We honor 15 women who are shaping the sustainability landscape of tomorrow
Names that this year’s Women in Sustainability Leadership Awards honorees mention run the gamut from Susan Mink Kidd to Rachel Carson, Walt Whitman, Eleanor Roosevelt, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Alice Walker, Gail Lindsay, Gail Vittori, John Muir, Hillary Clinton, Mary Nichols, Paula McEvoy, Felicia Marcus, Antonio Villaraigosa, Winston Hickox, Queen Hatshepsut, Dr. Jane Goodall and Barack Obama, among many others.
Not all these names are nationally famous, but each of them is accomplished in their own spheres. Many honorees also mention learning important lessons from their own mothers and fathers.
Which is to say their inspiration comes from many places and a diversity of people, some in the present and many in the past.
One of the reasons we have a WSLA program is to mine out how people are meeting the challenges of a distressed environment. None of the honorees claim to have an easy job. Many acknowledge past failures. But all of them overcame challenges, doubters, and budget shortfalls. It takes a special kind of reserve to be able to do that.
It would be a waste to overlook their many instructive experiences. That’s why we document here the paths and outcomes of 15 outstanding women – who themselves are already inspiring the leaders of tomorrow.
Chief Communications and Sustainability Officer
Maybe it’s because Andrea Goertz is in charge of several communications functions at this leading, Canadian telecommunications company: she sees her role as a sustainability leader as one involving “meaningful partnerships.”
“Strong, independent and successful business leaders inevitably discover this simple but universal truth: No matter how effective you are, there is a limit to what you can achieve on your own.”
“The pace of technological change, coupled with the complexity of major projects, makes it difficult – and often impossible – to deliver game-changing results for your business in a silo,” says Goertz, whose responsibilities as TELUS’ chief sustainability officer include oversight of 180 employees engaged in sustainability, government relations, social and media relations, strategic initiatives, corporate services, communications, community investment, and data and trust. “To be successful, leaders must build, sustain and leverage meaningful partnerships.”
“Sustainability is a team sport,” she says to underscore the point. But it neither begins nor ends there: Goertz says that leadership includes being able to define an organization’s sustainability vision, uniting people around common goals, and building on a diverse-but-cohesive culture.
“Over the years, I have learned that collaboration with the right partners can move mountains and generate outstanding results,” she says. “This is why, when developing a new initiative or tackling a complex challenge, I often turn to subject-matter experts who complement my strengths in order to foster greater diversity of thought.”
Partnership and a passion for driving innovation were key to the creation of TELUS’ LEED Platinum-certified headquarters, which opened in Vancouver in 2015 under Goertz’s leadership. The mixed use, 1 million-square-foot, 24-storey tower uses a district energy system that draws power from Vancouver’s largest solar panel array. The Dow Jones Sustainability Index has listed the company for 15 years, and for the past five years Mediacorp Canada Inc. has named TELUS as one of the country’s Greenest Employers.
Goertz is further championing both sustainability and innovation within TELUS as the executive sponsor of an internal competition that challenges employees to develop sustainability ideas. “This type of crowd sourcing provides an excellent opportunity to find solutions and gather ideas from a broad and passionate group of individuals,” she says.
When asked who inspired her professional journey, Goertz replies, “My mother taught me to work hard for what I wanted to achieve.”
This guidance will serve her well as she continues to focus on partnerships that address climate change, which Goertz identifies as “an area where we are seeing real progress as public, private, and not-for-profit leaders begin to demonstrate the will, and invest the resources, to take on this challenge.” It is this collaboration that will “promote the long-term sustainability of our resources and our planet.”
It’s a heavy lift, but mothers usually know best.
In 2010 Dominique Hargreaves went to work for the USGBC – and found a way to dramatically improve green maintenance practices in buildings.
Janitors are earning a seat at the sustainability table alongside building owners and managers because of her work at USGBC-LA. “I developed the green curriculum for upskilling workers and deployed the program from Los Angeles to Orange County to San Diego and recently to Northern California,” she says. “A job classification of ‘Certified Green Janitor’ now exists, which signifies a lasting change in the contractor industry and expanding the definition of green jobs.” The program addresses energy efficiency, recycling, waste management, water conservation, and other sustainable and green cleaning practices that that only maintenance workers can accomplish.
“Clean energy and green building hold major untapped opportunities for women,” she says.
To cultivate future green building leaders, she created a professional development series of workshops that complement the USGBC-LA’s Women in Green Breakfast Series, which are workshops to inspire dialogue, provide networking opportunities, and create mentorship opportunities for the women who comprise a minority of working green professionals.
“The culture is shifting away from excess and toward wellness,” says Hargreaves, citing the relationship between policy, technology, and culture that drives innovation. “Policymakers in California promote sustainability in the built and natural environment; technology start-ups allow access to big data in meaningful ways.”
Hargreaves has a penchant for what is achievable. For example, she has a front row seat on how Los Angeles is handling drought conditions. “In LA’s Sustainable City pLAn, there’s an emphasis on local water resources and on conserving water, especially reducing potable water demand. In one year, Angelenos reduced their potable water consumption by 19 percent! The drought isn’t over, but we can all do our part to reduce outdoor watering and to recycle water onsite.”
Who inspires her? Hillary Clinton, writer Monique Tallon (“Leading Gracefully, A Woman’s Guide to Confident, Authentic Leadership” and leader of the workshop series at the Women in Green events) – and her colleagues at USGBC-LA: “It’s one of the most welcoming and diverse communities I’ve been a part of.
Holley Henderson, LEED Fellow
Green Building Expert, Author, Consultant and Speaker
Holley Henderson was hitting a wall as an interior designer in 2001 when she realized design wasn’t her passion. So after some soul-searching she walked into the office of her firm’s CEO with a two-page paper arguing the firm should embrace the nascent LEED program.
“We didn’t even know if LEED was going to work,” she reflects. “Then, sustainability research was most often focused on energy and water, which would typically involve engineers. So why would architecture firms lead this charge?”
Fortunately, her CEO said yes and a sustainable design studio within the firm was born. She ran that for three years, then struck out on her own as Holley Henderson, “The Common Sense Environmentalist.”
The descriptor is apt. Herself a LEED Fellow, she has worked on millions of square feet of LEED certified projects and consequently understands the pragmatic realities of bringing those about. For example, she cites climate change as a sustainability target that needs leadership to approach it differently. “Very big picture, the argument for climate change is a hard sell,” she says. Instead, she suggests we “consider a message of stewardship with incentives. Many cultures and religions underscore stewardship as an important tenet and responsibility.”
In other words, she recognizes that changes have to fit into a broader context and vary from group to group. This is consistent with her ideas on what sustainability leadership should entail. She says some of the lessons she’s learned include: There is no perfection. There is more gray than black and white (“gray can be really beautiful”).
Along those lines she says that mistakes and wrong turns in life lead us to what’s next, and that risk taking and communication are underrated. “Both typically have a high ROI,” she says.
How does someone in sustainability develop leadership skills? “Know yourself so you don’t become boxed,” she says. “Personality tests such as DISC, Myers Briggs, Strength Finders, etc. help women understand how they best learn, work, and communicate.” Henderson says her mother made sacrifices to ensure her daughter’s future, along with a belief that all things were possible.
Not that she’s afraid to ask for help from time to time. “Each time I transitioned in my career – from corporate design to product manufacturer, when starting a company and most recently when I wanted to increase speaking and educating – I reached out to a business coach who provided me with the guidance and support I needed to succeed.” Beyond the coaching she receives, she also loves helping others learn about sustainability – including as a consultant to manufacturers such as Gerflor USA.
Principal, Studio Leader: Housing and Education, National Sustainable Practice Leader
Harley Ellis Devereaux (HED)
Susan King is a bit of an outlier where it comes to the “women are better at collaboration” meme. “Unfortunately, I think women still have to spend so much time and energy proving themselves that there is often a hesitation to ask for help for fear of appearing weak,” she says. “Women are excellent collaborators, but that is different from seeking help.”
And she should know. She has stuck it out in a big architecture firm where she made notable achievements, including being named the “doyenne of alternative housing” by Chicago Architect magazine. Being an outlier is part of what has made her successful. But she’s no lone wolf. Far from it, in fact.
“In my opinion, architecture and collaboration are inseparable,” she says. “Any famous architect, though rightfully celebrated for their unequivocal brilliance and originality, would be nowhere without those who inspired them; those who taught and continue to teach them; those who provide insight; and those who dispute, contradict, and question. Architecture, frankly, would be nothing without engineering, nothing without context consideration, nothing without planning and of course, nothing without clients. These are indeed the statutes of integrated practice – the staunch belief that the built environment is made possible by a community of thinkers, dreamers, and doers.”
A striking example of where they thought, they dreamt and they did was Wentworth Commons, a Chicago south side affordable housing development that was the first multi-unit building in the Midwest to receive a LEED certification (in 2007). It won a national AIA Show Your Green award, is included in the Design Advisor’s Gallery of High Quality Affordable Housing, and has influenced subsequent affordable housing funding policies in Illinois to favor sustainability.
King says that mentorship “is a concept that no field could do without, let alone the field of the built environment.” And she believes that mentorship of talent, regardless of gender, is what matters most.
The path she took was not exactly laid out for her. She relates how she was initially channeled to study interior design in college, but boldly transferred into the male-dominated architecture school and established her career in a national firm. She applauds female architects who instead start their own firms, but recognizes that is only part of the solution. It is equally important for women to stay and rise to leadership positions in the large firms, if the end goal is for the profession as a whole to become more diverse.
She decries the choices women and men have to make between family and career, particularly 7 to 10 years out of college when architects typically achieve licensure. “Within my firm I pay special attention to these individuals,” she says.
King is past president of Chicago Women in Architecture, a former board member of Womancraft, Inc., an economic empowerment organization, and a Fellow of the AIA.
Chief Sustainability Strategist
“Don’t wait for 100% buy-in. Not everyone is going to buy-in to your work plan and that’s ok. If you have an advocate and support from the very top, you’re in a good position to make change.”
That’s what Nicole Isle shared with us on the topic of sustainability leadership. It’s clearly something she’s learned when ascending to her role with Glumac, an energy and MEP consulting engineering and commissioning firm that makes “green buildings that work” (its trademarked phrase). Isle has led or reviewed more than 100 projects involving reduced energy, carbon emissions, water use, and improved air quality, many involving LEED certifications and some aspiring to be Living Building Challenge structures. The firm’s Shanghai office, with LEED v4 CI Platinum certification and targeting a Living Building Certification, is described as “the greenest building in Asia.”
Other advice she gives on where leadership and sustainability intersect has to do with how you treat people – and how you dream.
“Bring out the best in people,” she says. “Discover the sustainability interests of others and then put them to work. Meeting people where they are at in regards to their sustainability thinking is a perfectly good starting place to accomplishing great things together.”
And don’t be afraid if subordinates’ and peers’ thoughts are ambitious or even audacious. “Go big!,” she urges us. “Big shifts happen when senior leadership is passionate about your ideas.”
She’s also a recognized advocate for biophilia and biomimicry. “My academic and professional biological experience has convinced me that an awareness of natural systems, ecological site conditions, and the ability to recognize native plants and animals are not only key to connecting people with nature, but forms our understanding of sustainability.” Isle says this is key to creating a sense of environmental stewardship among young people, with project teams, and with clients.
Which is why she volunteers her time speaking with a range of people and organizations – from the Girl Scouts to university students to professionals – about the sustainability features of Glumac. She’s a member of an informal group of about 15 women who are sustainability leaders in the Portland, Oregon area and call themselves the Green Girls. They share happy hours and homemade gifts, discuss emerging topics, and lend career-building tips.
It’s not about some kind of gender war for Isle. “My approach has been to forget that there is gender inequality. I believe that if women act under a vision of equality, we will carry a more positive, cooperative, and steadfast attitude when facing the reality.”
Founder & CEO
Sustainable Performance Institute (SPI)
Barbra Batshalom is an architect by training and green building consultant and educator by profession in the organization, SPI, she started in 1998.
“Being the founder of an organization was the furthest from my mind,” she says. “I thought I was ‘just’ an architect – with a clear career path, working my way up the ladder within design firms. More and more I saw things that profoundly disturbed me about the projects I was working on. Structural and mechanical systems that were overly redundant and over-sized – unnecessarily costing the owner significantly more to build (never mind operate) – as well as negative impacts to public and environmental health due to irresponsible specification of products. And a long list of other things.”
“I felt like ‘the emperor wasn’t wearing any clothes’ and everyone was just acting as if he were,” she says. “But at the same time, I understood how deeply entrenched and systematized these behaviors were and that it would not be easy to change. I made many attempts at influencing outcomes on my own, on projects and within my firm. But the real change started to happen when I reached out to like-minded peers.”
Those peers include a lot of talented people in Boston, where Batshalom’s SPI is based. Michael R. Davis, FAIA, LEED and president of Bergmeyer Associates, Inc., also in Boston, says, “In a region full of talented, committed design professionals, Barbra Batshalom has done more to advance sustainable design thinking than anyone I know.”
She relates to peers and to protégés with inner resolve and outer presentation.
“Nurture your vision,” she advises. “Where do you want to end up, in a big sense or a shorter term sense? Keep reminding and calibrating yourself to that because it’s so easy to get pulled off course. This is similar to how a leader needs to keep reiterating the vision to a particular audience; you also need to do that within yourself.
“Equally important is that external face. You need to make sure that your efforts to communicate with others – staff, the public, et al. – are aligned with your inner voice and that you are being effective in your efforts to engage (i.e., communicate, negotiate, collaborate).”
There was no blueprint to follow when she left her last firm to create this new entity, which almost two decades later is an unqualified success. “I think my bravest moment was actually that step,” she says.
Chief Sustainability and Economic Development Officer
Los Angeles Department of Water and Power
You’d expect someone with Nancy Sutley’s resume – which includes working in the Obama administration and developing its Climate Action Plan, degrees from Cornell and Harvard, and now oversight of sustainability at the largest municipal utility in the nation, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power – she could walk into any room brimming with confidence. Yet she acknowledges that even for her a little emotional bravery must be summoned.
“Though testifying before Congress – whether for my CEQ [White House Council on Environmental Quality, which she chaired from 2009 through 2014] confirmation hearing or to advocate for Administration policies – took a considerable amount of courage, I feel that my daily work is also takes consistent bravery,” says Sutley.
Perceptions of short-term economic conditions can be at odds with the longer arc of environmental stewardship. “At the Federal level and at the local level, as well as in both the private sector and the public sector, ‘fast’ and ‘cheap‘ are highly desired, regardless of the project. Protecting the taxpayer’s dollar or your investors’ dollars, the more expensive or time consuming path is not often sought out. However, going cleaner and greener, is rarely the faster or cheaper option – at least in the short term.”
Wherein lies the challenge for any person hoping to lead in sustainability. She doesn’t pretend all the challenges will be tackled in the span of her career.
“Sustainability and protecting the planet is all about the future and the viability of future generations,” she says. “Ensuring this place is still vibrant, beautiful, and life-sustaining is only half of the battle. If we do not pass these values and this work on to those coming up behind us, as was done for me, the circle ends. Whether it be school-aged students I get to visit with, interns at my place of work, or staff and co-workers, I view passing along the knowledge, history, and passion as an essential part of my work.”
“I think part of mentorship is allowing people to be experimental and make mistakes, learn their lessons and grow from them,” she continues. “Learn when to be bold and when to follow. Choose your battles and don’t be afraid to ask questions or challenge conventional wisdom.”
Right now her task with the LADWP is giving her plenty of opportunity to lead in the present. Instead of bringing in water from far away they are looking to local sources such as storm runoff and groundwater. Climate change is real in Southern California, and Nancy Sutley leads the charge to keep water and power flowing to 3.8 million people.
President and CEO
Earth Friendly Products (ECOS brand)
Kelly Vlahakis-Hanks’ approach to sustainability at this green manufacturing company starts with compensating employees with living wages. The lowest pay level is $17, and Earth Friendly Products employees also receive generous benefits that are consistent with the company’s family-focused vision: paid healthcare, maternity and paternity leave, and disability benefits, plus significant financial incentives to employees who make sustainable living choices (e.g., green vehicles and solar panels on their homes).
“Compensating our employees well is not just in our company’s DNA—it drives innovation and profitability, and it’s part of our commitment to sustainable business practices,” she says.
So how does that work? She says that in 2010 the company went on a mission to achieve Zero Waste at each of its four (U.S.-based) manufacturing facilities. “The process began with accurately measuring our waste rates. We focused on educating our employees to not only ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ but to completely rethink their approach to procurement and production. We began changing everyday habits and integrating waste reduction into our corporate culture. We also implemented changes throughout our supply chain, working closely with our suppliers to avoid waste from the start.”
It worked. The company was awarded the prestigious Zero Waste Platinum certification from the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council at all its facilities. It has also achieved carbon neutrality and water neutrality, creating a sustainability “trifecta” that makes it unique in the manufacturing industry.
Green building design is also a key part of the company’s sustainability goals. “I’ve learned that providing a healthy work environment is absolutely essential to bringing out the best in my team. A toxin-free workplace—with fresh air, natural light and low-VOC facilities—has an enormous effect on productivity and morale, and it directly reduces sick time.”
Vlahakis-Hanks ascended to her position as president and CEO of the family-owned company upon the 2014 death of her father, Dr. Van Vlahakis, who founded it in 1967 and launched the ECOS brand in 1989. Half of the company’s C-suite today is female, and she feels that mentorship is an important responsibility on her shoulders. She credits her VP of sustainability and education, Dr. Nadereh Afsharmanesh, and the company’s head of architecture and design, Evie Giovannopoulou, as female colleagues who inspire her.
But she also takes mentorship outside the workplace, looking to the next generation of sustainability leaders. She works closely with the Girl Scouts of America by hosting events and bringing in female leaders to inspire the young women. Which sounds pretty amazing, given the people Vlahakis-Hanks knows and works with.
Regional Managing Principal (North America)
Women engaged in sustainable design and environmental advocacy who honor their female forebears typically think back to the 19th and 20th centuries to identify people like Rachel Carson, Mei Ng, Vandana Shiva, Lady Bird Johnson, even perhaps Jane Addams. Lisa Bate thinks woman-led design has more ancient roots.
“Queen Hatshepsut is a great example of this,” says Bate. “She is known as one of the first architects who oversaw ambitious projects including the Temple of Deir el-Bahari in western Thebes after the death of her pharaoh husband.” That was in the 15th century BC.
Bate says she gets to build ambitiously, sometimes on the scale of the Egyptians, because she got involved in building industry committees and boards, she accepted speaking engagements, and she volunteered on competition juries.
But female role models were hard to come by. “As a sole proprietor female architect in the early 90’s, my mentors were men,” she says. “I only knew of one other female owner and very few shareholders in the firms where I interned and worked. I knew how important it would be to promote gender equality in this industry and was honored to be given the opportunity to mentor other women in the design community.”
She ran her own shop for 16 years, then joined up with B+H, a global firm that eventually stationed her in Shanghai as the firm’s managing principal and EVP-Asia.
Collaboration and social skills helped her through these transitions. “They absolutely are two qualities that I find essential to navigating various aspects of my life successfully,” she says. “Architecture is the most social form of the arts and collaboration is important in everything we do. Listening and providing insightful expertise is imperative to designing and creating environments where people work, study, live, heal, and play.”
The Shanghai gig taught her many things, including the need to ensure air quality inside and out of buildings is healthful. Shanghai is heavily polluted, she says, but “in North America we still have sick building syndrome. I wanted to optimize the wellbeing of occupants by bringing a constant monitoring system globally whereby we could track and act to modify air quality inside office buildings. It’s also very important to me to consider the overall environment of the space, noise, sightlines, and lighting levels to ensure it supports the comfort of occupants. By taking this holistic approach it results in more productive and healthier people.”
Queen Hatshepsut probably didn’t have to contend with air quality questions. The point is that people like Lisa Bate do – and face it down by leading collaborative, creative teams.
Carolyn Aguilar Dubose
Director, Department of Architecture
Iberoamericana University (Mexico City, Mexico)
Her colleagues cite her for decades of work in sustainable architecture. And it isn’t surprising that Carolyn Aguilar Dubose directed her energies to academia about a decade ago because she sees the path to a more sustainable world coming through education.
“I believe that any environmental problem or sustainability goal can be successfully addressed through education,” says Aguilar. “I am a teacher. I have encountered difficult students who think they know best, or are prejudiced against new views and ideas, or people who are different from them. I have also encountered fresh minds, willing to take the challenge of learning. Both are important to the task ahead. Both have the potential to change the status quo and build a more socially just, economically equitable, and environmentally healthy world.
That mix of the doubters and the enthused are what she and many other sustainability advocates encounter on a daily basis. What Aguilar encourages is for like-minded colleagues to approach this with courage, patience, persistence, forgiveness, and humility.
“One must confront difficult odds with strength and assertiveness,” she says of courage. “Patience [is when] change does not come in the short run (it very rarely does).” Persistence, she says, is necessary because “the road is long and arduous.” Forgiveness is needed – perhaps for those upstart students who resist new ideas – “for in our urgency we might seem unfeeling and callous.” This requires humility: “although we have been enlightened, we must not be condescending.”
Aguilar studied architecture in her native Mexico (Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico) and urban design in the UK (Oxford Brookes University). Since 2004 she continued her education in biomimicry and sustainability topics and will receive a Ph.D. at the end of 2016 with a thesis on urban parks that “bring together nature and democracy” to enhance city environments and community life. Prior to her academic career, she ran a consulting and contracting firm that guided the construction of 500 low-income housing units following the 1985 Mexico City earthquake.
The word she most associates with leadership is empathy. She elaborates on what that means to her: “Really understanding other human beings, searching for what interests and inspires them most – honing their skills and allowing them to grow to their maximum potential, honoring their strengths as well as their shortcomings – in the search for their true vocation, talent, and happiness.
Associate Director for Quality and Chief Sustainability Officer
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
When she was a new mother, Liz York was determined to breastfeed her son and later her twin daughters, according to recommendations of the American Medical Association. But she was also working full time in an office that provided no dedicated lactation room. “I made a promise to myself that after I successfully navigated the early years of motherhood I would become an advocate for new mothers everywhere and help establish a friendly work environment for lactation,” she recalls.
She made good on that promise. Five years later she developed an AIA Best Practice guide for the design of lactation rooms, in addition to collaborating with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC, her employer) on guidelines for lactation rooms in that agency.
But that probably wasn’t her toughest battle. The graduate (BA and MArch) of the Georgia Institute of Technology College of Architecture had worked for the CDC since 1999 and took the initiative – after becoming the chief sustainability officer – to reduce the agency’s water use. The 100 laboratories in its Atlanta headquarters are by nature water-intensive, and the facility leadership resisted her efforts to so much as monitor use. They said current operations couldn’t be changed.
“I persisted for two years, finding small ways to measure and fund metering improvements until finally we had the data to help support further investigation,” she says. “With better data, I was able to influence leadership to fund a larger investigative project and additional improvements. The project team identified new operational protocols and equipment that helped us save money on our water bills. When it was all said and done, we saved over $2.4 million in utility costs in the first two years of operating with the new procedures and improvements.
It makes sense that the CDC, which employs 14,000 full time, part time and contract workers in ten cities, would have a sustainability program. The federal government calls for such initiatives in all agencies. As York sees it, human health and sustainability are closely intertwined.
“Good design can have a positive effect on occupant and community health,” she says.
Taking that a giant leap further, York spearheaded a pilot process for a healthy workplace certification program that she describes as “one of the greatest and most fulfilling challenges of my career.” Called Fitwel, it’s a wellness-centered certification program that measures improvements such as inviting stairwells, healthier foods, and bike-friendly facilities against the workplaces’ baseline. It was profiled in Fast Company magazine as something that might one day be available to any workplace.
Her advice: “Sometimes sustainability initiatives need to evolve through a series of imperfect interim situations. It takes leadership to keep an eye on the ultimate goal.”
Vice President, Living Building Challenge
International Living Future Institute
Almost everyone actively engaged in sustainable building knows about the International Living Future Institute and Kathleen Smith’s key responsibility, the Living Building Challenge (LBC). The Institute’s is headquartered in Seattle at the Bullitt Center, the world’s first Class-A commercial office that achieved full Living Building Challenge certification and is often described as “the greenest building in the world.”
Kathleen sums up leadership in one word: responsibility. “Responsibility for doing the work and for staying present, for holding the vision, for being courageous and persistent, for accepting failure and learning from it, for bringing out the best in others in their work and themselves. At a very deep level, it is about responsibility for finding one’s truth and acting upon it, for doing what one believes is right. It is about taking responsibility for the role that our choices, our lifestyle, our privilege, our society have on others and on the planet – for owning that responsibility and for taking on the responsibility to do something about it,” she says.
“I have had many conversations with my kids about the true meaning of bravery and courage,” she says. “People often think it means not being afraid, but really it means the ability to act in accordance with one’s belief in the face of danger and despite one’s fear or pain.”
That’s leadership. So is optimism. She thinks the U.S. is fully capable of becoming a solar-powered nation with a “successful, fossil fuel free economy.” The way to get there, she believes, is not through a fight but when leaders bring people and resources together in collaboration toward a common purpose.
“In a world facing serious and complex social and environmental issues…leaders need to be versed in at least two languages, the scientific and the imaginative,” she says. She adds that symbiosis found in nature applies to organizations as well: “Leaders must rely on others. We need partners, allies, and confidants.”
Where are female leaders? “The statistics about the lack of women in leadership positions are sobering,” she says. “However, this does not mean that there is a lack of women leaders. Women leaders are everywhere and at every level in organizations.”
How do women lead well? “Women tend to think holistically and relationally. We tend to be good communicators. We can integrate diverse views. We tend to have innately high levels of empathy.”
Director of the Wastewater Enterprise Capital Improvement Program
City and County of San Francisco’s Public Utilities Commission
Karen Kubick is an all-too-rare female mechanical engineer. Yet she’s kicking it in San Francisco where she has, for a quarter century and counting, proven to be a leader in program and project management with wastewater, power, and water utilities.
And as one might expect, she uses the lingo of engineering but manages to transcend the terms of transmission and potable water supply lines to something broader and more sustainable. Leaders, she says, should inspire us “to go beyond the typical project management triangle of time, scope, and cost to areas that will affect lasting change. Our industry is moving from ‘collect and dispose’ to ‘recover and reuse.’”
“Good ideas can come from unexpected sources,” she advises. And that, she says, includes Sophie Maxwell.
Sophie was an electrician who worked her way up to being a San Francisco District Supervisor, an elected position that Maxwell held for 11 years. Kubick worked with her on several capital programs (the Local Water Capital Program, the Power Capital Program and the Sewer Capital Program). “I was inspired not only by her dedication, but also her kindness and interest in learning about what we do,” she says. “She impressed me with her ability to maintain respect for people while standing by my convictions and how to do it all with grace. She is a big picture thinker who respects people at all levels and is one of the most impressive woman I have met in my career in city government.”
Kubick leads a team of people who have big responsibilities in a sparkling region that nonetheless faces issues such as rapid growth, drought, seismic threats, and the occasional wildfire. To build collaborative staff relationships, she uses events that include green infrastructure bike tours, pub crawls, and a summer solstice gathering. “Having personal relationships and interacting with each other outside of the office helps us to build trust and inspires team work because of recognized commonalities – and makes for a more pleasant work environment.”
She also believes the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is a useful way to understand people, their personalities and motivations, and her own emotional intelligence and ability lead and interact.
The way her agency is set up seems to make her the very right person for the job: “I am focused on efficient energy production and utilization, stormwater management, and climate change. We cannot isolate these from each other – they should be included and considered as we plan, design, and build our infrastructure.“
Barbara Deutsch, FASLA
Landscape Architecture Foundation
“Don’t waste a good recession,” says Barbara Deutsch. When she was hired in mid-2009 to her position by LAF, it was an organization with a staff of two. Under Deutsch’s leadership, staff has tripled and the organization has seen a commensurate increase in budget and programming that is transforming practice and education.
Growing an organization is clearly something that requires leadership. Deutsch describes the link between leadership and sustainability with the word “movement,” which she says is about getting many other people to join in on something transformational.
“You need a vision and a plan to be able to operationalize it,” she says. “Show it, and allow others to build and own it.” That involved a deeper engagement with the organization’s board of directors, transitioning the board from a purely fiduciary to a fundraising model, engaging outside expertise, restructuring the organization, and getting serious about raising the capital necessary to fund the desired growth.
Growth includes LAF’s Landscape Performance Series initiatives, namely the Landscapeperformance.org portal, which provides resources for designers, agencies, and advocates to evaluate performance, to show value, and to make the case for sustainable landscape solutions. An industry leader involved in hiring her (Lucinda Reed Sanders at OLIN, a landscape architecture and urban design firm in Philadelphia) says, “She had a vision to measure the value of landscape solutions. She not only spoke of sustainability, she had already mapped out a plan.”
This is a woman who goes full force into whatever she commits to. After ten years of award-winning marketing experience at IBM, Deutsch made a midcareer change to become a landscape architect. “I loved sales and marketing but wanted to promote the environmental issues important to me. I remember very clearly the leap of faith for which I am forever grateful to have taken as it has given me confidence and enriched my life in ways I never imagined or thought possible.”
”Nothing is wasted,” she says. The business experience gained at IBM has informed and influenced her work as a landscape architect and role as a non-profit leader. In addition to it directly influencing the Landscape Performance Series, Deutsch led projects that inspired tree advocacy and a green roof movement including a street tree inventory in Washington, DC and serving as principal investigator for award-winning EPA grant-funded research, “The Green Building-out Model: Quantifying the Stormwater Management Benefits of Trees and Green Roofs in Washington, DC.”
“Women need to support each other” I think it is getting better with the younger generations as more women rise within the workplace,” she says. “But women are still learning how to deal with other women in positions of power and authority. Women are not always their own best allies and that needs to change now. We can support and learn from each other. Don’t be threatened by each other, there is plenty of opportunity for all.”
The woman who inspires Deutsch is Sara Nichols, whose involvement as an attorney in women’s and environmental issues stretches back to the 1960s. “She awoke my environmental awareness and political consciousness,” she says. “She taught me that women are good leaders and that the world needs them.”
Mary Tod Winchester
Vice President Administration/Operations
Chesapeake Bay Foundation
Mary Tod Winchester led the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) in 1997 to build what became a 32,000-square-foot LEED Platinum building. The chair of the building task force committee resigned in protest, while other voices said, “We don’t know enough about this to be investing in a new fad.”
“I thought I might be losing my job,” says Winchester. “But the other board members came to the conclusion this is exactly what we should be doing.”
That’s leadership. She ran up against arguments familiar to many non-profits, that resources need to go into programming, not bricks and mortar. But she was able to link their proposed building, the Philip Merrill Environmental Center, to the mission of the organization. Completed in 2001 it has 48 geothermal wells for heating and cooling, natural ventilation, structural insulated panels, natural daylight due to an open office layout design, rainwater cisterns that reduce water consumption by 90 percent, composting toilets and urinals that produce topsoil used on the premises, onsite habitat for wildlife, and a bioretention stormwater treatment system that filters water before it enters the Chesapeake Bay.
“I can’t tell you how many times we were told we were crazy,” she says.
It took a certain toughness to see that through, a characteristic needed for an organization that is up against the six states in the Chesapeake’s 64,000-square-mile watershed. With industry and 17 million people contributing toxic elements to this abused and fragile ecosystem, Winchester has to be tough.
“I grew up in a small village with a lot more boys than girls,” says the experienced sailboat racer who once competed on coed teams. “I learned how guys thought, competed, and communicated. I also learned the value of being part of a team and working together to get to a goal. So I used those skills throughout my life and career.”
“Mentoring makes all of us stronger,” she says. “To see a young person starting out not quite understanding the ropes of the working world, to give them hints of how to attack putting a project together, how to build a team and then watch as their first success builds confidence, which then leads to a new position and more successes, is so gratifying.”
Which bodes well for the future of sustainability. Today’s protégés of Mary Tod Winchester will know a thing or two about fighting hard, against the current, for bold ideas.