heider_043I was brought up by a mother who was an Earth Science teacher. She was the sponsor for the first Earth Day at her school in Cincinnati, Ohio. I grew up with it; I couldn’t avoid it. So it’s part of my worldview that we need to live in a way that is respectful of the environment.

I came to sustainability through this lens of the business opportunity of green buildings. It was through this perspective of asking how we could serve both society and the environment in a socially and economically responsible way.

The next generation of sustainability leaders has grown up as sustainability natives. A lot of my generation was looking to realize our ambitions in the business world. Sustainability wasn’t a big part of the lexicon until [Vice President Al] Gore came out with An Inconvenient Truth and sort of whacked society upside the head.

The new generation of millenials has had more education. They’re more connected, and I think that will be transformative in a huge number of ways.

Leadership is critical. The new version of LEED encourages the disclosure of unhealthy chemicals in building materials. In retaliation, the American Chemical Council joined forces with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to lobby for a rider to a very popular energy bill that would preclude the use of LEED on any federal project. Mike McNally, our CEO, said, “We will not be on the wrong side of history.” He withdrew Skanska from the Chamber in a very public way. We need leadership like that.

It required tremendous personal courage and corporate bravery to take a principled stand for healthier buildings, and Mike’s leadership made a difference: the USGBC just announced an initiative to work together with the ACC.

I have both a national and global role. I’m involved in setting the policy and creating the framework for Skanska’s sustainability initiatives in the US. I do a lot of public speaking, exploring ideas, and doing research that will help advance the industry.

I have a small garden where I start things from seed. If you pay attention to seeds and don’t spray pesticides in your garden, you attract all kinds of butterflies and bees. You create an environment for them, and then they pollinate your flowers, and you get this incredible Garden of Eden. Having that affinity for nature is part of the heartbeat that guides the decisions that I make.

Read up on the rest of our 10 Most Powerful Women in Sustainability here.