The second BEEx WISE: Women in Sustainability and Energy session, “Sticks and Bricks” opened to another eager audience looking forward to hearing the advice and insights of inventive women working in the green building and construction industry. Fiona Cousins, Principal at ARUP, moderated a lively conversation between Sarah Beatty, Founder and President at Green Depot, Gina Bocra, Chief Sustainability Officer at NYC Department of Buildings, and Amanda Kaminsky, Sustainability Construction Manager at The Durst Organization.
Familiar with the breadth of the experience of the panelists, Cousins’ asked targeted questions and established an easy rapport with the speakers. She began by asking what has changed in the industry in the last ten years. Increased transparency and more aggressive policy were described as important achievements. However, Bocra was not so eager to cite any accomplishments without asserting that the industry is still in need of improved communication and collaboration.
The audience pressed the speakers to give examples of tangible steps needed to move forward and accelerate progress in the green construction industry. The panelists agreed that environmental advocates must do a better job at making the business case for energy efficiency measures. Some of the stakeholders and key decision makers in the building industry do not understand and therefore do not take advantage of the opportunities to save money by instituting innovative energy efficiency and green building strategies. Another leverage point we can use to draw more people into the movement is in the intersection of sustainability and health. Most of the audience was shocked to learn that indoor spaces are 90% more contaminated than outdoor spaces. Kaminsky and Beatty are both trying to combat this problem by committing to using and selling environmentally friendly building materials. Beatty pointed out that better promotion of the relationship between health and sustainability could build momentum for the movement.
Staying true to her nickname, Gina “The Enforcer” Bocra added that we must enforce policy more effectively in order to accelerate progress. While we have made headway in passing strong regulations around building standards, not everyone complies with the new rules. Although federal action and state action are hugely important, Kaminsky argued that the industry needs a stronger consumer voice. This reminded the audience and speakers to think about what we can each do in our own professional and personal lives to save energy and to spend money in a way that supports our values. Beatty and Kaminsky both shared stories of living out their own values by ceasing to carry or use certain building materials when the manufacturers could not stand by their claims regarding the health-impacts of their products or the treatment of their employees.
At the audience’s request, Cousin’s shifted the conversation to a dialogue about the opportunities and challenges of being a woman in the green building and construction industry. The audience was responsive to the idea that the field of sustainability is actually a uniquely comfortable space for women. Kaminsky believes that many women are well suited for the field because it requires knowledge of so many areas and women typically excel at reaching out and asking questions. Bocra added that concern for the survival of future generations is an intuitive concern for many women.
To close, each panelist gave her best piece of advice in just a few words. Simple yet motivating, these quotes succinctly captured best practices: “Have a sense of humor.” “Stretch yourself.” “Ask questions.” And, “Be fearless!”
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 second session, “Sticks and Bricks,” here.