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If sustainability is recognized in theory, what prevents people from putting it into practice?

Jody Rechenmacher identifies challenges and pathways to sustainable integration

Despite its growth in public discourse, people still encounter barriers to incorporating sustainability into their lifestyles and into the details of their work. Jody Rechenmacher identified this trend and some of the underlying barriers feeding it at recent Lunch ‘n Learn presentations at the Vancouver and Edmonton Urban Systems offices.

“Many people think of sustainability as a buzzword because it gets applied to so many different concerns and considerations, and then people end up writing it off because they say it doesn’t mean anything,” says Jody, community infrastructure consultant and professional engineer.

“Sustainability actually does mean a lot. It’s just that the system is really complex,” she says.

According to a survey conducted by the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists, a common challenge people face in incorporating sustainability into their work is simply knowing what to do and how to do it.

In her presentation, Jody talked about her use of the Envision tool, a rating system for public infrastructure, which is useful even if a project is not seeking accreditation, she says.

“It provides the project team and the project manager with a list of questions that they can think about to reframe their project or find different opportunities to incorporate sustainability,” Jody explains.

“It helps to ask questions around what’s the right way to do a project, but also what is the right project?”

Professionals may also find it challenging to know when to bring up sustainability — especially if clients aren’t asking about it. It often takes a “leap of courage” to raise sustainability considerations in these cases.

“I think sometimes as engineers we tend to approach projects in very pragmatic ways and be open to solving challenges, but it might seem out of scope to some to start thinking more aspirationally about what a project could be, especially if the client has framed it up already,” Jody says.

If the conversation is reframed openly with aspiration in mind, clients and engineers can collectively imagine: “What is the potential that this project could be?” she asks.

Jody embodied this spirit of aspiration during her presentation. She pushed the boundaries of what conversations on sustainability typically include. “Much of the public dialogue is about sustainability, which would mean keeping things the same over the long run,” she says.

“Regenerative development, or restorative development as it is called in the Envision Tool, looks to improve beyond the existing state.”

Nearly 20 people joined each of the Jan. 16 and Jan. 23 presentations on sustainability and public infrastructure — leaving some people with a hunger for more.

“Time for a well-deserved shout out to Jody Rechenmacher for her valuable thought leadership and for being such a mover and a shaker,” wrote Brittney Dawney, water strategy consultant, in an internal Yammer post following the presentation.

Jody’s presentation should be given at TED, she adds.

Tune in for part two of this series on sustainability and public infrastructure.

For more resources on sustainability guidelines, visit the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of British Columbia website and the Envision tool designed by the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure.

Read Part 2 of this story here >>

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