Nine Lives of Green

Recently at the Living Future event in Portland, Oregon, I had an opportunity to explore “lives of green” with eight other women working in the sustainable design space, as it is often called. We followed the Pecha Kucha format (my first time with the 20-seconds-for-each-of-20 slides).

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Barbra Batshalom, a Boston-based “recovering architect” talked about her path toward transforming organizations, to transform practice, collaborate more deeply, and inspire change in the sustainable design world. “Our research has shown that most organizations, even those known for good green goals, are not making wholesale change. More likely, they are experiencing what we sometimes call ‘random acts of sustainability’.” This prompted the founder of Green Roundtable to launch the Sustainable Performance Institute, a certification program for organizations.

This was one of several recurring themes in this session (which, as our moderator Lance Hosey noted, mirrored the themes that turned up in Women in Green: Voices of Sustainable Design, the book that he and I wrote together a few years ago): Find ways to think bigger—much beyond single buildings. And if your current career path isn’t allowing that, change course. Almost every single presenter described a non-linear career, what author and anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson might call “lives of improvisation,” theme she explored deeply in her book, Composing a Life.

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We also heard from Beth Heider, who leads Skanska’s Green Markets group and is chair of the US Green Building Council Board of Directors. She noted that quantifying the costs and benefits of buildings over their entire life cycle is starting to help people understand how living buildings can be a part of their business and portfolio.

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Jackie Henke, of TD Bank’s U.S. Real Estate Green Strategy Officer (and previously sustainability manager for Harvard’s Allston Development Group), urged us to “get out and give back,” to “raise your hand,” and to investigate. “The world does not hand you opportunities,” she noted.

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Architect Jean Carroon, who organized the panel presentation, has worked for Goody Clancy for 34 years and recently authored Sustainable Preservation: Greening Existing Buildings (Wiley, 2010). She stressed the importance of understanding our cities as systems, not “one-off” buildings. Architect Lisa Fay Mathiessen of Buro Happold agreed, and pointed to some seminal moments in her career, such as co-authoring an important “Cost of Green” study while at Davis Langdon, helped change the discussion. “Interestingly, however, it became clear to me that even once the data is marshaled, it will not change all the minds,” she said. “This crystalized for me that this is a moral, philosophical issue.”

Patrice Frey is director of sustainability research for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. She cited the influence of Washington, DC’s historic fabric during her teenage internship there, and the influence of Stewart Brand’s (amazing and still incredibly potent and important) 1994 book, How Buildings Learn.

Yolanda Bouchee is based in Chicago, where she serves as the EPA’s expert on Green Historic Preservation. She has a diverse background that kept coming back around to real estate issues, and has been convening groups of people dedicated to forming partnerships to unite preservation, community, and sustainability goals.

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Minakshi Amundsen, university planner for Cornell University since 2002, oversees physical and master planning for the Ithaca campus. She talked about the Western tendency to separate things that in other parts of the world seem more seamlessly integrated. “To me, integration is the heart of this work. At Cornell, we used the lake to cool our buildings, which lowered costs by 85 percent; such a simple embrace of an existing physical relationship, but it requires understanding the intersection of place, campus, and home community.”

Kira Gould

My “life of green” has been circuitous, too. Part of my journey was landing at Metropolis in the mid-1990s, joining a team, led by Susan Szenasy, ready to explore sustainability (resulting in the 1996 issue on the topic, which has been a driving theme since then). That’s some very good green luck, to be sure.

Kira Gould, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP, is director of communications for William McDonough + Partners, an architecture firm with studios in Charlottesville, Virginia, and San Francisco. She is also co-author of Women in Green: Voices of Sustainable Design.

Categories: Sustainability

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