It is not difficult for me to find myself represented in most rooms. I can look toward female leaders and see someone who looks like me. Yet, walking into the Women in Green Luncheon, hosted by USGBC, I saw me. I was greeted by a room full of passionate women, many with similar untamed and curly hair, make-up free faces, and vaguely professional, neutral clothing that borders office attire and outdoor comfort.
I had never really grasped the value of representation until that moment when I saw myself in the room. I was immediately humbled by the privilege I have to be so represented in the field I someday hope to enter. To be able to see women who looked like me doing what I hope to do only gave me more drive to realize the possibilities of my own future. One step into the room and the luncheon had already achieved its goal: to inspire the next generation of women in sustainability careers.
Each of the women represented on stage and in the room had come to sustainability through various routes, whether it be through a chance new major in college, an interest in creating a better world for her children, or in designing a NICU facility that prompted the examination of every material used. Regardless of their initial approach, these women spoke of a call to action: understanding why you are doing the work that you are doing and inserting this purpose into your various spheres of influence. To quote them: “sustainability works best when it’s personal.”
During the panel discussion, one panelist mentioned initially being known as The Recycling Girl, and I got it. That's me. When I first started my position as a student assistant, I grew so dedicated to sorting our trash and recycling that now, even though it is no longer part of my role, I still patrol for opportunities to take a walk down to the multiple bins and sort away. In one organization I am active in, I am consistently The Recycling Girl who holds members back an extra 10 seconds so they can leave their recycling on the table so I can prevent it from entering waste streams. The Recycling Girl is a small part of my identity, but to hear a professional say that she was once seen only seen as such, I am inspired by her trajectory. If she can start as a Recycling Girl and slowly convert her coworkers and company to incorporate sustainable practices before people were talking about sustainability, then what is stopping me?
One of the closing remarks from the panel was that we would not be where we are today without the women in front of us. As I continue to navigate through Georgia Tech, attempting to direct my passion toward a degree path, I look toward these women and the many, differing paths that they have used to apply principles of sustainability and resilience.