask and get vaccinated, and we’ll be back around a table soon.

Caroline Lauer is the program director at Climate Smart Missoula. This Sustainable Missoula column is brought to you – via the Missoula Current – every week by Climate Smart Missoula and Home ReSource.

Sustainability Happenings

As COVID-19 has altered community events. Here we offer ideas about sustainable ways to stay involved in our community. If you like these offerings, consider signing up for Climate Smart’s eNewsletter here. And sign up for Home ReSource’s eNews via their homepage here.

Now through April. Montana Legislature is in session. Get the awesome “How to be Involved Guide” from Montana Free Press. To follow efforts for clean energy, climate, conservation and sustainability, consider connecting with (and getting the low down and action alerts from):

· Montana Renewable Energy Association

· Montana Environmental Information Center

· Montana Conservation Voters

· Northern Plains Resource Council

Month of JANUARY. Clear the Air Challenge
. Missoula in Motion’s effort to help us all breathe easier. You can still Join. Details here.

January 28. Families for a Livable Climate Systems Change event: Localized Living 4 - 5:30 pm. Prior to the event, participants are invited to watch the abridged version (20 min.) of The Economics of Happiness, which spells out the social, spiritual, and ecological costs of today's global economy while highlighting the multiple benefits of localization. Then join us on Jan. 28 when panelists will discuss what is happening in Missoula and Montana on the "localization" scene, in the realms of finance, policy, food, energy, and building connected neighborhoods.

February 11. (Virtual) Board of County Commissioners meeting (2 pm) to vote on making existing cryptocurrency zoning regulations permanent. Learn more about why cryptocurrency mining operations need regulations (hint - they use a crazy amount of electricity!) and how to make comments here.

Through April. Missoula Valley Winter Market. Located in the Southgate Mall (in former Lucky’s Market). Market hours: Saturdays, 9am-2pm through April 17.

Periodic thru February 13 (dates added periodically). Virtual Fixit Clinics. Want to try fixing from home? Present your broken item to a global team of expert community repairers and get suggestions for things to try. After all items are presented, participants move to Zoom breakout rooms to implement the suggestions and, hopefully, fix the items.

February 8 - March 29. Mondays 6 - 7:30 pm. My Grandmother's Hands Practice Group. This invitation is for white identifying folks in Missoula or the surrounding areas to join an 8-week virtual community practice group to examine white-body supremacy and create a new type of lasting relationship rooted in racial justice and accountability. More info here.

Feb. 18. Leave it Wild: Urban and residential spaces; 4-5:30 p.m. Join families for a livable climate and stories for action from this free happy hour event to find out how actions taken on your front step and in Montana towns can have a great impact on waterways, biodiversity, climate action and community. Register here.

Find more local activities and events at Missoulaevents.net and on Montana Environmental Information Center’s Conservation CalendarAnd you too can help organize events – here’s the 2021 Calendar of Environmental Awareness Days – month by month break down of world day campaigns