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Energy Solutions

Adios — for a little while…

Leaving deadlines behind for a while

I'll be looking for some open vistas and contemplative time on my upcoming bike trip — priming the pump for work I'll be focusing on during the rest of an eight-month sabbatical.
Image Credit: Horst Hammerschmidt

Next week I’m starting an eight-month sabbatical. It’s made possible by the Hanley Award that I received last fall, which included a financial grant. I’ll be taking an unpaid leave from BuildingGreen (after 26 years) and stepping away from day-to-day operations and the deadlines that have largely defined my life over those years.

The sabbatical will allow me to step back and consider the bigger picture of what we’re collectively trying to do in creating a more livable planet and a more sustainable future. I expect to do some writing — perhaps addressing resilient design and the “passive survivability” issue that I’ve been promoting for the past five years. Time away from Environmental Building News and regular deadlines will allow the more concentrated time needed for such efforts.

But first, I’m doing something totally different. Starting mid-next-week, I’m heading out on a bicycle touring trip through the desert Southwest and perhaps along the Gulf Coast. The goal of the trip is to escape enough from day-to-day routines to think about issues on a deeper level — to recharge my batteries, to use an energy metaphor.

I’ll be flying to San Diego with my bicycle, then heading eastward from there, generally following the Southern Tier route mapped by the organization Adventure Cycling. I’ll be traveling alone, camping some of the time, but also getting plenty of use out of my credit card and staying some nights with individuals who are part of a network of bicyclists who open their homes to fellow travelers.

My plan is to maintain a fairly moderate pace that will give me plenty of time to relax, think, photograph the country I’m passing through…and write. I’ll be posting blogs and photos on my personal website:, through which I can also be contacted.

During my sabbatical, Tristan Roberts will be taking over this Energy Solutions blog. Tristan has worked at BuildingGreen since early 2006, and he is currently our editorial director, in charge of not only our monthly newsletter Environmental Building News (now in its 20th year), but also and our other Web-based resources. Not long before joining BuildingGreen, he graduated from Marlboro College — which brought him to the area from upstate New York, where he grew up.

Tristan and his wife live in a home they built in Halifax. The home is built largely of natural materials, including wood from the land. It is energy-efficient, heated by passive solar energy and wood, and off the grid — powered by an array of photovoltaic panels.

Like all of us at BuildingGreen, Tristan is deeply committed to a more energy-efficient, sustainable future. He walks the talk far more than most of us, and his knowledge of all things related to green building has been growing at a rapid pace these past five years.

Very significantly, Tristan is a great writer. I feel very good leaving this blog in his able hands. I expect that some of his blogs will report on his own experiences trying to create an energy-efficient, green home and minimize his environmental footprint.

Suggestions for topics you’d like to see covered in this Energy Solutions column can be e-mailed to Tristan ([email protected]).

While it’s far too soon for me to speak from experience in recommending a long-distance bike trip, I think it is important for us all to step outside of our routines and embark on new adventures. I am fortunate to have received support through the Hanley Award to make this possible, but even if that had not happened I think I would be looking at something like this sabbatical (perhaps in a significantly scaled-back form) to re-energize and recharge.

I plan to return with new ideas and priorities for hastening the transition to a better, more sustainable, and more resilient future.

In addition to this Energy Solutions blog, Alex contributes to the weekly blog BuildingGreen’s Product of the Week, which profiles an interesting new green building product each week. Brent Ehrlich, the products editor at BuildingGreen, will be taking the lead with this blog while I’m away. Alex is founder of BuildingGreen, Inc. and executive editor of Environmental Building News. To keep up with his musings from the road and during his sabbatical, you can sign up for his Twitter feed.


  1. 5C8rvfuWev | | #1

    Best Wishes
    and good travels, Alex Wilson. You continue to lead even as you leave.

  2. EJ Palma | | #2

    Have a safe and rewarding
    Have a safe and rewarding journey Alex. You deserve it.

  3. LucyF | | #3

    You'll have a great time
    I rode my bike across the country in 1983 with my 16 year old sister. I will do it again in 2016 when I am 60. By far, the funnest thing I have ever done. It's a great time to recharge. We will miss you, but you will have a blast.


    All the best
    I hope this really feeds you deeply and gives you some new ways of looking at things and reconnection to things you haven't thought about in years. Bravo for you! And thanks for all you've brought to us all over the many years of diligent work and thoughtful insight.

  5. debbie_at_sunplans | | #5

    New phrases for Passive Survivability?
    I hope that your well-deserved break brings some new dimensions to your concepts on passive survivability or whatever new phrases you choose to describe these important design concepts. I look forward to hearing and reading about your ideas for green building of the future. It is sure to be insightful!

    In my Spring Equinox newsletter, I summarized passive survivability as "a type of back-to-basics independence for high performance homes that addresses the comfort standards and expectations of today. It's nature-inspired livability." I wonder how others are paraphrasing the passive survivability phrase that you have promoted?

    Debra Rucker Coleman, Architect, Sun Plans Inc.
    (all US and Canadian climate zones)

  6. Alex Wilson | | #6

    "Passive survivability"
    Yes, I will give this some thought. I'd be interested in suggestions. I have recently been adding "resilient design" in the same breath, but I'd love to hear other suggestions.

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