If there’s ever been a year in recent history that’s created unparalleled levels of uncertainty and change, it’s 2020. Within our own industry, this year has presented significant challenges and battles for professionals on and off the jobsite. We’re highlighting some of these professionals who have emerged as 2020 Heroes from our 40 Under 40: Champions of Construction 2020. Today, we’re turning the spotlight on Kate Bubriski, Director of Sustainability and Building Performance at Arrowstreet. Kate works to provide healthier, more sustainable buildings that improve the lives of occupants and communities. This year, Kate has seized the challenges of the global pandemic and the justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion movement to bring attention to the role the built environment plays in human health.
As a testament to her incredible work, Kate’s peers had this to say about her work: “Through her expertise in community engagement and sustainable design paired with digital and construction technologies, Kate brings an unsurpassed passion, innovation, and success to all of the projects at Arrowstreet. Her leadership has driven the firm to make great strides in sustainable, resilience, and wellness design, becoming a nationally recognized firm for this work.”
We recently had the opportunity to speak with Kate about the challenges of this year, her thoughts on how the industry can improve communities through sustainable architecture, and who her heroes are. Read her story below.
Tell me a little bit about Arrowstreet and what you specialize in.
Arrowstreet is a Boston-based architecture and design firm comprised of architects, interior designers, planners, and graphic designers. Our work is regional and covers an array of diverse project types including mixed-use, residential, schools, retail, master plans, and research initiatives.
We view architecture as a progressive, collaborative way to work with clients and communities to develop the built environment. We don’t just specialize in one or two sectors, our projects are unique in that we utilize staff across studios, creating diverse, multi-use, and innovative buildings.
I am the Director of Sustainability and Building Performance at Arrowstreet, and a licensed architect by background. I focus on the sustainability, resilience, and wellness parts of our projects. This looks at everything from project and client work to business development, advocacy work, and the outward community engagement piece of our office. In my role, I essentially cover anything that falls under sustainability, resilience, and wellness, which also includes equity, diversity, and inclusion.
From my understanding, you’ve seized the challenges of COVID-19 and the diversity, equity, and inclusion movement to bring attention to the role the built environment plays in human health. Tell me more about that.
That is something I have been aware of for a long time. As someone who is not a person of color, I think that I always struggled to understand how I can help. Communities of color are disproportionately impacted by pollution, urban heat islands and high heat situations, and natural disasters like hurricanes and fires and floods. There has been a history of urban development projects and policies of how these communities have been planned, treated, and managed that have put them in this position where their health has been impacted so much.
As a person who focuses on the environment, that’s how I look at the lens of equity, diversity, and inclusion. How can I, as somebody from the sustainability/environment movement help? How can I lend my expertise, my voice, or my time? That means talking about how we’ve gotten to this point and how architects have participated in the way the built environment has been developed to understand the impacts that we’ve made. Then we try to figure out how to reverse the negative impacts by moving forward with them in mind. How can we make environmental justice a key priority? How can that drive everything we do in the built environment as architects and designers moving forward?
The general population typically doesn’t know the full impact that the built environment has on their health.
So, if I’m going to take a positive thing away from 2020, I think making the connection between health and the built environment, and then also the built environment and racism and equity and inclusion are huge steps.
As far as educating others on this connection and its impact, I’ve been trying to take advantage of the “virtualness” of everything right now and reach more people. I’ve been working with national organizations who are connecting with people across the country, from East to West coast, and in between.
As far as outside of the industry, I look for opportunities where the general population is already engaged in something and how I can tie into it. As a recent example, there was a group working on building awareness around electric cooking because the emissions from gas cooking are bad for the environment and our air quality. The event wasn’t exactly the typical place that an architect would need to be but going to an event like this one gave me a chance to be a part of the community, participate, and listen.
How do you continue to stay creative, dedicated, and empathetic at work?
My work revolves around impacting people’s lives in a positive way, so I take that very personally. I’m not a doctor, I’m not a nurse, but I feel like what I do impacts people’s health. I remind myself that this is important, and you might not be having a great day or a great week, but everyone is in the same boat. And by me just spending an hour working on something, such as a multifamily project, I could make apartments healthier for the people who are going to live in them.
This year was supposed to be Earth Year at my firm. When I started there 8 years ago, I did an Earth Day event, and then it became Earth Week, then Earth Month, and now Earth Year. The intent this year was to highlight that we’re just a decade away from a milestone where we have committed to reducing carbon emissions in order to avoid catastrophic consequences.
Of course, going remote threw a huge wrench in that. I have been trying to find unique ways to engage people while we are working from home and still carry on that theme of Earth Year and the things that we wanted to do. I also tell people, “It’s okay. There is urgency, but it’s okay if we can’t meet every goal this year, so how can we meet those goals next year?” That is what gets me going every day; trying to be creative while understanding that everyone has a lot of work and life things that they’re dealing with.
When you look back at 2020, are there any silver linings, lessons learned, key takeaways? Tell me about them.
Just the awareness outside our industry is huge. Health and climate change are on the agenda in a way that they’ve never been before, and people seem to have voted for that. That is something that I am going to take into the next year, the awareness and prioritization of how important this is across everyone outside the AEC industry. Within the industry, there is more of an aptitude for action. I think people realize, “Hey, we actually can do this. We can make our buildings zero carbon right now.”
Who have been your heroes this year? How have they made an impact in your life?
My heroes are the younger generation. I don’t want to undersell other generations either, but the people who’ve really been out there and are keeping the voices constant, those are my heroes who aren’t afraid to go out there and say, “This is important.”
I also take a lot of support from the national network of Sustainable Design Leaders that I’m part of. This national network includes sustainable leaders from 100 of the leading large and midsize firms. National initiatives to push the industry forward have come from this group. We’re also a peer network and support system.
Looking ahead to 2021 (and beyond), what do you think construction professionals and firms need to do to stay resilient?
It’s about pushing forward, being innovative and not taking a reactionary approach to stall or to even go backward. I think that is the way that you stay resilient. Someone can always say, “I don’t want to do that” or “I don’t agree with that” or “Maybe that’s not the right move,” but I think that to be resilient, you need to always think about what more can we do? That can be taken in lots of different ways, whether it’s should we work on different types of projects? Or should we, in my case, focus on building performance more in a different way? The biggest thing that we can do is to recognize where people are, but at the same time, always try to move forward.
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