It was the summer of 2009 and the ink was still wet on my Master’s degree from the Bren School at UC Santa Barbara. When I went back to school, I was confident that designing and operating sustainable buildings was both what I wanted to do with my life and a growth industry. I just hadn’t accounted for a global economic recession that would substantially affect the real estate industry. With limited job openings and stiff competition for what was available, I needed an alternative strategy for connecting to the professional community. I had participated in a USGBC Emerging Green Builders group on the Central Coast, so, I decided to seek out the same group in Los Angeles. That one decision turned out to be one of the best I ever made.
I still remember the trepidation I felt going to my first LA meeting of EGB (now Emerging Professionals). I didn’t know anyone, wasn’t sure if I would be accepted, or if there would be opportunities for me to engage with the group. Yet, almost as soon I got there, I realized that my nervousness was completely unwarranted.
What I found was a welcoming group of people with diverse professional interests and varying levels of experience that all shared my passion for sustainability. I left that first meeting feeling energized and motivated. I decided I would keep attending events and connecting with the Chapter members, but at that time, I could never have anticipated the impact that USGBC-LA would have on my life.
As I participated in Chapter activities I met people. I realized there was a large community of sustainability professionals in Los Angeles who were not only genuinely committed to greening the built environment, but also willing to help others gain a foothold in the industry. It was through this network that I was offered my first opportunity to substantively contribute to the Chapter as the volunteer Research Coordinator for the Existing Buildings committee.
This was the break that I was hoping for and I was determined to make the most of it. I took it upon myself to learn as much as I could; to stay on top of the latest developments in the industry. Despite being intimidated to speak up at meetings, surrounded by these accomplished professionals, my research gave me insight that I could share with the group and I started to speak up.
Soon, committee members started initiating conversations. Through one, I casually asked a member if he was looking for part-time help with his sustainability consulting business. To my surprise, the answer was “yes.” After months of fruitlessly searching and battling my own self-doubt, I could finally say I was a sustainability professional.
Getting that first job motivated me to engage with USGBC-LA. I felt that I had found a community that would support me in realizing my professional dreams as long as I was making a positive contribution. I felt that the more I got involved, the more rewarding my experience became.
Searching for more ways to contribute, I came up with sharing knowledge through a monthly Existing Buildings Committee newsletter. Putting out that publication created name recognition, but it also invited interest in the Existing Buildings Committee and the Chapter from the professional community. People started seeking me out for information and asked me to give presentations. I received an audience with potential clients and grew my professional resume. It was at that point that I recognized I was inside a positive feedback loop where my contributions to the Chapter were valued, motivating me to contribute more, which in turn raised the profile of the Chapter, and subsequently raised my professional personal profile.
That positive feedback loop keeps working for me. In my current role as Senior Sustainability Consultant at Arup, I get to work on some of the most complex and challenging sustainability projects in the world. I would never have been in the position I am in today without that first part-time job working for someone that I met at an USGBC-LA event. I might never have met that person were it not for my role as Research Coordinator for the Existing Buildings Committee, for which I am now the Chair. And that role of Research Coordinator came about because I put aside my fears, went to that first meeting of the Emerging Green Builders and decided to get involved with USGBC-LA.
It is not an overstatement to say that USGBC-LA played a significant role in helping me get to where I am now in my professional life. For me, the key was to take that first step and get involved. The community that I found through the Chapter feels like family to this day. And the Chapter and its members continue to be an inspiration for me. There are too many USGBC-LA people that have had a positive impact on my life for me to thank everyone individually, but I am truly grateful. All of this is to say, volunteering is as much about giving as it is about receiving. Contact USGBC-LA for the opportunity that is right for you. Who knows where your positive feedback loop will take you?
This blog post is dedicated to the memory of Kevin Devine, who I had the honor of calling a colleague, a mentor, and a friend, and who was one of the great leaders of the chapter.