In celebration of Women’s History Month, we’re highlighting women who are leading the way in positively transforming our communities through high-performance buildings.
Meet Julia Gisewite, VP and Chief Sustainability Officer at Turner Construction Company and IMT board member.
Why does building performance matter to you?
Once I learned that buildings account for ~40% of global greenhouses emissions annually, I couldn’t unlearn it. When I entered the construction industry 16 years ago, I didn’t do so with the sole intent of making it a cleaner business. But now that I know this statistic, I feel a deep sense of responsibility to decarbonize the buildings we build and make them more resilient to the effects of climate change that are already upon us.
Not to mention, the do-nothing scenario is scary. I have two young boys. I am simultaneously worried about and hopeful for their future. I try to teach them that conserving resources and being kind to the planet isn’t hard, you just have to be intentional about it sometimes. The work I do is really for them.
What is an example of how you’ve promoted high-performance buildings?
Sustainability topics and technologies are evolving so quickly. My team and I have placed a heavy focus on internal education opportunities for our own staff over the last two years, because hundreds of megaphones are louder than a few.
We held monthly webinars on resiliency, embodied carbon, net-zero energy, building life cycle emissions, and more. In 2021 we hosted our first annual company-wide Sustainability Summit with the theme “Power Moves.” Our speaker sessions were focused on the powerful moves that might change the course of sustainable construction this decade. It was an exhilarating and inspirational day!
We also regularly bring in manufacturer and vendors to speak to us about emerging high-performance building technologies and solutions. When we are smarter about what’s available to our clients, we can be better partners for them.
The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is “Women in Leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world.” What changes do you think women are bringing to the construction industry?
The most influential women I see in the industry today are masters at promoting and advocating for other women around them. If I had to dub the movement something, I’d call it “the collective lift,” with a premise of pay-it-forward.
The COVID-19 era has been a lesson in resilience. Women have resilience in spades. Everyone has struggled during COVID in their own personal way, and two years in, I think we are collectively more empathetic. It sounds strange, but I’ve witnessed the construction industry become a little more ‘human’ during COVID, meaning, more we’re intentional about taking care of each other. I think women have been instrumental in that shift, demonstrating a new level of grace plus grit.
What is your advice for women in the energy and sustainability sectors?
Climate change can feel like such an overwhelming crisis. Because it is. As individuals, we only have so much fortitude and hours in a day to spend fighting the good fight. The reality is that we have to pick our battles and make strides wherever we can.
My advice is to lead from your seat. Meaning, whatever your role or whatever your sector, find a corner to chip away at. My industry is construction, it’s my “corner”. I can’t influence change in other sectors like transportation or industry, but I can advocate for smarter ways to build sustainably.