Meet the winners of the fourth annual Women in Sustainability Leadership Awards
Choosing healthy building materials, adopting electric vehicles, changing city policy for more compact construction, and building greener all over the world—these 10 inspiring women do all of this and more. And they don’t just do it from 9 to 5. These leaders are changing the world at all hours, in all parts of the globe, and they’re often doing so in the face of serious obstacles. They’ve overcome stereotypes, risen to the top, found positive mentors, and gone on to share what they’ve learned by counseling others.
The winners of gb&d’s fourth annual Women in Sustainability Leadership Awards are stellar examples of what it takes to truly lead. These women didn’t always have the answers, but they worked hard to find them, never afraid to ask tough questions to hopefully make the world a better place. “My older brother once observed that my path to growth has seemed to involve my taking on a challenge that I had no idea how to tackle, and then working my way through it,” says Susan Rochford, one of this year’s winners and the vice president of sustainability, energy efficiency and public policy at Legrand North America. “He calls it ‘throwing yourself over the edge.’ There are studies that indicate women will refrain from doing something until they believe themselves to be truly expert. For me, like many women, a major obstacle to overcome has been fear of failure. But I have found that if I stay focused on a mission that is meaningful to me, I find the courage to take the risks that can lead to great reward. I also have come to accept that there is much to learn when things do not go as planned.”
Dr. Duygu Erten
Principal, TURKECO Consulting
Green building is global. Dr. Duygu Erten, founding vice president and later president of the Turkish Green Building Council, initiated the first LEED trainings in her home region—training more than 2,500 professionals in Turkey, Bahrain, Russia, and Georgia. “I started my own firm in 2009. I was back from the U.S. after 17 years, and Turkey was almost foreign to me, though I was born here,” she says. “The business culture was very unusual. Being a woman was definitely working against me in sustainability consulting.”
Even as people suggested she “find a man business partner to deal with the market,” she persisted. She began hiring women and training them to be LEED and BREEAM APs. She maintained an international seat on USGBC’s Board of Directors, representing a critical global voice to advance green building practices worldwide. She’s trained students in six universities in Turkey, and the university construction club she cofounded in 1988 went on to become an umbrella organization for many universities.
Global Executive Director, GE Ecomagination
From making it easier to adopt electric vehicles to helping one of the biggest companies reduce its carbon emissions worldwide, Deb Frodl is at the forefront of good business. For nearly 30 years with GE, she’s taken on roles like chief strategy officer for GE Capital Fleet Services, global alternative fuels leader, and her current role leading GE Ecomagination, working to accelerate innovation and growth through clean technology solutions. As CSO for GE Capital Fleet Services, she created the Vehicle Innovation Center so customers could experience electric vehicles to accelerate their adoption in the market.
Frodl also led the development of seven industry partnerships with companies like Intel, Walmart, and MWH Global. “In our partnership with oil company Total, we are developing a solar-gas hybrid solution and a new energy-as-a-service business model for the developing world,” she says. “The goal is to support the change to clean and more cost-effective energy.”
Mentorship has always meant a lot to Frodl. “While not always in my explicit job description, I have always brought sustainability, change, and giving back to support other women into my work,” she says. She’s been involved in the GE Women’s Network since its inception in 1997, being given a new senior executive mentor every two years early in her career. “This helped with exposure to different role models and leadership styles.”
She mentors six women each year through the company’s Commercial Women’s Leadership Council of the Women’s Network and was named the Executive Champion for the Minneapolis Hub in 2010. She also serves as an ambassador to the U.S. Department of Energy Clean Energy, Education and Empowerment (C3E)’s women program, and as a board member of Women in Sustainability, Environment and Renewable Energy (WiSER).
Managing Principal, Sustainable Design Consulting
Sandra Leibowitz has been living and breathing sustainable design and construction for 25 years. She founded Sustainable Design Consulting (SDC) in 2002 to fill a void in the mid-Atlantic region. Motivated to advise others in the architecture community, she grew her company into a major regional entity that has worked on 500-plus green building projects—more than half of them LEED. SDC recently obtained certification from JUST, the International Living Future Institute’s social justice transparency platform. “When establishing SDC’s standards, I remembered my experiences—good and bad—as a female employee,” she says. “Since becoming a female employer, I have placed a high priority on fairness in the employment relationship.”
Earlier in her career, Leibowitz practiced stoic self-reliance, but after realizing the limitations of this approach, she started to turn to women as peers. “At the 2015 Greenbuild Women in Green Power Breakfast in D.C., I was struck when the discussions turned toward the shared experience that women of my age group and older did not have female mentors in their careers.” Building relationships with other women has allowed her to learn from their shared experiences.
Leibowitz herself leads—and mentors—by example, including both female and male SDC staff members as well as emerging leaders of not-for-profit organizations where she served on boards of directors. Most recently, she mentored women via the steering committee for Richmond Women in Design.
President & Founder, Luthin Associates, Inc.
Catherine Luthin has continually focused on improving energy efficiency during her 30-plus years of financial and energy management experience. Since 1992, she has been actively involved in regulatory proceedings at the FERC, NYISO, and the New York Public Service Commission. She also held a position on Mayor Bloomberg’s Energy Policy Task Force, where she focused on long-term planning and energy sustainability for New York City. Currently, she participates on Mayor de Blasio’s 80 by 50 taskforce in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050.
Founding an energy management company in 1994 was no easy feat. Luthin invested her own money to build Luthin Associates from the ground up at a time when sustainability was a new sector in the industry. Her company helps clients develop and implement energy-related initiatives like competitive energy purchasing, energy conservation projects, and bill auditing services.
She’s an inspiration for many others in the field, too. “My position as a female entrepreneur has taught me the importance of sharing my knowledge with others,” Luthin says. To ensure other women have ample opportunities, she commits much of her free time to mentoring and actively supporting women in the energy industry. “I feel it is important to offer the same mentorship opportunities I was fortunate enough to have to other women in this industry to help build a sense of community.”
Principal Director of Sustainability, FXFOWLE Architects
Ilana Judah strives to create a sustainable built environment through advocacy, education, and research. At FXFOWLE Architects, she fosters a sustainable agenda, ensuring more than 80% of staff are LEED accredited. “My proudest moments are when staff members push the sustainability envelope on their own and advocate what is right to our clients,” Judah says. “Planting the seeds of sustainability in others is the key to long-term change.”
Early in her career, Judah worked for many tenacious women. Anik Shooner—who is highly influential in Montreal’s architecture community—put Judah in charge of a major hospital expansion. “When she told me I was going to run the project, naturally I said, ‘I can’t do this. I don’t have the experience. I’m not ready.’ Anik said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll be behind you.’ I was frightened, but she was right; I was ready and I took on the challenge. Anik was a highly empowering mentor.”
Judah strongly believes in nurturing female leaders in a staunchly male-dominated field. At FXFOWLE, she leads Team Green—a group of designers, each with expertise or interest in a specific area. “Team Green has been a great vehicle for young women at FXFOWLE who tend not to speak up. I encourage designers to research a specific issue and then share their work, helping them develop a voice at FXFOWLE.”
VP of Sustainability, Energy Efficiency and Public Policy, Legrand North America
When Susan Rochford joined Legrand North America in 2010, the term sustainability was neither used nor understood. “Legrand made reference to ‘going green,’ but these efforts were narrowly focused on implementing the ISO 14001 management systems at a small number of manufacturing facilities.” One of her colleagues may have said it best—Rochford’s mission to integrate sustainability into business at Legrand was a start-up operation. “I had to simultaneously educate, initiate, and demonstrate positive impact to gain the support of the leadership teams across the company, while also convincing my fellow associates that our commitment to sustainability was genuine and something of which they could be proud.” Three months into her newly created position, she convinced the CEO to make a public commitment to the Secretary of Energy that Legrand would reduce its energy intensity by 25% in 10 years. “In January 2011, Legrand became a Challenge Partner to the US DOE Better Buildings, Better Plant program. By December 2012, we exceeded the goal, achieving a 28% reduction in energy intensity. One year later, after furthering the intensity reduction, we reset our baseline and recommitted to another 25% reduction by 2022.”
Lynn N. Simon
Senior Vice President, Thornton Tomasetti
For more than 25 years, Lynn N. Simon has been a role model in sustainability. She was a pioneer in USGBC—she was the first salaried employee, helping to shape the organization and LEED. She was and is still today often the only woman in the room in the male-dominated industries of architecture, engineering, and construction.
Simon started her own green building consulting firm, Simon & Associates, in 1994. In 2013, global engineering firm Thornton Tomasetti acquired her company, providing an even larger audience. She’s also a certified integral coach with New Ventures West.
As a LEED and AIA fellow, she’s consulted on countless LEED projects, including some of the earliest to achieve certification, like the Energy Foundation Headquarters, the first LEED CI Platinum in the U.S.
Simon also helped form Women Empowered for the architectural, construction, and engineering industries in the Bay area. The organization connects women of all backgrounds, offering an informal place to network and share experiences. She is also co-chair of Women at Thornton Tomasetti in San Francisco, leading bimonthly meetings about issues like unconscious bias and work-life balance.
President & CEO, Banyan Water
Gillan Taddune is a trailblazer in the renewable energy sector and is currently focused on combating water scarcity—one of the world’s biggest concerns. “Technology solutions are the most effective way to combat inefficiencies, waste, and resource exhaustion. I have dedicated my life and career to these complex technological systems in order to maintain and protect our planet.”
As chief economist of the Texas Public Utility Commission, she was tasked with creating a renewable portfolio standard (RPS). Despite heavy opposition from the oil and gas sector, Taddune implemented rules designing the RPS that resulted in more than 9,000 megawatts of new wind energy. Texas is now the sixth-largest producer of wind power in the world—many countries and states look to the state as a model.
“It has taken more than 20 years for renewable energy to become mainstream and widely adopted by businesses across the globe,” Taddune says. “At Banyan, we work tirelessly to bring technology solutions across a variety of environmental sectors and convince companies to move in a more sustainable direction.”
She’s also determined to provide opportunities to female leaders on her team. “Women are extremely intuitive, a characteristic that is vital in the workplace and leads to a diversification of business ideas, opinions and, consequently, decisions and actions.” She encourages healthy debate among her female and male employees to help reach well-informed decisions.
Architect, General Contractor, Virge Temme Architecture
Virge Temme has been on the job site since she was a girl. “My father was a general contractor. From the time I was out of diapers he took me to job sites and meetings with him, so building construction has always been in my blood.”
Temme now devotes her time to LEED-certified projects in Wisconsin while being active in USGBC and the steering committee for the Climate Change Coalition of Door County. In 2015 she set out to design a home that was both nearly net-zero and affordable on the average Wisconsin income of $52,000. “I worked with contractors to achieve a balance among energy reduction, materials’ impact on the environment, and cost. Based on that input I created a house I call S.A.G.E (Small, Affordable, Green, and Expandable), roughly 1,100 square feet, near net-zero energy, affordable for the average Wisconsin household income, and pre-designed for expandability to adapt to changing life needs.” The first S.A.G.E. house required variances from the city to allow for things like a smaller lot. Temme had to make her case to the City Planning Commission about the advantages of creating smaller, low-energy homes to reduce environmental impact and utility costs. Now the LEED for Home–registered house is a teaching tool to educate the community about water conservation, site planning, and advanced framing. The City of Sturgeon Bay has since revised zoning codes to allow for smaller homes, green roofs, and more compact development.
Executive Director, HPD Collaborative
It’s hard to imagine now a time before Health Product Declarations. But just six years ago, Wendy Vittori helped lead the effort to create the voluntary industry standard for reporting just exactly what is in your building products. The result—the Health Product Declaration® (HPD) Open Standard—recently celebrated five years since its initial approval. “Our goal was—and is—to provide a means for building professionals and, ultimately retail consumers, to make an informed choice in selecting and specifying building products, considering the material health attributes of those products.”
Before the HPD, there was no accepted standard for reporting this information. Often, the information wasn’t available or, when it was, it wasn’t consistently reported. “Today, there are more than 3,000 published HPDs—growing weekly—that have been completed by manufacturers, publicly and freely available to anyone in the HPD Public Repository.”