A celebration of HERstory 2021 WCS Talks – Part III

 In WCS Blog

March is women’s history month. In the madness of a pandemic year when we’ve been pushed to reach new levels of resilience, achievement, and perseverance, I have been listening and wanting to tell HERstory more than ever. For me, finding and becoming an active member of Women in Cleantech and Sustainability was a pivotal moment – where community, passion, vision, and kindness lifted me up and reminded me: I am not alone

For those who missed Part Three of the WCS Talks Series, let me take you on a little journey through the inspiring speakers and the stories I had the pleasure of listening to. 

“We are community makers.” “Build the world that you want to see.” Lisa-Ann Pinkerton, Founder and Chairwoman of WCS, kicked-off the TED-style talks with rallying welcoming words. She set the tone for the morning, as themes of community, female leadership, building up better futures, whole-body wellbeing and system change ran through the six inspirational WCS talks. Her introduction reminded us of the power of telling our own stories and of lifting each other up.

Pushing the envelope in water innovation, female leadership and equity in sustainability

Speaker Brittany Kendrick started out with a powerful reminder about the devastating impact of the February 2021 winter storm in Texas – disrupting everyday life and uncovering systemic failure not only through the widely reported rolling blackouts, but through the collapse of the water supply system. Over 1 million households did not have access to clean drinking water during and after the storm, as power and water access are inextricably linked. Brittany reminded us all that water insecurity is closer to home than we might think. 

To help solve this problem around one of our most essential community resources, Brittany’s water technology company Hydronomy is working on providing water autonomy through decentralized means with smart, equitable and resilient solutions. Check out their products here

Alexandra Rasch took us on a deep-dive on how to effectively lead in male dominated industries. As a native Guatamalian and now founding CEO of Caban Systems, she works in the power sector, designing and manufacturing software enabled energy storage systems. Yet most importantly, as an environmentalist, entrepreneur, immigrant, engineer and part of the LGBTQ community, she shared three important take-aways from her leadership journey. First, understand your own self. Knowing yourself, having self-compassion and self-awareness are fundamental to being a good leader. Second, commit and stay committed. It is easy to be motivated when things are running smoothly, but having perseverance in those difficult times will push you to a new level. Third – find your mentors. Because behind every good leader is an army of little angels, who support you in achieving your goals. As Alexandra reminded us that only 3% of startups are founded by females, the message hit home on how important it is to reach out, support and give back as we ourselves succeed – for we can all be somebody’s mentor and angel. 

Rita Kampalath is certainly one of those angels for Los Angeles. As Sustainability Program Director for LA County’s Chief Sustainability Office, she implements the city’s ambitious and equitable vision for a sustainable LA. She conveyed the huge range of differences in quality of life and of human development indices present within the city, and how much wellbeing actually varies in the City of Angels. The stark differences that she revealed underpin why equity is such a big part of LA’s sustainability plan; you cannot call yourself sustainable when so many parts of the community are struggling to meet their basic needs. Rita then explained how procedural, distributional, structural and transgenerational equity plays an integral part in LA’s sustainability plan. While the issues in the plan can seem overwhelming, the overarching vision of an equitable and sustainable LA that underpins all the measure truly represents a community that would be wonderful to live in. 

A welcome networking opportunity took place halfway through the talks, when attendees met in small breakout rooms. It was refreshing to chat with some of the amazing people in the audience, not to mention the many LinkedIn profiles and comments that were posted in the chat. 

Through the looking glass  – new perspectives on plastics, beauty and solar site development

During the second half of the WCS Talks, three speakers showed us new ways of thinking, a kaleidoscope of complexity and different lenses to their fields. 

Linda Sobczynski is an environmental attorney whose presentation focused on marine plastic pollution, and her favorite marine invertebrate – the octopus. The octopus symbolizes adaptability, with its millions of cells responding to its oceanic world. That is exactly what Linda does, too, as she adapts to new regulations and challenges. One dramatic problem is marine plastic pollution; nearly nine million tons of plastic waste flow into our oceans every year – a number that could triple by 2040 is nothing is done. To help prevent this, Linda advocates for approaches that address the problem at its root and keep plastic out of the ocean in the first place. Extended producer responsibility (EPR) is one of those regulatory approaches – where manufacturers share responsibility for the treatment, disposal and recycling of plastics. While EPR schemes might be legally challenged as being unconstitutional for interfering with commerce, there are legal options to adapt the law enough to be upheld. So, as Linda concluded, let’s tap into our inner octopuses and see how we can adapt! If you want to read more about EPR, take a look at this article.

From the ugliness of plastic pollution to the beauty of cleanliness – Kenetia Lee is founder and CEO of PopUP Clean Up, developing a SaaS platform to keep people and the planet healthy. But her connection to beauty goes deeper – as a former Hollywood red carpet makeup artist, Kenetia shared a deeply personal story of what beauty meant to her, and how we can all improve our own beauty scorecard. She reminded us that there is more to beauty than physical attributes, such as the memory and feeling that people leave with us. Moreover, the best way to increase your sense of beauty – from self-judgment to complete freedom – is to give yourselves that high score! Change your mind, change your life. To help change that mind, there are three exercises we can work on: 

  1. self-care and fun with what we physically embody
  2. embracing whole-body wellbeing through emotional and spiritual health and beauty
  3. the willingness to forgive. 

To forgive ourselves, and to forgive those with whom we have grievances can be the same thing. Finally, she asked us a question we can all benefit from: Are You Willing? That is the question we have to ask ourselves for any next step in life. The road we have chosen will take a lot of soul searching, love, and self-compassion, along with the willingness to fall down and get back up. 

Lien Dinh from First Solar in the final presentation took us on a journey through the intricate considerations and challenges for utility scale solar development. Some of the central elements of site selection are the location of the project, its surface (e.g. large and flat), ownership structure, and cost. Yet key is working with the different types of landowners – from public, to tribal or private. While they each have their challenges and advantages, the challenge is figuring out how to best address their respective preferences. For instance, tribal landowners might want to increase economic diversity and job opportunities for tribal members. Multi-generational farming families might face an uncertain future. Trust and finding her own voice are the central elements that create the connection to establish a profound working relationship. Lien pointed out that solar development is particularly challenging when mineral rights (who owns the elements below the land surface) and surface rights are in the hands of different owners! Lien points out that this happens often as it is fueled by speculators. Once, she had to track down the mineral right owners all the way to Europe. 

With that fascinating insight into a sector that many of us know too little about, the WCS talks concluded with a final round of breakout sessions and networking, where we all built on the stories these women shared with us with our own thoughts and ideas. As we resumed our daily lives, I hope you are all inspired by these leaders who are shaping our collective HERstory. Together, we can celebrate women’s history month every month of the year, shape our present and future with these brilliant minds working every day to solve our biggest challenges! 

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