Honestly, I think adults are now less active and worried about climate change than kids these days, so for most parents, the best thing you can do is to support and encourage your kids in their own journey to get involved. Children are genuinely leading the climate movement at this point, not adults, so we can be there to keep them healthy and supported in that work.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Lindsay Baker. Lindsay is the global head of sustainability and wellbeing at WeWork. She formerly was on the founding team of a venture-backed smart building startup called Comfy (acquired by Siemens), and before that had roles working in sustainability for Google and the U.S. Green Building Council. She has a Masters degree from UC Berkeley in Building Science, and a BA from Oberlin College in Environmental Studies. She is active in many organizations working on sustainability, inclusion, and societal transformation, including serving on the board of the Bay Area non-profit, SPUR.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I grew up in the suburbs of Atlanta as the daughter of a public health advocate. So I was formed at an early age by a sense of how the built environment shapes our mental and physical health along with our environmental footprint, and it’s where I developed my sense that the health of our planet depended on better decisions around the built environment.
Was there an “aha moment” or a specific trigger that made you decide you wanted to become a scientist or environmental leader? Can you share that story with us?
It was a gradual process of learning and curiosity. I started with a passion for environmental action, as many young people do. But through a process of reading and meeting different people working on various facets of the environmental world, I found my passion for buildings, and specifically the green building movement. I was fortunate in many ways: I had access to that knowledge and those people at an early age, but also I ended up committing to a profession when it was just emerging as a major new industry.
Is there a lesson you can take out of your own story that can exemplify what can inspire a young person to become an environmental leader?
I often tell young people that what has made me successful so far is that I committed to a deep expertise area, and a professional community that I love. The environmental movement doesn’t just need warm bodies with passion and energy: we need lawyers, we need finance professionals, we need physicists, and for me, becoming a building scientist has given me a great sense of purpose.
Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?
We tackle our work through three main pillars: energy, materials, and health. And then we have a team that supports these pillars that focuses on communication, awareness-building, and engagement. On our energy team, we focus on achieving energy efficiency and clean energy procurement. On our materials team, we partner with our supply chain and procurement teams to help them buy things that are healthy and environmentally preferable. In our health work, we focus on improving air quality and other indoor environmental factors that impact human health (like lighting, for example). And across all this, we work to educate and engage members and employees about sustainability and the things we can all do to help prevent global climate change.
Can you share 3 lifestyle tweaks things that the general public can do to be more sustainable or help address the climate change challenge?
My favorite lifestyle tweaks are a little different than some, but I really believe in using the biggest levers you can. So first, I recommend divesting from fossil fuels, which is easy to do (one of my favorite easy resources is https://fossilfreefunds.org/). Second, use public transit as much as you can, or drive a hybrid or electric vehicle or bike (or my favorite, just walk everywhere you can!). Finally, reduce your consumption! Just try to buy less, especially items like clothes, which have huge carbon and water footprints. It’s good for your wallet and the planet!
Ok, thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview: The youth led climate strikes of September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change. This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion what are 5 things parents should do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement? Please give a story or an example for each.
1. Teach your kids about their role as citizens. This can be by taking them to vote, to a march, or just talking about how decisions get made that impact the planet. My favorite is watching movies about successful social movements in history so kids can learn how possible it is to change our world.
2. Teach your kids (or learn together) about climate change. I know this can be hard, but knowledge is power, as they say. There are tons of great resources out there for kids these days. NASA has some great ones!
3. Consider your diet. It’s a hard transition to take on, but honestly it’s the perfect way to start thinking about how your personal decisions make an impact. Cutting down on meat is the single biggest thing an individual can do to reduce your impact on the environment, so it’s a great way to start walking the walk. Even just “meatless mondays” or any other small change like that can build a set of values in your family that kids can carry through into other aspects of their lives, and into the future.
4. Volunteer in your community. Volunteering is a great ritual to establish with kids to help them understand that they are a part of something bigger than themselves, and to practice empathy and to learn to value collective community power.
5. Honestly, I think adults are now less active and worried about climate change than kids these days, so for most parents, the best thing you can do is to support and encourage your kids in their own journey to get involved. Children are genuinely leading the climate movement at this point, not adults, so we can be there to keep them healthy and supported in that work.
How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?
This totally depends on the business, but a great rule of thumb is that consuming and disposing of less stuff usually saves money and thus increases profits. So for real estate, we focus on consuming less energy in our spaces, which saves money and lowers our carbon footprint. But for a restaurant, for example, by reducing food waste in your operations by buying more carefully, you can also save a lot of money. It takes a little thoughtfulness, but it pays off.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
It’s hard for me to point to one person. I’ve been very fortunate to have a great community around me in my life and career, and I’ve really benefited from the support of so many people. One thing I will say, because it gets celebrated less, is that I’ve always valued the help of my peers and friends. I haven’t had mentors or bosses who have played a big role in my professional growth; it was always people coming up at the same time as me who have influenced me and helped me most.
You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
These days, it’s hard to imagine a better movement to support than the youth climate movement, so I would (and do) try and inspire people to join that movement and support these incredible young people fighting for a better life. They are incredibly thoughtful about pushing on climate action, especially in highlighting how climate justice is social justice, which is all-too-often forgotten or ignored by many of us.
What is the best way for people to follow you on social media?
Thank you for all of these great insights!