Because there were more than 25 break-out sessions across four time slots at West Coast Green today, it was necessary to practice a little letting go of the things I would inevitably miss out on. I was able to catch a few great panels.

My absolute favorite session was the one on community-scale greywater, led by Rana Creek Restoration Ecology. Project Manager Rafael Garcia spoke about the growing use of greywater systems in the Bay Area and highlighted a few large-scale greywater systems.  One is the Transbay Transit Terminal, which is the mega-project being built in downtown San Francisco. When completed it will have 100% recycled greywater which will be reused for all the toilet flushing and for the green roof landscaping irrigation needs.

The second project is at a military housing community on Fort Ord, CA, where half of the units are providing greywater successfully for 100% of the irrigation needs of the landscape.  Because of the overly-strict regulations in the United States, we have not invested in these systems and therefore are literally throwing potable water down the drain.  Many, if not most, examples of large-scale greywater projects are abroad, in Germany, Australia, Canada, etc.

The takeaway is that we have a huge potential for using greywater systems in public and commercial buildings, homes, and irrigating landscapes.  The Rana Creek CEO Paul Kephart summed up the potential up with the phrase, “Take a shower, grow a flower.”

Here is a fascinating stat: the Bay Area went from reusing/saving roughly 0 (zero) gallons of potable water in 2006 via greywater systems to around 3.1 million gallons this year.  Now we just have to scale up these systems.

I also attended an edifying session explaining the marketing and branding strategy of the California Public Utilities Commission energy efficiency program.  A public education campaign will begin rolling out next month.

My take away from this session: framing matters, psychology matters, stories matter.

People who study consumer behavior on environmental issues show that we are often deceiving ourselves or others when we say what our motivations are.  Or at least what we say is actually secondary to forces like a connection to a personal story, emotion, or ego. This is a fascinating topic and one that I’d like to have more conversations about.

What really does motivate us to change behavior in small and significant ways?  The fact that your neighbor has a Prius?  You want to save the glaciers on Iceland?  Your child has asthma?  Your pastor told a story?

One of the speakers was Hunter Marshall, a VP at DraftFCB, who was one of the consultants on the CPUC branding and implementation strategy.

He pointed out some interesting gaps between ideas about ourselves and what is really happening on the ground.  Fact: 81% of Californians believe everyone should reduce energy.  But Californians are still wasting 25% of the energy we buy.  Fact: Californians tend to be ahead of the curve nationally in being knowledgeable about environmental topics and in saying they are important issues.  Yet our energy use is creeping up year by year, despite assertive energy and emission goals.

One reason Marshall suggests is that energy waste is invisible. “We’re not sensitized to it. What’s the right metaphor for making energy waste tangible and visible?” he asks.

Good question.

I like the photo-art of Chris Jordan, which tells our story of excessive consumption and reflects it back to us in hauntingly beautiful and informative ways.

“How do we undo a lot of the consumption wiring that is out there?” Marshall asks, pointing out that most people at the conference are on supply side of things. “How many are focusing on demand side?”

Reducing demand, that is. If you’ve been to any “green” conference you can probably relate.

I’ll end with one more nugget from William McDonough’s morning talk:  “We need to have more fun than they do. Then they will wonder what we’re doing, and they will come.”

Stay tuned tomorrow for a round-up of day two and follow on Twitter @vanlenning and @Ecolocalizer.

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