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The past must not equal the future in terms of design and development.
By Anne Riley-Katz for The National Business Post
July 26, 2020
They say the past doesn’t predict the future. But upon reviewing the following, something has to be done about best practices in design and development in order to change the future health of this planet.
In 2009, Kristen Victor took a giant leap of faith and launched her company, Sustainability Matters, with one primary focus – addressing the unsustainable practices that have been part of the industrial complex. She now educates the design and development community about best practices for sustainable growth. Here’s the story of Sustainability Matters.
Let’s take a look:
Eight million tons of plastic flow into the ocean every year, and 3.6 billion of the global population live in potentially water-stressed areas. This is expected to reach 4.8 to 5.7 billion by 2050.
Pulp and paper is the third largest industrial polluter to air, water, and land in both Canada and the United States, and releases well over 100 million kg of toxic pollution each year.
Nine out of 10 people worldwide breathe polluted air.
An estimated seven million people die every year from air pollution, with almost 90 percent of deaths occurring in countries of low and middle incomes.
The food wasted by the United States and Europe alone could feed the world three times over.
According to recent studies, humanity could save $26 trillion by 2030 through a global shift to sustainable development.
Nearly half (48%) of U.S. consumers say they would definitely or probably change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment.
Growing up along the coast in Southern California, Kristen Victor appreciated the beauty of her surrounding environment – the sun, surf, and ever flowing waters of the Pacific Ocean. Nature was just outside her front door.
Today, development and urban sprawl has put the global community and the environment, along with our physical health, under attack.
The year is 2009. Victor decides to take a stand. Upon completing a biology degree from Whittier College and LEED Accreditation, she launches her company, Sustainability Matters, with a mission to change community development standards for the better, one standard at a time.
By 2012, Victor was using a model called EcoDistricts to help communities, cities, and neighborhoods address business and residential development issues – issues that can have a serious effect on the socio-cultural and environmental outcomes of the surrounding regions including the conservation and reuse of potable water, energy efficiency, , multi-modal transportation, food security, and equitable housing development.
Victor was among the early stakeholders involved with EcoDistricts, getting on board in 2014, driven by her own commitment to change local development standards in order to protect the environment and empower regional communities to self-determine how their communities are designed, starting at the local level.
”I was curious to evaluate programming on different neighborhood development certifications, and found EcoDistricts to be exemplary in prioritizing positive outcomes in equity, resilience and climate protection, building vibrant, thriving places where all can live, work and play.”
Starting her firm, Victor’s idea was to create a data analytic technology integration firm for the building industry, helping those within the industry understand and analyze the impacts of design and development, hoping to instruct and initiate best practices for utilizing sustainable technologies. As a result, her firm evolved and today plays a key role in leading “regenerative future” workshops for not only the North American market, but also for the international market, most recently in central Mexico.
This past January, Victor and her team led and completed the 1st annual global Catalyzing Communities for A Regenerative Future workshop in Patzcuaro, Mexico, where leaders and participants aligned the Paris Agreement on Climate Control and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals with Mexico’s sustainable development policies and incentives. The outcome has been a catalyst for Patzcuaro’s unique plan for sustainable regenerative growth in the years ahead. And as Victor says, it is a plan to be replicated as a global community model.
“Building trust within a community is a challenging and delicate process,” Victor believes, “one that begins with listening, understanding and respecting local community culture and empowering residents in order to battle inequities and biases within local communities – those individual to each region.”
Kristen Victor on bike
Kristen Victor commuting to work in Patzcuaro, Mexico
As Naomi Cole, Vice President of Programs at EcoDistricts describes it, “Kristen has been a huge champion of this work. She saw an opportunity to do something different in her own backyard, which is always exciting and powerful. EcoDistricts has been a way for her to merge her passion with her professional interests.”
”EcoDistricts redefined our future, specific to equity, resilience and carbon neutrality in neighborhood development,” Victor said. The EcoDistricts platform enabled Sustainability Matters’ global access to social justice and environmental reform for neighborhood development.”
Victor knows very well. “When good projects die, it’s not a lack of knowledge about what to do, it’s lack of political will and a matter of getting the right people around the table to achieve those goals, the people who know the community best.”
Today, through the persistence and passion of thought leaders like Victor, there are accredited EcoDistricts dotted across North America. They include districts in Pacific Beach, California, in Denver, Colorado, across the midwest in St. Louis, Missouri, and also north of the border in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, to name a few.
“What we have learned is to fully understand the maximum economic benefits of these technologies. We have also learned that it was best to look at a community grid versus an individual building,” she recalled. “Our experience has allowed us to evolve into the work we’re doing today.”
These community facilitation endeavors, the workshops they have conducted globally – most recently in Mexico – and which Victor describes as “humane center focused” – have involved working directly and collectively with indigenous people, local natives, and extranjeros, the Spanish term for “outsiders”.
On the ground, their work in Mexico has involved restoration of an extremely important water source – a lake in need of water conservation and pollution strategies. Victor’s company has created business models for the globalization of the region’s unique indigenous artisan economy – without exploitation, she adds. They have also facilitated mobility options to encourage people to safely walk and ride bicycles with a focused effort on increasing healthy lifestyles, while reducing carbon emissions.
“Our facilitation in the Lago de Pátzcuaro region is focused on empowering all people to protect the earth at this time in our society – we need to be regenerative,” Victor said. “Mother Earth always prevails; our work is about respecting Mother Earth for the future of humanity.”
Rob Bennett, CEO of EcoDistricts, says Victor has been instrumental in the movement toward sustainable community development, especially when it comes to community-oriented business districts.
“She’s a really passionate, committed and kind-hearted person, who has the professional savvy that our work needs in creating a set of common goals and executing them,” Bennett said of Victor.
“If we are really going to challenge the issues that are crashing into the current climate – health,
Transcending Place Consulting at Sustainability Matters
environmental, economic strife and structural racism and things like that – this is the way we’re going to tackle those issues. These different districts – business, health, arts – all of these have different compositions, so at the end of the day it’s imperative to keep the community stakeholders at the table, and she has the skill set to do that,” Bennett said.
Sustainability does matter. Industrial development and urban planning have clearly made an impact on our ability to live healthy lives. We are suffering and so is our planet. Kristen Victor and her firm have taken the lead, working with global partners, beginning the conversation on a local and regional level about a “regenerative” future. If you would like to begin a similar conversation within your own community, reach out directly to Sustainability Matters. For more information on Catalyzing Communities workshops, visit A Regenerative Future.
Copyright © 2020. The National Business Post. All rights reserved.
Anne Riley-Katz is a journalist, business editor and writer, as well as a consultant for a variety of brands, real estate investment trusts, and retail groups. A lifelong contrarian, a multi-linguist, a storyteller, and a steadfast fan of informed humor, she is on a long-term quest for knowledge. You can normally find her on a plane, traveling, or during this pandemic, enjoying Shark Week and trivia. When not on the road, Anne is enjoying the west coast life, living in Los Angeles.