Updated: Jul 30
Sustainability is systematic. Although the complications and complexities of the term “sustainability” were dissected in my previous article — one thing is certain. The changes needed to produce such positive environmental outcomes require analyzing and revising the system.
In my natural resource economics course, we applied this sort of thinking to the issue of food waste. The first step to tackling this multi-faceted problem is to determine exactly where and how food is wasted along the supply chain. Unfortunately, for food waste specifically there seems to be a breach in every single link of the chain. From wasted stalks and rotting fruits on the farm, to ugly vegetables neglected at the grocery store to uneaten stems and spoiled leftovers at home, waste seems to be an unavoidable part of the “food chain.”
However, by critically examining the instigators of this food loss at each stage, we can create solutions that enhance true “sustainability.” For instance, waste on the farm may come from inefficient harvesting equipment while grocery store tosses are rooted in consumer misconception. Knowing this, unique solutions can then be curated to these unique problems. It is this holistic, informed view of how resources are used and the practices that promote their responsible use that can guide us towards a long-term, resource-abundant future.
Source: Paul van der Werf
But supply chain analysis and technological innovations aren’t the only surefire strategies to systematically solve environmental issues. In fact, there are innumerable sectors and plans whittling away at these broader initiatives.
For example, environmental lawyers have begun to modify property rights to privatize common areas with abundant resources (and reform open-access regimes) or --alternatively-- regulate them to prevent exploitation. Impact investors such as Riverstone Holdings have diverted money toward socially and environmentally responsible companies that they believe could hold the key to our future. Politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have used their voice in government to direct legislators toward environmental priorities. The list goes on and on.
In any case, all of these initiatives and lines of work strive for the core of sustainability: systemic change. If we are going to preserve our planet for generations to come, we can’t just bribe her by planting trees or better yet — paying other people to plant trees. We need to reform the way our world does business such that those trees were not cut down in the first place.
As an individual pursuing “sustainability,” this can be an intimidating feat. How on Earth can I convince my township to invest in more robust recycling infrastructure when I am still learning how to properly recycle myself?
In actuality, these two things go hand-in-hand. By synergizing individual and institutional change, we can have a much larger impact than we would by choosing one route over another. Challenging as it may seem, this dualistic approach is entirely possible — and it can produce incredible results.
Today, we will focus on one individual who lives this conscious mantra everyday, and has lived it for the past 15 years or so. Patty Lloyd is the Director of Sustainability for a construction contractor in Chicago called Leopardo Companies, Inc., and her role in green building makes her a role model for anyone looking to make an impact in their homes, workplaces, and beyond.
Admittedly, she was my very first mentor in sustainability, but I could not have asked for a more wonderful, experienced, successful and caring person for the job. Naturally, she was one of the first people I interviewed for my book, and while I mention her on a few separate occasions (particularly in my Purchaser’s Dilemma and Consumer Connection chapters) I wanted to dig in a little deeper to the first formal conversation we had surrounding her holistic take on sustainability.
Patty started out the interview telling me about her environmental upbringing — dating back to her Midwestern childhood. On Grandma Shafer’s 33-acre plot of land in Imlay City, Michigan, she recalls,
“There was no such thing as waste.”
As the family was financially insecure, they couldn’t afford to waste anything — especially their nutritious food. Given this, Patty and her relatives were extremely resourceful and they considered throwing things away a careless lapse of judgement.
The scant food waste coming from their home-cooked meals was pitched into the forest behind the house. Unfettered access to the woods, ponds, and blackberry patches gave Patty a lifelong appreciation for nature and understanding of its biological cycles which could be utilized to her advantage.
This respect for mother nature and the environmental impact of our food supply was also instilled by her mother’s parents, who had a farm in Rockford, Ohio and lived and died by weather and crop reports. They also pitched their food waste into the fields and swore by an outhouse despite their indoor plumbing--a true testament to their resource conservative lifestyle.
Out of this environmental consciousness rooted in financial necessity and planetary compassion, Patty rose as a phoenix to spread the awareness beyond the acres of her family farms into the ignorant metropolis.
Patty Lloyd in action at HideAway Pizza.
As a teen, Patty took these habits into her own hands and used them to fuel her environmental activism.
Her college job at HideAway Pizza turned out to be more than just a paycheck; it was an opportunity for her to learn more about resource conservation and reuse. While she was an employee there, she actively participated in programs for recycling fryer oil and glass beer bottles.
The owners fixed everything and used supplies until the end of their useful life. When the carpet became problematic, it was replaced with synthetic fiber derived from soda bottles--which seemed pretty radical in the early ‘90’s!
Eventually after HideAway franchised, recycling programs expanded to include plastics and metals as well. Plus, creative projects including wall art collages made out of recycled magazines for the restaurants were added as a reminder to customers about the company's sustainable mission. All of these plans--it goes without saying--added inspirational fuel to Patty's fire.
Considering her commitment to reducing waste and enhancing environmental responsibility as a young adult, it is unsurprising that she devoted her career to this line of work. Only this time, she wouldn’t be conversing with skeptical neighbors or reluctant restaurant managers, but investors in multi-million dollar construction projects in one of the largest architectural hubs in the world — Chicago.
This was dually challenging, as Patty mentioned in our interview, because not only is Chicago one of the most renown construction cities in the world (a lasting legacy since the Great Chicago Fire of 1871), but the construction industry itself also creates a tremendous amount of waste. In Chicago, for example, 25% of landfilled waste comes from demolition and construction waste from projects.
Furthermore, many construction components have incredibly high embodied carbon like steel and cement, while other ingredients might not be beneficial to human health or have other environmentally unfriendly features.
But rather than shy away from the trials before her, she decided to fiercely confront them, while simultaneously changing the meaning of “construction” as the world knew it--akin to the upstream battle many sustainability professionals face.
In her early days, Patty grappled with her loaded day-to-day duties such as educating her company on the importance of sustainable design and workplace practices, LEED and WELL-certified projects, and spearheading renovation projects and materials selection.
Through her tenure, however, she has come to embrace her unique position and power to create impact beyond her company. She volunteers and holds leadership positions in industry and green building organizations aimed at creating market transformation across the built environment and the construction industry specifically (USGBC, Chicago Living Future Collaborative, Illinois Green Alliance, BuildingGreen Sustainable Construction Leaders, Chicago Sustainable Construction Leaders). Patty says,
“I wanted to focus on things that could move the needle. For me to start to understand and pinpoint those areas where I could make a significant impact was a game-changer. It is important for me to work on a micro and a macro level. For the micro I need to work within my company to continue to advance us as a sustainable construction leader. On the macro — I need to move the construction industry toward more sustainable practices and better stewardship.”
By working as a contractor, planning strategically, and helping to influence policy, Patty has not only created positive outcomes for her individual projects, but also for the complex socio-economic systems they are situated in.
Green Chicago piece: Illinois Green Alliance Silent Auction Fundraiser
As a contractor, Patty has the opportunity to check her company’s operations in alignment with their values of sustainability.
As a strategist, she can map out and troubleshoot projects beforehand to ensure that less waste is created — which is especially optimal for demolition projects--and select the best methods to minimize the impact of her operations on the environment.
As a policy influencer, she can advocate for more robust recycling infrastructure and public programs promoting investment in sustainable design. For example, she currently sits on the City of Chicago Decarbonization Task Force, where she is able to advocate for Net Zero Building strategy within the city.
Her array of roles is diverse and comprehensive, which is precisely what we need in our current state. We need individuals like Patty to take on this task of pulling together many different seats to the table to facilitate cross-sectoral conversation.
Interconnection is our key to success.
So although Patty does religiously practice household rituals like using rain barrels to conserve water, composting her food scraps, using wood-framed windows to efficiently insulate her house, and relying on consignment shops for clothing, her activism does not stop on her front doorstep.
Drawdown Chicago piece: Illinois Green Alliance Silent Action Fundraiser
She has inspired me, her children, her future children’s children, her co-workers, C-Suite executives, government officials, colleagues in sustainability, and so many others to live and work harmoniously with our planet — and encourage those around us to do so as well.
That is what I call “sustainability.”
Creating positive, long-term, systemic change that will last for generations and make our world a more environmentally-supportive and equitable place to live. Advocating for more conscious consideration of our planet and the critical resources it provides in our daily lives — both individually and institutionally. Merging our values into the way we live and the way we work.
This is your legacy, Patty. So thank you — from me and the whole host of people that you have impacted and inspired. I can’t wait to see what you continue to accomplish, and how I can be a part of your journey!
For more information on Patty, you can connect with her on LinkedIn!