Old Blood and Strong Language
For those of you out there, working in various aspects of sustainability for ten plus years, do these statements sound familiar?
- “We’re looking to you (not you BTW), the NEXT generation, to really make these changes”.
- “We know us old folks have made this mess, and it will be up to you to get this planet back on track”
- “Thanks for applying for this [technical working group, job, research role, etc.] but we need to make room for some new blood”.
I was the first Sustainability Director hired in NY state government, at the very start of the broader understanding that sustainability is part of every smart business plan. I am an architect who was really torn when offered to change my position. Did I want to stay as an architect in private practice with real joy in designing and project managing, and on track for associate? Or did I want to work for state government and affect the greening of billions of dollars of construction, make more money and have more security, but distance myself from design and teams? I chose state government and have worked for over eight years on policy, with other agencies to green up, and within my state entity improving our own work. But I miss the teamwork as I mostly work alone. Now many if not most agencies and campuses and businesses have sustainability leads, and most of those positions, equal-ish to what I’ve done for so long, require a minimum of a Master’s Degree. I am now under-qualified, on paper, for the work I do every day.
And I constantly hear the message that I need to step aside to make room for the “new blood”.
Whoa. Just fracking STOP.
Because I am just getting started. Seriously. I’ve been a LEED AP since 2004, and I’m learning and applying new ideas every single day. I’m learning on my own and from others. I’m bringing up concepts in interagency meetings and helping people to understand how building design relates to their policy on flooding mitigations, and how toxins in building materials have anything to do with breast cancer funding, and how we cannot talk about RE development unless we also discuss energy effectiveness in buildings and operation including, (shocker) user behavior.
How DARE anyone ask me to step aside to make room. How DARE anyone suggest that I am not of value in the ever-changing work in front of us all. First, I’ve done the math. My parents both lived into their mid-80’s and I am much healthier than either of them were. This means I likely have significantly more than a quarter of a century left to do good work and change the world. That’s longer than my career to date! And you can DAMN WELL KNOW my presence and involvement will be useful. In many ways.
First, those who started in green building with the start of the USGBC and earlier understand the scale and speed of change, and how that relates to previous years. This is an immensely invaluable perspective as we know there will be growth and development in our understanding of the world and its systems, and this will require a similar process of introduction and acceptance into the marketplace. Currently bio-synergistic design is on track for this same influence and integration, as is the comprehension and application of strategies for zero net energy, water and waste.
Second, we have experienced and even been the people used to doing the same-old, same-old. We know the allure of passive consistency and can address this in meetings with owner teams and facility managers and town committees. We can relate what was to what is in ways that are acceptable. We can help broaden the stakeholder groups and the understanding of co-burdens and co-benefits while helping teams to see this is not a growing lack of control but a solidification of true comprehension and more realistic control.
Third, we know of and even embrace the allure of Twitter and Instagram. Some of us blog and relish quick return on info exchange. Yet we are also able to function without these systems. This balance of skills, tools and perspective is exceptional.
And, most importantly, we have experienced firsthand many of the changes that illuminate climate change concerns. I can remember my town broad-spraying pesticides from trucks to deal with the gypsy-moth caterpillar outbreaks. I was around when they closed beaches in NJ and the CT coast due to excessive needle and medical waste dumps. I followed the tales and sang the Roy Atkinson song about the garbage barge from Islip LI. It traveled from March to October in 1987 without being able to dump its garbage anywhere after the closing of over 3,000 over-full dumps in the USA, and the increase in enforcement of toxic waste controls. These experiences, from seeing Love Canal unfold in the news, to witnessing the changes to fewer fish varieties and restrictions in clam eating from waters in my beloved LI Sound on the Connecticut Shore, make me passionate in a different way about the work at hand. I know this is not the way it has always been. I don’t accept that these conversations and technologies and speed of implementation are normal. I know we humans have a direct and cumulative effect and we can engage in the work interdependently in order to make change, just as we’ve unwittingly engaged together in the mass changes we are experiencing now such as climate change, resource rarity, social unrest, and mass extinctions.
I will make room, but NOT by stepping away.
And you can bet that anyone truly working with sustainability as their core principle has no plans to retire at 62. You can pry my TBL mantra and my charrette leader guide-book and my love for humans as part of nature’s complete system out of my cold dead hands and heart. A calling is not something you retire from unless it burns you out and even then you find another comparable passion to sustain you until death. There are tens if not hundreds of thousands of people who are just hitting our stride in the work of sustainability in our chosen field, be it green building, municipal government, writing, teaching, healthcare, adventure sports…sustainability affects everything and everyone, so we cannot sideline anyone.
I will make room by reaching out a hand to “new blood” and saying “welcome, let’s work on this to together.” You can DAMN WELL BET it will take all of us to make a dent in such a big, complex and broad reaching opportunity.
There are many core elements in this work, and one of these concepts is understanding and embracing interdependence. We must not just apply this to building systems, interplay between built systems and nature, collaboration between buildings and communities, but also to our approach to solutions. We must seek interdependence between architecture and ecologists, between health industry and building material manufactures, between the insurance industry and resiliency planners. Then we must build interdependence of process and cyclic information gathering and implementation. We must actively build interdependence between “generations”. I put that word in quotes because it is ridiculous that we label people as if there are distinct lines marking style and opinions and interests and historic relevance when there is, in fact, a complex ever-unfolding development of these things, and each “generation” blurs thoroughly into the last and then the next. The key is to transcend those totally arbitrary labels and include the 20 something who is so tech comfortable she feels crippled with no cell phone in hand, the 50 something who is just starting to realize for herself how important lighting is to the aging eye and that universal design is truly a sustainable practice, and the 70 something, pushed out of his day job due to government supported age-ism, who now finds he is valuable in reminding people how to think and reflect on transitions while making dinner from whole foods. And I write those stereotypes knowing there are reflective 20 somethings out there and 70 year olds who not only are tech savvy but can innovate from spare tech parts solutions I can never dream of. That is precisely my point.
Keep the “old blood”, DAMMIT. Do not sideline the people who can simultaneously ground ideas AND inspire passion. Never set aside deep experience just because we need new solutions. New solutions are visible and relatable and implementable only when informed by experience. Embrace the synergies, and change the world.
I sincerely hope to work together on a future project,