The Big Picture: Converging Paths to Sustainability

By Jessie Buckmaster | Editorial, Features, Urban Design

At first glance, the direction my career path has taken felt random. My passions for enjoying nature, admiring high-rises, volunteering with non-profits, and promoting social justice causes seemed separate. When I stopped to take a moment to look back, I began to see how my past experiences converged into a single idea: Sustainability.

Yosemite National Park at Sunrise. Photo by Jessie Buckmaster

Yosemite National Park at Sunrise. Photo by Jessie Buckmaster.

I grew up in Northern California about halfway between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe. I was between the urban state capital, nicknamed the City of Trees (it has more trees per capita than any other city in the world); and the gorgeous deep blue lake tucked up in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The majority of the vacations my family took while I was young involved camping. I’ve had the honor of visiting several of America’s great National Parks including Yosemite, Sequoia, Grand Canyon and Yellowstone. One of my earliest forays in the world of sustainability was volunteering at the American River Nature Conservancy in Coloma, CA, “a non-profit community organization in the central Sierra Nevada foothills, we work to preserve natural areas and cultural resources and build an enduring ethic of care, building a sustainable future for humans in harmony with nature.”

Doing Meaningful Work

Volunteer work is in my DNA, and using my time to meet very tangible needs fulfills me more than anything. In high school I had the opportunity to work with an organization which was building homes for families in Tijuana, Mexico. Wielding a hammer, in a dusty neighborhood in the heat of July, working alongside the family who would inhabit this home, I knew that buildings and construction can make a big, positive influence on the world. I have since also volunteered on various projects with Habitat for Humanity, St. Bernard Project in New Orleans, and Advocates for Africa’s Children in Swaziland.

I love traveling to major cities and admiring the ingenuity of architects, engineers, builders, and urban planners. In college I studied Civil Engineering and was then introduced formally to the concept of sustainability. Through environmental science courses, and then a series of sustainability courses taught by a UN peacekeeper who performed environmental assessments in post-conflict areas; I was reminded of my roots and had found my niche. With all of my experiences, I was convinced that the natural environment and the built environment did not need to compete, but could instead work together.

Paths to Sustainability Through Teamwork

Downtown Los Angeles. Photo by Jessie Buckmaster.

Downtown Los Angeles. Photo by Jessie Buckmaster.

After college I began working for Hathaway Dinwiddie Construction Company. This California based General Contractor has a legacy of iconic projects including the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Transamerica pyramid in San Francisco. Thanks to an encouraging workplace and advantageous opportunities, I have been able to develop my experience in green building. I’m a member of our strategic planning team for sustainable building. I help develop green educational opportunities for our employees and promote sustainable practices across our offices and jobsites.

I’m drawn to the sustainability community; a collaborative, positive, and encouraging group of people. We’re working toward a common goal to essentially save the world from ourselves. Sustainability to me is about people. It’s about social justice. If the benefits are only available to the highest bidder then it has failed. Our efforts must be accessible to everyone and have lasting effects to benefit the rest of the world. I’m a big picture thinker, and the idea that economics, environment and social justice can benefit and support each other when executed correctly just makes sense. We need to learn how to think in the long term. We’re beginning to see this doesn’t even mean planning for future generations, but for our own lifetimes. There are things that we can change now that will have radical implications for the future of our planet and our people.

About The Author

I currently work for a General Contractor in Los Angeles as an Assistant Project Manager and member of our strategic planning committee for sustainable construction. I have a degree in Civil Engineering and am a LEED AP BD+C. I am member of my local USGBC chapter as well as Living Building Challenge Collaborative. I believe that sustainability is key to changing the world into a better place for all people.