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Frances Perkins, Love, and a Green Mission to Serve

Frances Perkins, Love, and a Green Mission to Serve

Frances Perkins: FDR referred to the first female U.S. Secretary of Labor as his "conscience".  (Photo: FPC) 

Frances Perkins: FDR referred to the first female U.S. Secretary of Labor as his "conscience".  (Photo: FPC

Last week at the Better Buildings: Better Business expo in the Wisconsin Dells, BuiltWorlds had the good fortune to meet Marge Anderson, the 2015 National Board Chair of the U.S. Green Building Council. In that capacity, she joined USGBC's delegation at the Paris Climate Talks, COP21. In honor of National Women in Construction Week, we reprint her blog post here from Greenbuild 2015.  

by MARGE ANDERSON, EVP, Seventhwave | March 11, 2016

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As 20,000-plus leaders in sustainable building gathered in Washington DC last November, I reflected on my role as Chair of the USGBC Board of Directors, and also Seventhwave's role in the green building movement.

In 2014 at Greenbuild, The New York Times columnist David Brooks shared excerpts from his book The Road to Character during the closing session. That was an especially powerful talk for me. He spoke a great deal about Frances Perkins, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt's Secretary of Labor and the first-ever female member of the cabinet.

The Paris climate talks were amazing. I really believe we are now at a tipping point... where the forces of progress are facing off against the forces of fear and the status quo
— Marge Anderson, speaking to Builtworlds

Now, Frances Perkins is a hero of mine as she is probably the most famous alumnus of my alma mater, Mount Holyoke College. Mount Holyoke’s mission is to prepare women for a life of purpose – to teach them leadership skills and then inspire them to deploy those skills in a life of service. And at my 30th reunion last May, the student staff were wearing T-shirts emblazoned with this quote from Perkins: "It is there to be done, so I do it."

To me, this quote also seems to be at the heart of the green building movement – so fueled by volunteer servant leaders. It is part of Seventhwave’s culture, too, where our employees set and maintain extraordinary levels of quality as individuals and as peers. It’s the mission that fuels this commitment to the work  a mission that advances sustainable energy in buildings. A mission that stands for everyone’s right to work, to learn and to live in buildings that are clean, healthy, safe, and that don’t threaten other life on our planet.

I’ve also witnessed the “there is work to be done, so I do it” ethic within the USGBC, as well, as it inspires efforts like the social equity pilot credit in LEED, addressing child and slave labor in our supply chain; green veterans training other military vets to deploy for sustainability; and our (USGBC) Board's pushing to include biodiversity as part of our agenda or to increase our reach to the under-served in society.

Indeed, USGBC’s most powerful instrument of market transformation—LEED—was built by tens of thousands of technical volunteer hours. Free labor by "servant leaders". LEED has changed the way we buy, design and occupy buildings and created an entirely new market for sustainable materials and services. These volunteers know there is work to be done, so they do it.

I see that same ethos from our team at Seventhwave in the Friday morning meetings of the buildings team as they bring gnarly technical problems together and solve them collaboratively, or as our employees play Cool Choices in an effort to improve our own sustainable behaviors.

Last fall,  we also launched Accelerate Performance to empower owners to set energy use targets and to hold design teams accountable  and our team is working tirelessly with other committed partners to make this the new way thousands of owners contract for buildings. So, I see it in our staff volunteering to make change through ASHRAE, USGBC, AIA, AESP, and other professional societies specific to their expertise; and through the volunteer hours they contribute to prairie restoration, and shelter for the homeless, and public health care causes that inspire them. Seventhwave staff knows there is work to be done, so they do it.

Why? Why do servant leaders take on this work leading change before the rest of the world is ready, why do they put in the time and the energy and the patience to tackle this work?

labors of Love

I honestly think we do this work because of love...

Of course, we don’t talk about it in our budget meetings, but I believe that love is what drives us, servant leaders, in the green building movement  which is, after all, a human rights movement. 

Seventhwave is a rigorous, engineering-driven culture, so whenever I make a dramatic emotional statement, I’m asked by my colleagues: “Where’s your evidence for that? What’s the data?” And I thought about that  what is my evidence for love at the heart of our movement?

I see it every day in what drives us.

Some of us are driven by a love of nature that was inspired by a mom or dad or grandmother or grandfather. Some of us have made a friend for life through a volunteer project. Some of us have taken a break from volunteer work, only to answer “yes” when someone asks us to give just one more time. Some of us show our faith at work in the world through our work in sustainability. And sometimes, it’s even more mundane than that  pushing the environmental performance and the quality of a project even after the billable hours run out — or even when no one else was asking for that extra mile.

And we would do it all again...

We are the evidence. This is what love looks like in action. This is why Seventhwave has been successful. This is why the USGBC and its communities have been successful. This love in action is why, no matter what inevitable barriers to change present themselves, we will achieve our goal of sustainable energy use in buildings, and a green building for everyone within our generation.

Now. There is work to be done. So let us do it.

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