Sustainability

Women’s History Month – women in sustainability part three

To celebrate Women’s History Month this March, we continue to highlight and celebrate the important contributions and vast strides towards sustainability made by women in the Planet Mark community. They discuss the ongoing challenges to improve organisational practices and representation of women in sustainability. ‍ ‍ ‍ ‍ ‍ ‍ ‍ ‍ ‍ ‍ ‍ […]

Words:
Ashley Richmond
Images:
Planet Mark members women in sustainability
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To celebrate Women’s History Month this March, we continue to highlight and celebrate the important contributions and vast strides towards sustainability made by women in the Planet Mark community. They discuss the ongoing challenges to improve organisational practices and representation of women in sustainability.

Philippa Birch-Wood, Thrive Director, Chetwoods

Tell us a little about your background and your current role in sustainability?

About three years ago I got the opportunity to become a sustainable design consultant and I have never looked back. I am a qualified Architect and WELL Accredited Professional leading Thrive at Chetwoods. As part of the Thrive team I support the design and delivery of projects and initiatives that improve our health and enhance our environment.

Where did your passion for sustainability come from?

I think I have always been a resourceful person and a nature lover, but I really became fascinated by the circular economy concept in my third year at University. Something clicked as soon as I picked up the book “cradle to cradle: remaking the way we make things.” It was that year that I also learnt that the built environment was responsible for 40% of emissions, and reducing those emissions became a key focus from that point on.

How have you embedded sustainability into organisational practices?

Firstly, I determined what sustainability meant for an architecture practice, it is a nebulous term. I reviewed the value chain of the business from investment to the end of life of our products (buildings) and aligned it to the UN sustainable development goals. From that point it was clear to see where the practice had the most significant impacts. Inspired by the UN SDGs and the EU Level(s) project I developed seven of our own drivers relating to architecture (carbon control, water, resources, health and wellbeing, resilience, biodiversity and cost and value), along with associated KPIs for our designs.

What are some successes in your career that would inspire others and who inspires you?

I helped to deliver the world’s first building that is Net Zero Carbon for construction, in line with the UKGBC Framework Definition. Christiana Figueres inspires me and reminds me that a balance of outrage and optimism is key when you are working in sustainability.

When faced with challenges, how do you address them?

Allowing myself an occasional respite from the issue allows me to keep my passion alive and keeps eco-anxiety at bay. It also ensures that I am not a one-track record, I have learnt that it doesn’t get you anywhere. There are many laggards in the construction industry. My focus is on those with aligned visions as they will steer the way and the laggards will have to follow soon enough.

Why do you think inclusivity in sustainability is important?

Inclusivity is crucial as the answers are not going to come from one particular group in society. Sustainability involves the environment, the economy and society. We need to help to create a fair transition to a new normal and in doing so we need to hear all voices.

What advice would you give to women who want to pursue a career in sustainability?

Irrespective of your degree, get involved in local community groups, activist networks and show your passion. If someone has that fire in their belly it is easily recognised in an interview, and as an interviewer you know that they will put their heart and soul into making a positive difference.

Any interesting sustainability readings/sources you would like to share?

The Project Drawdown list of solutions has been a key reference for getting better perspective of what is a huge issue. It helps me prioritise my efforts. I also recommend that architects engage with “The Construction Material Pyramid” for a better idea of embodied carbon in materials.

What are your hopes for the future?

My answer is going to sounds quite a lot like “World Peace.” I hope that those with privilege take agency and show that we are fundamentally a kind species. I hope that we reach something nearing equality. In a world with deprivation there is desperation, and with that comes a focus on immediacies as opposed to the longer-term safety of humanity. Our global response to this pandemic has been heartening, I would like to see the same response to this climate and ecological breakdown.

Lindsey Mackay, Senior Sustainability Consultant, JustOne UK

Lindsey Mackay, Senior Sustainability Consultant, JustOne UK

Tell us a little about your background and your current role in sustainability?

I grew up in Scotland and have very fond memories of going hiking with family and friends. Nothing beats the feeling of reaching the top of a Munro and looking down over the world. There is a freedom that can be found in being so far removed from the noise and business of civilisation, immersed completely in the beauty of nature. Looking back now those adventures sparked a love for this world which led me to study the history of our landscapes and cultures.

Today I work hard to spark a love in others for protecting the world that we have been given as our home and its nature and people. At JustOne, we enable individuals and businesses to create plans, communications and solutions that enable them to use their unique power to make a world of difference.

How have and will you continue to embed sustainability into organisational practices?

It all starts with purpose. What is your purpose? What is your business’ purpose? By getting to the heart of who we are, and why we do what we do, we unearth people’s passions, drive and ambitions. Knowing what motivates those around us is very important when it comes to sustainability if we want to see success. By continually questioning our purpose (both personal and collective) we can begin to take bold steps to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems while creating inclusive sustainable solutions.

When faced with challenges, how do you address them?

“Time is of the essence!” This is something that has been ingrained in me since I was at school. People nowadays very rarely take a minute to stop, switch off the noise of the world and think. When we are faced with challenges, we all need to stop, take a step back and look at the whole picture more. Only then do I see the full story of how everything pieces together. Only then can I clearly see the options that I have going forward.

By working together as a team, by bringing in diverse ways of thinking and by openly talking about our challenges we find ourselves addressing issues in ways that create effective and inclusive solutions. I am constantly learning not to run from difficult conversations that need to be had. I believe if we address challenges in collaboration with one another we can create positive change that makes us stronger than ever before.

Why do you think inclusivity in sustainability is important?

At JustOne we believe sustainability is not an environmental issue, it is a human one. We know we need to put people back into the solution because people are the solution. Too often we try and create solutions without a fair representation of people and voices. That must change. When you think about the future you want, people are inevitably at the centre of that. By helping businesses put the power back into their people’s hands we can create long term change that benefits everyone.

What advice would you give to women who want to pursue a career in sustainability?

Don’t let anything or anyone hold you back. Sustainability is an area that is diverse and full of new opportunities. Working in sustainability is hugely motivating, and empowering. It can be challenging at times but also so satisfying. Whether you have a technical or creative background, are passionate about a specific area of business or sector that you want to see change, I really believe there is something for everyone.

At the same time, I know the huge scope of opportunity can be daunting. I would encourage any women to reach out to other women in the industry to talk about their experiences and roles. You’ll find that most people working in sustainability have good hearts and want to help and support others. Feel free to reach out to me – I’d love to chat!

Any interesting sustainability readings/sources you would like to share?

I love Positive News. I try and start my working day with a strong cup of coffee and a few articles from their website. I’m also a proud owner of a National Geographic subscription which tells stories we often don’t get the chance to hear about, shares political views from a diverse array of perspectives, and translates difficulty but important data into easily understandable graphics (sorry, started to nerd out a little bit there!).

Sharon Harris, Co-founder, Harris & Harris London

Sharon Harris, Co-founder, Harris & Harris London

Tell us a little about your background and your current role?

I am the Co-founder and Head of Interiors at Harris & Harris. As a qualified Interior Architect, I started my career in Singapore (where I am from originally), before moving to Melbourne, Australia where I worked for Design Inc, the sustainability focused architecture firm.

After 10 years in Melbourne, I moved to London and worked for several architecture and interior practices including Bisset Adams and Perkins + Will. During this time, I predominately designed commercial projects for clients including Molton Brown, Goldman Sachs and Emaar.

My husband Alexander and I founded Harris & Harris in 2014, I manage the interior design projects as well as the day to day running of our studio.

Where did your passion for sustainability come from?

When I started working for DesignInc in Melbourne they had recently completed a pioneering and multi-award-winning project in the city, called CH2. This was the first purpose-built office building in Australia to achieve a maximum Six Green Star rating.

This building and its principals in Biomimicry (looking to nature to show us how to live more sustainably), kick-started my passion for sustainability in the built environment. For example, the heating, ventilating, and cooling system at CH2 was designed with strategies taken from a termite mound to keep a stable temperature within the building. Shower towers were incorporated into the façade that draw outside air from above street level and cool the air by evaporation to form the shower of water, creating a sensation like the cooling feeling felt when standing next to a waterfall.

The way this building looks towards nature has proven to be a continuing source of inspiration for me.

How have and will you continue to embed sustainability into organisational practices?

During my time in Melbourne, I had the opportunity to study for Green Star, the sustainability rating system for buildings in Australia and when I arrived in the UK I studied and obtained LEED accreditation. This has given me a great foundation to build upon and apply to our own projects. I am always on the look out for the latest sustainable building materials and construction methods and how we can constantly improve as a company.

Why do you think inclusivity in sustainability is important?

It is important for every industry and movement to have a mixture of sexes, cultures and beliefs without prejudice. I believe that sustainability is no different. If people can see others that they can relate to within the field of sustainability, then this could encourage them to be involved too.

Amber Nuttall, Environmental and Sustainability Manager, Extreme International

Amber Nuttall, Environmental and Sustainability Manager, Extreme International

Tell us a little about your background and your current role in sustainability?

I’ve spent the majority of my career working in business development and specialising in communications, supporting marketing and PR teams. With a great love for big dreams and visions, I have especially enjoyed my work with entrepreneurs. This has led me to my role with Extreme International, helping the team to recognise and respond to the challenges of the immediate and longer- term, ensuring we are purpose- led, that we are collaborative and that we ultimately leave a positive legacy for all.

Three partnerships have been key in shaping our aspirations, Planet Mark, 1% for the Planet and the UN’s Sports for Climate Action. Together we are driven and committed to doing the best for the most glorious playground an elite athlete and an amateur or a kid could ever want: our planet.

Where did your passion for sustainability come from?

I was brought up outdoors – wildlife and big vistas were all I knew and all I wanted to know. My late father founded a fabulous small foundation in the Bahamas back in the early 90s with a focus on protecting the marine environment and making ocean education a priority for the Bahamian people. He taught me that if you don’t know something, you are much less inclined to protect it hence the drive to ensure they knew what a unique and valuable, indeed indispensable, treasure they have surrounding their island chain. My understanding and love for our natural environment came from him.

How have and will you continue to embed sustainability into organisational practices?

I have talked and taught, shared information, podcasts, articles and held discussions. These have led to our team gaining an understanding of the challenges we all face and firing them up to want to tackle them head on. Without the buy in of the wider team it would be like trying to push porridge uphill.

First steps are important. So are small ones and they all help to begin a journey; likely to be the most important journey in human history. Stick and carrot are both vital as well; don’t just scare, inspire too. Sharing solutions is imperative. The pride taken by our team in even the small achievements to date reassure me that we are all very much committed and keeping the channels of communication open; discussing, innovating and reimagining is keeping us all engaged, driven and focused.

Everyone knows they have a role to play. We have a shared purpose and a beautiful vision of the future which we want to play our part in making a reality.

What are some successes in your career that would inspire others?

The biggest successes I have had throughout my career have all been down to being in the right place at the right time, by being determined, passionate and polite. Networking has been key and building on the connections made, forming trust and in many cases great friendships.

I’ve always dreamt big and try not to be too afraid of giving something a shot. A great example of this took place just the other day. Using the many connections, I have built up over the years I managed to inspire one of the world’s most powerful banks to pull an ill-conceived £15million investment from a small oil company. This company has now stopped exploratory drilling in an area of pristine ocean and all it took was a few timely emails and social media posts – days like that reassure me we can change the world!

When faced with challenges, how do you address them?

Challenges require stubbornness but also some reflection and contemplation – just because your goal is the top of the mountain doesn’t mean you have chosen the right path. t’s important to know when to change tack and doubly important to take people along with you. Not everyone likes my zest to discuss the environment and our impact on it, or my brilliant restorative ideas (hard as I might find that to believe!). But perhaps they simply feel threatened or indeed a sense of guilt or fear for their role in the future, whether in a company or perhaps as a parent. I don’t want to leave anyone behind, so I try to find ways to help empower them to embrace this very challenging journey ahead of us. To borrow a great African proverb, if you want to go quickly go alone, if you want to go far go together.

I’m not very good at taking no for an answer. On seeking signatories for a global campaign to get the UK government to reconsider their lack of diversity in the COP26 leadership team. I was told no by one of the most powerful women in the UK – I was furious. But a few deep breaths and an entirely charming, persuasive and frantically typed response from me elicited a 180-degree about-turn and the backing of another important figurehead for women in the UK and globally. Sometimes that is all we need.

Why do you think inclusivity in sustainability is important?

Women make up over 50% of humanity, our perspectives are different as our worries and indeed our vision for an equitable future. Having women taking leading roles in society enables a more balanced vision and indeed will drive a more balanced outcome. I would argue a much more beautiful one too. Our strengths and weaknesses are different, so of course it makes sense that men and women working together make us all stronger and more able to achieve what we need to.

What advice would you give to women who want to pursue a career in sustainability?

Go for it! We need female dreams and visions interwoven with men’s – too much of anything is never a good thing. Circumstance, and more than a few bullies, have ensured the most dreadful inequality still thrives, not simply survives, in far too many businesses and countries too. Just remember this is our world too and the leaders of the past few centuries have led humanity towards a cliff edge of biblical proportions and the one thing they almost without exception have in common…yes, I’m afraid it’s being male. So, let’s use this as an opportunity to help and change the world for the better, together.

Any interesting sustainability readings/sources you would like to share?

What are your hopes for the future?

I have a truly exciting and positive view of what the world can look like in 2050. It is going to take a lot of collaboration and hard work to get there, but I am going to do all I can to ensure that happens…it’s what gets me out of bed every day.