I want to make sure that I never make the mistake of assigning a definition to ‘sustainability,’ creating parameters to what it is or is not. With recent global crises in mind, I plan to be more intentional about connecting racial justice to my efforts to address climate action and wellbeing within the built environment. As I continue to challenge norms and push comfort zones for positive environmental impacts, I am excited to integrate society’s lessons learned from the immediate crisis at hand. It is all closely intertwined and will not be solved if individual elements of the problem are separated. I am conscious that I, as an individual, do not have all of the answers and anticipate many future opportunities to collaborate with Experts with Impact to challenge ‘normal’.
As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kristen Fulmer.
Kristen Fulmer is a sustainability expert, focused on maximizing performance and promoting occupant health and wellbeing within the built environment. In 2019, Kristen founded Recipric, a partner to sports organizations seeking support to visualize their sustainability strategy, develop objectives, and connect with experts to enact positive change. Prior, Kristen led Sustainability Advisory for WeWork’s Global Sustainability Team, where she facilitated sustainability services between WeWork and Fortune 100 Enterprise members. Before WeWork, Kristen managed sustainability in the Americas for Lendlease, an International development and construction firm and also has prior experience in a variety of consulting engagements within the real estate development industry.
Kristen holds an MS in Sustainable Design from the University of Texas’ School of Architecture and a BS in Public & Urban Environmental Affairs from Virginia Tech’s School of Architecture. Kristen is a LEED AP O+M, ID+C, ND; a WELL AP; a Fitwel Ambassador; a TRUE Advisor; and an EcoDistricts AP.
Thank you so much for joining us Kristen. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
To put it simply, I was raised by hippies. Growing up I was taught to love and protect the earth, to reduce resource consumption, and to make efficient decisions. I would often get grounded for leaving a light on too long, or for leaving the blinds on my window at the wrong angle. It was pretty hardcore in my household and a lot of times, I really resented the discomfort and impracticality of how our home was operated. This was just part of my life growing up and I didn’t relate it directly to my career path until later.
In 6th grade we were studying Greek history and were asked to choose a topic. I chose architecture and after learning the basics, I was hooked on the idea of becoming an architect. Through high school, I took drafting classes and went to Virginia Tech to pursue a degree in architecture. After years of studying the built environment, I realized that my mission was to design spaces that were efficient, like the way I grew up, but also comfortable and beautiful, to make sustainability a more approachable lifestyle. This realization catalyzed my pursuit of a Master’s Degree in Sustainable Design and continues to guide my career path, where I actively choose projects that find new, exciting ways to communicate the importance of sustainability.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
As a sustainability professional, the only way to future-proof my employment is to constantly seek opportunities to implement and maximize positive change. We cannot settle for ‘business as usual’ because there is always something better that we can be doing. By definition, positive change requires constant iteration, challenging norms, pushing comfort zones, and facilitating new partnerships. Leaders of unicorn start-ups would agree that this is a critical ingredient for innovation.
The true magic happens when those big companies, what I call [Brands with Platform], are connected to the experts that have the capacity to drive innovation within their area of expertise, what I call [Experts with Impact]. As a dot-connector, I constantly source opportunities to combine those two ingredients for disruption. The more effectively those ingredients are mixed together, the more successful and impactful the positive change recipe.
We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
Throughout my journey, I’ve been fortunate to have a great collection of mentors, including colleagues to challenge assumptions and leaders that inspire thought.
Lindsay Baker, my manager when I worked at WeWork, is someone that I continue to admire, even though we are no longer able to work together every day. Lindsay is the right balance of compassion and tenacity… And as she’d say, she’s “a badass woman.” She is passionate about so many topics that I knew nothing about — and am still catching up on many of them. I am astounded at her ability to speak eloquently about issues that may typically be considered outside of the “sustainability” job description, including racial justice and gender equality. As I listen to her podcast, ‘Women in Sustainability’, one of her latest projects since leaving WeWork, I ask myself: How does she know so much about so much?
When I transitioned onto her team, Lindsay set up a one-on-one meeting to set expectations for our work together. During that conversation, she asked, “What qualities do you like in a manager?” No one had asked me this question before, certainly not my direct manager. All of a sudden, Lindsay felt so human, so real, and so vulnerable. In myhead, I quickly pivoted my long list of things that weren’t effective from my history of managers into positive, actionable suggestions. This is just one example from a long list of times that Lindsay did or said things that triggered a mental note of managerial qualities that I hoped to adopt.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
“There’s no such thing as a bad connection.” Something my grandmother continuously reminded me. Every time I walk into a networking event or press send on a LinkedIn message and the shy part of my brain kicks in, I use this reminder to override it.
“Look out for yourself because no one else will.” A quote that the boss of my first full-time job continually repeated to me. Though it may sound cutthroat, this advice came from a person who had experienced and overcame many harsh realities of the current system. This quote often comes to mind when I consider how to react to a challenge.
“You have to send mail to get mail.” Something my dad used to tell me when I was younger and disappointed about an empty mailbox. To me, this has grown to be a simple reminder to be a good friend. Staying in touch with people costs close to nothing, but can me so meaningful.
How are you going to shake things up next?
I want to make sure that I never make the mistake of assigning a definition to ‘sustainability,’ creating parameters to what it is or is not. With recent global crises in mind, I plan to be more intentional about connecting racial justice to my efforts to address climate action and wellbeing within the built environment.
As I continue to challenge norms and push comfort zones for positive environmental impacts, I am excited to integrate society’s lessons learned from the immediate crisis at hand. It is all closely intertwined and will not be solved if individual elements of the problem are separated. I am conscious that I, as an individual, do not have all of the answers and anticipate many future opportunities to collaborate with Experts with Impact to challenge ‘normal’.
Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?
Much of the content that has shaped my thinking on climate-related issues through the years feels less relevant for the realities of our society at this point in time. This unique combination of crises, many that are well overdue, creates a new context for the climate change crisis. As I grapple with the challenges of this new context, and the complicated intersection of these issues, it has been helpful to talk it out with friends and colleagues. The consensus is that social equity and climate change must be addressed on parallel tracks. Each crisis requires challenging norms, reframing our thinking, and enacting systemic change.
If this is a new topic for you, I’d recommend this quick read by Eric Holdhaus called The climate crisis is racist. The answer is anti-racism.
If that piece resonates, I’d recommend going a step deeper:
Article: Bill McKibben, a well-known author and activist in my world, historically focused on climate activism, recently wrote a piece in The New Yorker calledRacism, Police Violence, and the Climate Are Not Separate Issues. Podcast: Columbia University’s Earth Institute called Sustain What has been convening industry experts for relevant virtual conversations
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
A few months ago, it is almost certain that my answer would have been that ‘climate action’ is the necessary movement to enact and maximize global positive change. However, in the context described above, my answer is now different.
When we educate, protest, vote, and lead movements towards systemic change, we must remember that the environment, our home, is a part of that intricate system. Using the tools listed above, and many, many more, I strongly urge each of us, as global citizens to consider and act upon the holistic positive change.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Individually we are one drop. Together we are an ocean.” -Ryunosuke Satoro
This quotes gives me the energy to stay at home during a pandemic, to participate in actions for racial justice, and to make decisions that are better for the planet. I find that it is an effective visual to catalyze inspiration for others that feel that their individual actions won’t have an impact.