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Sustainable Construction: Perspectives from the Women in Green

17.11.2017

The women involved in promoting, designing for and achieving sustainability in construction share their perspectives.

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is an international benchmark for sustainable construction founded in the U.S. that is continually gaining momentum in commercial real estate in Ireland.

Read the perspectives of some of the women involved in promoting, designing for and achieving sustainability in our construction industry.

Nellie Reid, Managing Director at Meehan Green, LEED AP BD+C, LEED Fellow

Penny Linton, Associate Architect at Meehan Associates, LEED Green Associate

Mona Jakobsone, Architectural Technologist at Meehan Assoicates, LEED AP BD+C

Kat Mazur, Environmental Manager at mac, LEED AP ID+C, WELL AP

Tiffany Quinn, Marketing and Communication Director at mac, LEED Green Associate

Do you think the demand for environmentally conscientious buildings has increased in Ireland?

Nellie: Yes! There are a few reasons for it. First, there is a greater awareness of the need to reduce our dependence on the finite resources we have to work with. Fossil fuels and raw materials are limited and come with great social, environmental and economic cost. Secondly, there is a market demand for green buildings. Companies are choosing to lease office space in green buildings as they feel it aligns well with their own corporate social and environmental responsibility initiatives. People are choosing to work in these companies. So it all comes down to the people who are going to work in these buildings.

Kat: Yes, the demand for green buildings has risen significantly in the last two years, especially in commercial sector. Ireland now has almost three times as many projects registered for LEED certification compared to the number of registrations in 2015. Since then mac was proud to be chosen to deliver 8 LEED and BREEAM projects for our environmentally conscientious clients.

What are the benefits of having a LEED certified commercial space?

Mona: Numerous! Firstly, LEED Buildings offer a number of economic or financial benefits, which are relevant to a range of different commercial people or groups of people. These include cost savings on utility bills for commercial tenants (through energy and water efficiency); lower construction costs and higher property value for commercial developers; increased occupancy rates or operating costs for commercial building owners; and job creation. LEED buildings have also been shown to bring positive social impacts too. Many of these benefits are around the health and wellbeing of people who work in “green” offices. The last but one of the most important benefits LEED buildings offer is to our climate and the natural environment. LEED buildings can not only reduce or eliminate negative impacts on the environment, by using less water, energy or natural resources, but they can – in many cases – have a positive impact on the environment (at the building or city scales) by generating their own energy or increasing biodiversity.  

Penny: Apart from the obvious financial impact that Sustainable/Green buildings can command higher rents and sale prices and be cheaper to operate because they consume less energy. Our clients understand that green buildings also provide healthy working spaces with their associated benefits of staff attraction/retention, staff performance/productivity, reduction in staff illness etc.  

What prompted you to become a woman in green?

Nellie: I’ve always been a woman in green. Even as a child, I was involved with local recycling programs and fundraisers for environmental non-profits. My father was a commercial office building developer and my mother was a real estate attorney, so buildings were always part of the conversation at the dinner table. I saw green building as a challenge and wanted to focus on how to make the places we spend so much time in better places.

Kat: I have always been fascinated by how people think about the future and how our actions and mindset today change the tomorrow. Growing up in Belarus, which was majorly affected by Chernobyl accident, shaped my interest to environmental justice, in how careful we should be about the short term political and economic decisions as these can turn out to be a disaster in a long-term perspective.

I see sustainable development as an interdisciplinary framework which allows to make decisions about our common future under conditions of uncertainty today. Shaping that bridge between today and the desirable scenario of tomorrow – is how I see the role of people in green and I’m delighted to be one them.

What are your experiences as a woman in the construction industry?

Tiffany:  People often say that women have a competitive advantage when it comes to the ‘soft skills’, such as the ability to listen and communicate effectively, manage change, and inspire others.  I love this!  The construction industry is very welcoming to women who have both the hard qualifications and experience alongside charisma, empathy and the ability to influence.

Penny: Women in general are in the minority in the construction industry, but this is changing, I personally have always loved working in the construction industry, meeting the challenges that I face daily and reaping the rewards of a completed project, which exceeds the clients expectations, on time and on budget.  

What do you think the future holds for LEED in Ireland?

Kat: I mentioned the expanding interest in initial LEED certifications for new build and refurbished commercial space. I think in the coming years we’ll see a growing demand for operations and maintenance certifications (LEED O+M) of existing buildings. I would also anticipate that many projects will choose a combined WELL and LEED certification. I would certainly like to see more interest in LEED and green building in residential sector. Older non-renovated houses often have poor indoor air quality, enhancing energy efficiency and use of sustainable renovation techniques would be very beneficial for the residents and owners.

Tiffany:  I see a new wave of Tier A landlords, Hibernia REIT for example.  These landlords are genuinely motivated to build a legacy with buildings whose environmental footprint is minimal and that are healthy environments throughout their life cycles.  LEED is an internationally recognised benchmark for these KPIs and as such will become increasingly prevalent.

Are women more drawn to pursue careers in Sustainability?

Nellie: Studies seem to support this. It’s likely related to our nurturing instincts. We naturally want people to thrive and are concerned about the health and well being of the people who will be living and working in the buildings we are designing.

Mona: I believe that my chromosomal composition neither makes me better at sustainability nor more attracted to it, there are a number of characteristics ( often considered more prevalent in women than in men ) that I think are beneficial to the sustainable role.
• We all know that sustainability is a team sport. In general, I believe women’s leadership styles tend to be especially open to this, emphasizing collaboration and consultation.
• Giving credit!- I don’t have the data on this, but from my personal experience, women are more likely to judge their own success by that of their team, rather than by how far they can distance themselves from others. There are men like that as well, of course!
• My career has been focused on exploring different building technologies and how my daily work might be affected or affect things happening nearby. So it was a natural progression to go from studying and implementing building science to the planet and society – to joining them hand in hand.
So, all things considered, does gender really influence sustainability? Possibly, but I think it is more about the characteristics you embody, and where your passions lie, that truly influence your ability to be successful in this field.

Learn more about sustainability for your project here.

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