“We need a new design assignment as a species.”

So says innovative architect and sustainable design leader William McDonough, one of the keynote speakers on the first day of West Coast Green 2010 in San Francisco.  McDonough set the tone for a conference that has earned a reputation for being the largest conference on innovative sustainable solutions for the built environment.  West Coast Green is a people-buzzing, info-bursting, idea-busting experience, with more workshops, green products, demonstrations, art, books, and break-out sessions than you can get your head around.

So, I’ll pull out some highlights from the first day.

McDonough, Van Jones, and Doug Davis from Intel launched the day with some cutting-edge ideas and examples, mixed with tried-and-true motivational techniques. McDonough, author of Cradle to Cradle, is known for his critique of our status quo industrial processes but is even more appreciated for inspiring people with his vision of where we need to go and can go. He served up plenty of insightful questions and stories that captured well some of the major value and framing problems we are confronting as a civilization.

He also didn’t pull any punches. He provoked the crowd with questions like, “What if you are doing the wrong thing efficiently?” He argued that “being less bad is not the same as being good,” which is the subject of a chapter in his book Cradle to Cradle.

Imagine if I cut 10% of my toxic waste or 30% of my pillaging.  Hmm, what about the rest?  From a  whole-systems perspective, McDonough makes the case that we have to eliminate the concept of waste altogether.  Waste from one process or system is fuel for another.

Van Jones’ role was to inspire, encouraging values-transformation and self-reflection.  We’re the embodiment of Hope.2, he said, so go out and make the difference with that unique dream that you share with others.  He said that the solution is as much an inner-outer transformation as it is a top-bottom and grassroots-up process.

Of course Jones also made the case for the Green Economy that he does so well,  reminding us (and presumably policy-makers & legislators) that we have a nation to repair and retrofit and urging us to put automakers back to work making wind turbines, making homes and buildings energy efficient, and building public transit infrastructure.

“Homes don’t retrofit themselves.”

Stay tuned for a report back from some of the break-out sessions and follow @vanlenning and @Ecolocalizer on Twitter.

You can watch live streaming video of the Keynote Speakers from westcoastgreen2010 at livestream.com.