'The Future for Green is Black' theme of sustainability conference

Posted on: Mar 12, 2012 1:00:00 AM

Contact: Della Elliott (619) 647-7690

EL CAJON -- John Picard, an architect, builder and renowned expert in the field of green building design, is living proof that sustainable construction is a highly profitable venture. He was the ideal keynote speaker at Thursday’s Sustainable Urban Landscape Conference at Cuyamaca College, having coined the catchphrase, “The Future for Green is Black,” that served as the theme of the daylong symposium.

He waived his usual speaker fees because he is a strong supporter of the college’s efforts to increase public and business interest in sustainability, the protection of natural resources.

“You don’t have to be big and powerful to effect change,” Picard said. “It just takes a small, dedicated group of people to make significant changes. To all you entrepreneurs out there, don’t forget to live your dream. Don’t look back – quit questioning yourself. If you don’t put yourself at risk by pursuing a new path, you’re not going to get things done.”

The innovator behind the U.S. Green Building Council, the non-profit agency best known for its LEED green building certification system, Picard is a leading consultant to Fortune 500 companies looking to implement sustainable business solutions. Since his start as a residential and commercial builder in the 1980s, Picard has been a pioneer of sustainable design whose projects include the Greening of the White House initiative during Clinton’s presidency; Hangar 25 in Burbank, the first entirely sustainable airport facility; and the MGM CityCenter, an 18-million-square-foot metropolis in Las Vegas that is one of the world’s largest sustainable communities.

Viewers of the Discovery Channel’s Planet Green might recognize Picard as the “green prophet” in documentary series, “Greensburg,” about the historic, eco-friendly rebuilding of a tornado-ravaged rural town on the plains of Kansas.

Thursday’s conference marked the college’s fourth year of hosting an event attended by hundreds of landscape professionals and others with an interest in creating and maintaining green space with low-water usage. The event was co-hosted by the college’s ornamental horticulture department and the Cuyamaca College Botanical Society.

 “This year, the focus was on sustainable practices being based on profit-generating enterprises,” said conference coordinator Don Schultz, an instructor in Cuyamaca’s ornamental horticulture program. The program began offering a degree in sustainable urban landscaping in fall 2011, with the first graduates expected this June.

Cuyamaca College President Mark J. Zacovic said the conference’s focus on sustainability is in keeping with the college’s longstanding commitment to conservation and the opportunities it offers in the area of green-industry workforce training.

Picard held conference attendees in thrall as he shared his passion for environmentalism and his “I-told-you-so” delight in proving that sustainability and entrepreneurship are the perfect bedfellows.

“After 20 years of not being regarded as relevant, sustainability is now at the top of every builder’s list,” he said. “These are exciting times. Right now, just 2 to 3 percent of all buildings are LEED certified. We have to get that up to 70 percent.”

Before Picard’s name became synonymous with sustainable construction, he used his own home in Playa del Rey as a lab, transforming it into an off-the-grid wonder house so cutting-edge that the National Enquirer came calling. That photo led to designing energy-smart homes of Hollywood executives and eventually caught the interest of the corporate world

Picard said social media tools such as FaceBook and an expanding array of mobile-platform applications can democratize sustainability, making it accessible to the farmer wanting to know soil composition for this year’s crops or the commercial builder wanting to get the low-down on the energy efficiency of a new high-rise project – information that can be called up with a quick swipe of a tablet computer.

Picard was followed by other conference speakers, including Dennis Pittenger, environmental horticulturist at UC Riverside and a nationally recognized expert in landscape water management; David Shaw, a farm advisor with the University of California Extension in San Diego whose work includes presenting educational and research programs for landscape professionals; Richard Restuccia, director of water management solutions at ValleyCrest Companies, Inc., and Tom Jesch, owner of Waterwise Botanicals, a wholesale/retail nursery that specializes in drought-tolerant plants.

The event also featured a panel discussion on the business of urban farming moderated by author and educator Nan Sterman.  Panelists included Karen Contreras, the founder of Urban Plantations, a company dedicated to city-dwelling sanctuaries; Bill Tall, founder of City Farmers Nursery; and Crystal Montoya, a certified grower who produces food from her home for farmers markets.

For more information about Cuyamaca’s sustainable urban landscaping program, go to or call Don Schultz at (619) 660-4023. Information about the college district is available at

sustainability guru John Picard speaks

Sustainability guru John Picard speaks at Thursday's Sustainable Urban Landscape conference at Cuyamaca College.

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