The Minnesota Women in Energy series highlights influential women who are part of our state’s energy efficiency and renewable energy industries. CERTs is highlighting these leaders during the month of March in 2018, which is Women’s History Month, culminating in a reception at the 2018 CERTs Conference in St. Cloud on March 28th.
As part of the series we interviewed Becky Alexander, Architect and Researcher at LHB, Inc., to learn more about her work, what inspires her, and how other women can get involved in the industry. Read on to learn more!
Can you tell us a little bit about what you do in the energy world in Minnesota?
As an architect and sustainability researcher at local architecture and engineering firm LHB, I work on clean energy projects across a range of scales–from how we can reduce the energy used at a single desk to how Minnesota can kick-start the transition to a clean energy future using strategies identified by stakeholders in Minnesota’s 2025 Energy Action Plan. My two primary scales, however, are the building (architect, remember?) and the city. At the building scale, in addition to providing sustainability consulting on LHB projects, I am part of Minnesota’s B3/SB 2030 Management Team, where I help to continually expand the impact of these sustainable building programs and share results and stories through the B3 Case Studies Database. At the city scale, I am the primary researcher for Minnesota’s Regional Indicators Initiative, where I help track citywide performance metrics and create community-scale energy planning tools like the wedge tool, an interactive diagram showing how different energy efficiency and decarbonization strategies can contribute to meeting city-wide greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals.
How did you get into this work?
Like many in the profession, I knew I wanted to become an architect since the first time I heard the word (say age 10). Perhaps intuiting that a liberal arts background would serve me well in this profession, I attended Carleton College. My wide range of coursework (including a double major in Studio Art and Spanish) exposed me to knowledge in topics ranging from psychology to jewelry-making and developed my ability to communicate through visual, oral, and written media. The Monday after graduation, I started as a dual-degree student in the Master of Architecture and Master of Science in Architecture–Sustainable Design programs at the University of Minnesota, where I designed through iteration, traced water flows throughout a site, and struggled to understand the complexities of systems thinking.
I stumbled upon the perfect position in the midst of my graduate work when I responded to a posting for an internship at LHB in 2012. At the time, I was unaware of LHB’s reputation for sustainable design leadership, and I didn’t realize that the role I would play as an architect/researcher was nearly unprecedented within architecture firms. Ever since then, I’ve been defining my role as I go–with lots of support from LHB and a strong cohort of sustainable design thinkers in the Twin Cities.
What is a typical day like for you?
I say good morning to the bald eagles and practice my upcoming presentation as I bike to work along the Mississippi River. After greeting my coworkers on the way to my desk, I tend to work at my double monitors on a variety of projects throughout the day, with meetings interspersed. I may spend a few hours getting buried in a spreadsheet of greenhouse gas calculations, check in with a design team to ensure an architecture project is meeting its sustainability goals, chat with one of our mechanical engineers about doing a study on the impact of mechanical system noise on students, and finish the day by creating an infographic for an upcoming presentation at a local environmental commission or national conference. I’ll usually snag a ride with a coworker when going to an external meeting, whether it’s at the University of Minnesota, a state agency in St. Paul, or a non-profit in Minneapolis. If I need a change of scenery within the office, my laptop and I will seek a counter-height work surface and a patch of sun. I rarely see the eagles on my bike ride home; in the summer I squint my eyes against the gnats and in the winter there’s a pretty creepy murder of crows loitering in the river valley. During this ride, I sing.
What are the best and worst parts of your job?
The built environment has a dramatic impact on both human and ecological wellness, with relevant topics ranging from responsible resource use to building equitable and resilient communities. This informs both the best parts of my job–the ability to explore interesting topics and work on meaningful projects, and the worst part–the missed opportunities when long-term, communal benefits are sacrificed in favor of short-term, individual gains.
What about your job inspires you?
I’m inspired by a vision of a better future. LHB is known for being client-focused, taking pride in our long-term relationships. After hearing Paul Hawken present preliminary insights from Drawdown in 2016, I was inspired to begin my own long-term commitment to my newly-identified primary client: Tomorrow’s Child. By working daily on projects that seek to improve the lives of those who are not yet born (whether through energy planning or building design), I am driven by a strong sense of purpose. The designer in me is also inspired by my office environment: the way the sunlight changes the character of the space throughout the day, how the static photographs of our work are activated by the reflection of office activity in the glass walls of our server room, by the perfect one-point perspective view of the linear white LEDs receding across the office, punctuated by black fabric ducts.
What advice do you have for women who are thinking about working in energy?
Neither apologize for your idealism nor be crippled by reality. Not everyone is ready for your ideas just yet, but you are on the right side of history.
Architect and Researcher
With a Master of Science in Sustainable Design supplementing her architecture license, Becky Alexander combines performance services with architectural design in her work for the architecture and engineering firm of LHB. Becky plays a key role in several significant statewide initiatives to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions in Minnesota. Her research involves collecting, analyzing, visualizing, and synthesizing data at building, organization, and city-wide scales. She is the primary researcher for the Regional Indicators Initiative (RII), a program that tracks annual performance metrics for Minnesota cities. She is also on the management team for the State of Minnesota’s B3 and SB 2030 programs, where she tracks performance metrics and sustainable strategies of State-funded buildings through her work managing the online B3 Case Studies Database.
Join us in celebrating Becky and other leaders at the 2018 CERTs Conference!
Join hundreds of Minnesotans exploring their clean energy options March 28-29 at the 2018 Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) Conference! The first day ends with a reception honoring women leading Minnesota’s clean energy industry and featuring dinner-worthy appetizers, drinks, more networking, and games. Learn more and register >>
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MN Women in #Energy: Read our interview with Becky Alexander
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The Minnesota Women in Energy series highlights influential women who are part of our state’s energy efficiency and renewable energy industries during Women’s History Month.
All 2018 Interviews