Insider insight: Julie Hirigoyen

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Julie Hirigoyen became the new CEO of the UK Green Building Council earlier this month. Here she reminisces on some important influences and shares some tips on how to succeed in the sustainable building sector.

Q: How did you land your current job?

A: When I heard that Paul King was stepping down as Chief Executive of the UK Green Building Council I was shocked. Like many people, I couldn’t imagine the organisation without the charismatic leader who had put it on the map. But it was a conversation with Paul himself that made me think what a fantastic opportunity this represented for someone else. So by the time I took the call from the recruitment agency, I had already decided I would give this my very best shot. I must admit to being very happily surprised that it only took one interview with the UK-GBC Remuneration Committee to secure my appointment.

Q: Do you have any tips for people about to embark in your field on how to make a success out of their careers in sustainability?

A: Sustainability is such a broad and complex field. It’s important for anyone embarking into it to think very carefully about their skills, interests and motivations. It is possible to be a leader in sustainability in so many different ways: strategic or technical; pan-industry or sector specific; public or private sector; socio-economic or environmental… The most important qualities are commitment, tenacity and courage.

Q: Who have been your role-models/mentors in your career?

A: I was fortunate enough to be one of the first cohorts of Forum for the Future’s Scholarship in Leadership for Sustainable Development back in 1997. This introduced me first hand to several of the UK’s leading authors and thinkers – including Sara Parkin, Jonathan Porritt and Paul Ekins – all of whom continue to be a huge source of inspiration. I subsequently learnt much of what I know from my long-time friend, mentor, and colleague, Professor David Cadman, whose creativity, wisdom and kindness are unparalleled. I also spent a few weeks at Schumacher College, and found myself very inspired by Satish Kumar, whose peaceful pilgrimage from India to USA in protest against nuclear weapons still resonates strongly today.

Q: Could you sum up, in one sentence, what has changed in the industry since you first began your job?

A: The doors are now open, and the conversation has shifted from ‘Why Bother’ to ‘Show me How’.

Q: What does the future have in store for your industry – choppy waters ahead? Or a fruitful and secure future?

A: UK-GBC and its members share a common vision: “a built environment that enables a high quality of life for people, within limits our planet can support”. Many of the technological solutions and social innovations required to achieve this vision already exist today. With more joined up thinking, and a progressive approach to change, the property and construction industries could lead the way. But we must overcome political apathy, and short-term investment horizons, if we want to genuinely make a difference.