The fourth session of BEEx WISE: Women in Sustainability and Energy, The Big Tent, showcased Dana Bourland, Vice President of the Environment Program at The JPB Foundation, Bomee Jung, Senior Director & New York Deputy Director at Enterprise Community Partners Inc., and Kit Kennedy, Director of the Energy and Transportation Programs at NRDC. Ariella Maron, Principal at Buro Happold Engineering, moderated the conversation, asking the panelists audience questions about affordable and sustainable housing.

The session began with each panelist sharing how she became involved in the field. The stories ranged from Kennedy’s taking what she thought would be just a short-term job after maternity leave to Bourland’s knowing that this was her calling after moving from rural England to drought-ridden California.

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Although the panelists came from different backgrounds, a common theme was drawing confidence from a supportive community and mentors in order to pursue large-scale change. Bourland, whose role at JPB is to enable resilient communities across the US, described the challenges of being on the leading edge of a social justice battle. She explained that advocating for change is risky and can therefore be scary. However, having a strong network has helped her overcome her fear and continue to fight for housing equity. However, Bourland also believes that it is critical to build transformative networks that are honest and that challenge each other. Similarly, Jung explained that the role of a mentor is to motivate you to do hard things. When she joined Enterprise, her mentor, Bourland, challenged Jung to green all New York affordable housing by 2020. This seemed impossible, but she is working hard and making progress.

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Another topic all of the speakers discussed was how to make energy efficiency, a very wonky topic, more accessible without over simplifying the content. Jung pointed out that we often label things “green,” but that sustainability and energy efficiency are very complex. While it is good to engage more people, we need more granule targets than the simple “green” label. Kennedy suggested that rather than simplifying the content in order to engage wider populations, we should expand the reasons to engage in energy efficiency. For example, we should highlight affordability and resiliency in addition to environmental stewardship.

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When the conversation inevitably turned to the role of financing, Kennedy acknowledged that conventional financial networks have neglected affordable, sustainable housing. However, she optimistically added that this gap has left space for creative financing. Jung argued that we have to change the policy framework in such a way that the resources we currently have become sufficient. Bourland added that while there is a role for grant money, there are steps we can take to organize and advocate that don’t require funding.

Jung ended the morning on a hopeful note, reminding us that although we sometimes feel stuck, circumstances and constraints are always changing, paving the way for new opportunities.

 

WISE: Women in Sustainability and Energy was a four part symposia featuring inspirational women thought-leaders who accelerate sustainability programs and energy agendas. WISE provided a forum for knowledge sharing and inspiration, supporting the leaders of today and providing a platform for the next generation of women in this critical industry.

Check out video highlights from the fourth session, “The Big Tent,” here.

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