Inspirations from Sustainable Design Leaders

Authored by Becky Alexander, September 17, 2018

It was a muggy August afternoon in the Hudson River Valley when about a dozen people and I embarked on the mile-long forest hike from the train station to the Garrison Institute. Voices swelled around me, asking the requisite getting-to-know-you questions – what city are you from? what firm are you with? how about this humidity? – before settling in to the deeper conversations that were the reason we were all there: to gain inspiration, perspective, and insight from the incredible group of sustainable design leaders that was gathering for the 11th annual Summer Sustainable Design Leaders Summit. Over the course of the next two days, we tackled issues ranging from design thinking to “speaking ROI” and emerged re-energized, with dozens of stories and new connections to bring back to our firms.

Image from Summer 2018 Sustainable Design Leaders Summit Report. Courtesy of BuildingGreen.

Incorporating sustainability into every project

While the conversations covered many topics, one of the highlights for me was how different firms are incorporating sustainability into every project. I sat down to discuss this with sustainable design leaders from other 85-130 person firms (roughly the size of LHB’s Integrative Design Team). There are several different models being used with varying degrees of success, but a common thread is each project team having a sustainability champion that is supported by a bigger group of experts and resources. The role of the sustainability champion (who may or may not have additional roles on the project team) is to ask questions at the right time and bring in other experts when needed. These experts, whether external or internal to the firm, can provide specialized services – such as goal-setting facilitation, daylight modeling, or acoustics analysis – that wouldn’t otherwise be available on every team. The key to making this work is for the sustainability champion to be knowledgeable enough – about both sustainability and the design process – to ask the right questions and empowered enough for their voice to be present and valued throughout the project.

Image from Summer 2018 Sustainable Design Leaders Summit Report. Courtesy of BuildingGreen

Finding our North Star

We ended the Summit with a spontaneous conversation about our need for a new “North Star” to help us navigate the conflicting perspectives in our social-political world. Participants called for this North Star to move us toward happiness, equity, and well-being for all species through a plan that is audacious, healing, and inclusive. This discussion made me proud of LHB’s work on our Integrative Design Team’s Vision – which I shared with the other participants. While many expressed feeling adrift within a capricious world, I’ve been feeling inspired by the shared values we have identified and been working toward.

An additional element of this conversation was the importance of self-care to maintain personal well-being and avoid burn-out. The theme that resonated most strongly with me was to understand my personal sphere of influence and act within it – to find “the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” [i]

I’ll end this post the same way I ended the Summit, by sharing an inspiration from Paul Hawken’s presentation of Drawdown in Minneapolis a couple years ago, when an audience member asked him if – knowing what he knows – he is hopeful that we will reverse climate change. Hawken responded: “Hope is just the pretty face of fear. We don’t need to be hopeful. We need to be fearless.”

[i] Reinhold Niebuhr, Serenity Prayer

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