Friday, February 12, 2010

"Women in Green"

Working to suss out the role of femininity in the sustainability movement, I constantly discover new threads from literature I'm finding that ties it all together. Most recently, my architecture savvy boyfriend gave me "Women in Green: Voices of Sustainable Design."

What Kira Gould and Lance Hosey answer in their book about women and design is, why women? and, how? The book looks at whether gender is a determining factor of a sustainability mind set and acknowledges that there are certainly men out there that demonstrate the values of systems thinking, and environmental stewardship. However, they found that it is women, overall, that are more likely to base their decisions on environmental values and in prioritizing future generations. Through their jobs and vocalization of environmental priorities, to their "green consumerism," controlling upwards of 85% of the household spending decisions, they are at charge at home and at work in the outcomes of the developing green economy. As Hunter Lovins says in the book, "I keep hearing from male business leaders that the presence of women in the room, their energy, makes a difference in the outcome. I don't know what that means, but I keep hearing it."

Beyond just gender relationships, the book delves into the shape and influence of a woman's agenda that has been growing the sustainability movement over the years. Arguably launched by the feminist movement and Rachel Carson's book, "Silent Spring," women continue to apply their energy and enthusiasm in fighting for justice and environmental stewardship inside and outside of the business world. Whatever tactic they take, they are most likely to argue for an end to business as usual practices that value the bottom line over future profitability. Profitability of our streams, our oceans, our soil, our air. A new definition of profitability is clearly in order and has been written about by Hunter Lovins in "Natural Capitalism." A joint project between her, Paul Hawken and Amory Lovins. While during the '80s and '90s women were encouraged to "act like men" in the business world, women will hopefully start to be encouraged to be women in the business world. To bring their nurturing to business and influence the practices of industry. What the book tackles are the squeamish responses, the fact that nobody wants to talk about heart, and the other elephants in the room that are preventing us from all coming to the table.

When I talk to people about my interest in elevating the visibility of women in the sustainable food movement some get squeamish (leaders that don't want to be associated with gender issues), some get defensive, and others immediately delve into conversation. As the book points out, men are starting to join in the conversation. Ray Anderson, Interface chairman (a company that creates biological solutions to our modern world's design challenges) opening acknowledges women's contributions. He explains that, " A new day is dawning that will build on the ascendancy of women in business, the professions, government, and education. This is one of the most encouraging of all trends, as women bring their right-brained [emotion], nurturing nature to bear on the seemingly intractable challenges created by left-brained [logic] men and their pre-occupation with bottom lines and other 'practical' considerations. After all, it's the practical and pragmatic that got us into this mess. Surely, a different kind of thinking is needed to get us out ("Women in Green" pg 1)."

As we watch women excel by leaps and bounds in both business and activism for a more sustainable planet, one of women's next biggest challenges will have to be to work to change the structure of business itself to allow women (that want to) to continue their familial lives while succeeding in their careers. As our culture does away with bottom lines, and thinks more about long-term relationships with people and the planet, women's place in decision making and business will continue to thrive.

If you're interested in reading more, check out "Women in Green," a book that speaks to gender, women's roles, business, heart, and community; making the beautiful tie-ins between femininity, environment and our future.

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