Hillary Clinton recently told me that she is a fan of my work at the Center for Green Schools. It was just before we got our picture taken together, so in the photo I’m grinning from ear to ear. Seriously? Did Hillary Clinton just say she’s a fan of my work? Because Hillary, I’m a fan of your work. In particular, I am a fan of the trail that you have blazed for women of my generation to lead the effort to tackle the greatest challenges of our time.
Hillary Clinton is behind much of the incredible progress that healthcare, energy policy, and international trade have experienced throughout the past two decades, and that barely begins to scratch the surface. It’s impossible to sum up her career, though her Twitter offers a concise, and admittedly playful, summary: “Wife, mom, lawyer, women & kids advocate, FLOAR, FLOTUS, US Senator, SecState, author, dog owner, hair icon, pantsuit aficionado, glass ceiling cracker, TBD…”
In all that she does, Hillary Clinton embodies sustainability with a capital ‘S.’ She has made a concerted, nonpartisan effort to not only sustain, but to nourish and embolden society, our planet, and the global economy.
When it comes to environmental policy, Hillary’s record is mixed, but her longstanding commitment to cultivating young leaders, particularly female ones, and equipping them with the skills they need today to tackle the challenges of tomorrow speaks to the heart of our movement. She’s taken a strong stance on the role of women in sustainability, proudly lending a voice to the World Bank’s finding that women are essential to sustainable development. She urges us to “knock the barriers down to women’s full participation on boards of companies that make decisions about sustainability,” citing evidence that “corporations with women in leadership positions … are actually more focused on sustainability. It would be good for business and good for results if those doors were opened.”
She certainly has led the way. During her tenure as Secretary of State, Clinton championed women’s rights at home and abroad, famously stating at the Rio+20 meeting in 2012 that sustainability starts at home when women are “empowered to make decisions about whether and when to have children.”
Her advocacy does not stop there. As First Lady, Hillary recognized the strategic importance of public early childhood education across the country. She tirelessly advocated for the expansion of Head Start to include early childhood education and for widespread implementation of the Children’s Health Insurance Plan, reinvigorating the role of a First Lady with a portfolio of projects and initiatives. Today, Hillary continues these efforts through Too Small to Fail—which advocates alongside prominent curriculum thought leaders on behalf of students and educators—and the Clinton Foundation. One initiative, “No Ceilings: The Full Participation Project and Women and Girls,” promises to lift women—and, in particular, young girls—out of poverty to foster a truly equal 21st century. And the Clinton Global Initiative continues to galvanize students’ interest in advocacy and volunteerism around the world.
Clinton also was responsible for launching the State Department’s Bureau of Energy Resources, marrying technology, private investment, and good governance to stabilize a rapidly changing energy sector and increase America’s independence from foreign energy, while simultaneously capitalizing on the tremendous resources of the US Agency for International Development to support sustainable development around the world. It’s the passion for across-the-aisle progress and pragmatic, collaborative solutions that make Hillary such a worthy icon for women in sustainability.
When it comes to greening built environments, she has no reservations. She calls LEED “a simple, powerful idea” and notes that USGBC’s popular green building rating system “was an idea that was so profoundly true that I and others, when we first heard about it, just kind of looked up and said, ‘Well of course, that is exactly what we need to be doing.’”
We need powerful leaders—female leaders—to prove that there is common ground on which to find solutions that fit for all of us. Hillary is doing just that, reviving the spirit of the triple bottom line, demonstrating that great things can happen when we shoot for the intersection of people, planet, and prosperity.
Last year, at Greenbuild in Philadelphia, she issued a call to action. She said, “We not only can do better—we must do better. We have to get back to working in ways that bring us together, not drive us apart… it is time for us to start doing not only the right things, but the smart things. And at the top of any agenda about America’s future, sustainability has to be viewed as one of the key goals for building back stronger here at home.” Let’s take her up on that.
Rachel Gutter is the director of the USGBC’s Center for Green Schools in Washington, DC. She is widely regarded as one of the nation’s foremost experts on the topic of green schools.
Read up on the rest of our 10 Most Powerful Women in Sustainability here.