Bravery + EMERGE Workshop = Integrated, Collaborative Design Center Opening December 5, 2014.

I was past gleeful this past Saturday when the opening of the Leading Force Energy & Design Center (Center) was announced as part of a presentation at the Guild’s Green Building Slam. The Yakima-based Center was the subject of a case study team exercise during the December 2013 EMERGE Leadership Islandwood Residency. Woohoo, I say!

LFEDC BG class (2)The Center’s grand opening is scheduled for December 5th, 2014 just a short 364 days from the date of the original exercise, a time-line that defies gravity. And this is no ordinary showroom. Says Steve Weise, EMERGE Alumni and the project’s author, “The idea is to offer a collaborative space that provides integrated consulting and training to contractors, subcontractors, and the public. The goal is to help budget-minded owners develop healthy, energy efficient projects.” (Apparently they aren’t waiting for the grand opening. The photo shows a group of local contractors after a Built Green training held at the storefront.)

The case study team exercise is a key component of the EMERGE Leadership workshop experience. Based on pre-workshop surveys, I create a set of 4-5 scenarios that workshop participants can then choose from. The self-selected teams then address their scenario using a set of questions as a framework for their process, while applying emergent leadership principles presented by EMERGE faculty. The scenarios can be a blend of conditions and leadership issues presented by various participants in their surveys, but key is that the scenario as a whole is both realistic and challenging. Sometimes a participant offers an idea for a sustainable business venture, as Steve did in this case.

In the case study “Cooperative Business Making” the group was tasked with creating a strategic plan for an “investor that has an idea for a business that promotes sustainable building in her region through a cooperative venture. She is not a practitioner, but wants to create a self-supporting environment that would help make practitioners be successful.” The team was asked to address several conditions, including the investor’s desire to achieve the mission while earning a “reasonable return on the investment.”

Workshop participants began work late on the first day, and completed their work early on the second, when they were primarily preparing a 20-minute presentation on the results of their work. (I provide lots of props and art supplies and these usually show up in one form or another in the presentation.) After the presentation I led a 10-minute critique, with other workshop participants and faculty chiming in and asking questions.

WeiseGroup1I’m always impressed at what the teams deliver, and the “Cooperative Business Making” team was no exception. A substantive reporting of how such a business could be developed using emergent leadership principles, it was amusing to boot – because I’d used a “she” in the scenario write-up, investor Steve wore a head scarf for the presentation. (See photo.)

Case studies have run the gamut from issues with clients, to community organizing, to sustainable business management. The intent of the case study exercise is to learn through doing, and since the case study is based on real life scenarios, to provide participants facing those particular conditions with a tool to help them achieve their leadership goals. In Steve’s case, he’d had “various meetings and written some thoughts down, but it took the EMERGE team, with like-minded passion and a great knowledge base, including business experience to add logic to the passion and come up with a strategy.” With his team’s permission, Steve took the flip charts from his team’s planning sessions and presentation and used them to plan the project with his network back home in Yakima.

And today, that Center is located at 17 North Third Street #101, Yakima, WA 98901. On opening day December 5th, a public open house is scheduled from 10am – 4pm, with a grand opening for professionals scheduled from 4pm – 8pm. Sounds like lots of fun, with a combination of classes, refreshments, and live music. Terry Phelan, another EMERGE Alumni, and member of the same case study team, is a founding member and will open up a satellite office of her firm Living Shelter Design in the Center. Woohoo again, I say!

Other realized examples of EMERGE workshop case studies that I know about it include a statewide energy policy initiative, a contractors’ company-wide adoption of sustainable operations, and a sustainable design firm start-up. If you have an idea you’d like to take the lead on, bring it to the next EMERGE Leadership Workshop. We’ve got two this winter, January 9-11 (Islandwood), and January 14-15 (Southern California Gas Company’s ERC). In a recent call, Steve said, “All it took was the bravery to put it forward.” Just so.

EMERGE: Learn and connect to improve your career effectiveness

“Thanks again for…(the) amazing Emerge Leadership program.  I’m still benefiting from its wisdom and the connections I’ve made through it to the larger green building community,” says Bronwyn Barry, Co-President North American Passive House Network, and Director of OneSky. Bronwyn is one of the super dedicated green building professionals in the private and public sector that have participated in the EMERGE Leadership Project’s programs, including its centerpiece, the two-day EMERGE Leadership Workshop.

And SBAers should take credit! The EMERGE Leadership Project is a direct result of SBA grads asking for help taking the comprehensive technical learning they received in the Seattle area SBA program and implementing it in their projects, workplaces, and communities.

Learn and connect with like-minded professionals at upcoming EMERGE Leadership Workshops, with Faculty Kathleen O’Brien & David Eisenberg. Says Jana Chamales, Former Director & Instructor SBA-San Francisco “Kathleen O’Brien is a visionary leader and teaches from an authentic understanding of the green building industry. As the founder of the Sustainable Building Advisor Program, her new EMERGE training is design to give CSBAs an opportunity to gain stronger leadership skills and take green building to the next level.”

Winter Schedule

Islandwood Environmental Education Center, Bainbridge Island, WA. January 8-10, 2015. This retreat setting residency offers on-site lodging and a more relaxed schedule. Earlybird deadline November 18th! More details:

Southern California Company Gas ERC, Downey, CA. January 14-15, 2015. This two-day workshop offers commuter convenience & economy pricing. Earlybird deadline November 30th! More details:

Two options, with the same purpose in mind: Amplifying your capability & your will to lead toward the change we all know is a must: adoption of sustainable building & development as the norm, not the exception.   Contact Kathleen at 206-200-1864, or

SPECIAL PRICING for SBA Grads as a thankyou for your inspiration: The EMERGE Leadership Project offers a “local champion” discount and that includes SBA grads! Combine the Earlybird and Local Champion discount for the lowest possible rate. Affordable, and “Life-Altering.”  (so said Alexandra Ramsden, Sustainability consultant, SBA grad, and EMERGE Alumni)


What is YOUR Why?

NOAA-NDBC-discus-buoyEvery once in a while I have a need to revisit the question of…why. “Why am I doing what I’m doing?”  When asked how I got to where I am, I often respond with “I saw a buoy, and I swam to it…I saw another, and I swam to that one…and so forth.”  But of course, there’s a reason I “saw” that particular buoy, and why I chose to swim to it, even if the water was cold and filled with the dreaded unknown! (Cue: Jaws theme) So why is what I’m doing so important to me?

Windmill-SculptureWalking along The Way last month, and encouraged by my Spiritual Director, I determined it was time to clarify my “why” – my purpose. What gets me up in the morning? Why do I choose to spend my time and energy on the EMERGE Leadership Project? In a nutshell, here’s what I got:


  1. Connecting people really turns me on. Even though an introvert, I do love to be fostering relationships, connections that serve. In fact because I am an introvert, the structure of teaching is a way for me to touch, connect, and love you in a way that is comfortable. And because life has me swimming with the green building community “pod”, you’re the ones I’m busy connecting with and about. Simply put, you are my people, and I want to serve you ‘cause it fills me up.
  2. I have a strong current of social justice running through me (you might blame that on a dozen years of Catholic schooling, but it didn’t help that I went to college in the ‘60s). And there were signs early on that I had a thing about protecting the environment. When my nursery school took us to a pond to go fishing, I made a stink (yes, literally stamped my feet) about how fishing with hooks was cruel, and refused to participate (even though, honestly, it looked like everyone was having fun.)
  3. I’m a practical pig. While I have participated in demonstrations, marches, and letters to the editor, I generally prefer actualization over advocacy. I like the idea that by building and developing more resourcefully and generatively we are, in a very concrete way, making the world a fairer place for generations to come, and for sister societies that have been harmed through overconsumption. Sustainable building is a practical way to address the spiritual anxiety I feel about the way the world is. And emergent leadership is the means to accelerate its adoption.
  4. I’m a grandmother (several times over). If you’ve seen me teach, you’ve heard about a trip to China I made in 1997 to visit my granddaughter Ellie. At that point, I was a bit burned out on the swimming gig, and I wasn’t seeing any buoys. But here was my granddaughter living in Shanghai, a City polluted primarily by a driving need to develop and build multiple “Manhattans” overnight. Even if I’m sometimes disappointed at how hard it can be to be the person the universe seems to think I am (based on the assignments I get), I am moved to address my generational responsibility in some way, and this seems to be the way.
  5. Finally, I like success. No, I actually LOVE success. And I can honestly say that our green building efforts have paid off. I’m about to keynote an event – the EcoBuilding’s annual Green Building Slam – that highlights this fact in a big way. The projects are remarkable and the folks putting them together just as remarkable. We’ve come such a long way since the days when I gave a talk on green building at a builders’ conference in Portland attended by two people — one thought I was going to talk about building green houses, the other thought I was going to talk about issues relevant to builders new to the field of contracting! I need affirmation just like anyone else, and its events like the Slam, and emails I continue to receive announcing the successful completion of projects I was involved with in my consulting days that give me a boost. I got word this week that the West Hawaii Explorations Academy met its goal to build a school designed with the motto “no child left indoors” and meet the LEED for Schools Platinum Standard. And from time to time, EMERGE Alumni share their leadership success stories. (Here are some.) These make me very happy.

To be truly effective, a leader needs a clear purpose in mind. Mine is to accelerate the adoption of sustainable building and development, and today that takes the form of teaching, mentoring, and writing about an approach to leadership that I believe will help us get there. Driving this purpose is my personal why.  What is yours? Think about it, share your thoughts with friends (and me if you like, at And if you desire a boost in achieving your why, please check out the EMERGE Leadership programs coming up at:

Leadership & Innovation Go Hand in Hand at Upcoming Slam

GBS 10x10x10 LogoIn late summer, when Peter Locke extended an invitation to me to keynote the NW EcoBuilding Guild’s 2015 “Green Building Slam (GBS)” I didn’t hesitate. As an old-timer in the Guild, I have found Guild members never overpromise. So I promised I’d be there on November 15th at University of Washington’s Kane Hall, and dear readers, I invite you to join me for this once-a-year, intentional and mind-blowing event.

I recently met over dinner with Peter and other GBS planners to learn a bit about the remarkable projects and presenters that will be featured.  What I can report is that the mix of projects, which vary in scale (community vs. single building), market sector (residential vs. commercial), project type (restoration vs. new construction), and location (dry vs. wet side of the mountains) all have one thing in common…they are awesome examples of leadership in action.

These are not “shy” or pale green projects, but consciously, even aggressively, innovative. This follows, as the team that selected the projects featured shared their dream with me that this event will “help define the next stage,” and “show that the “next” stage is attainable, now!”  “Although certification is important, it should be the minimum, the base for our work; and these projects show it’s possible,” enthused emcee and experienced contractor Lucas Johnson. Capable project coordinator Sheena Hewett added that she wants the event to “celebrate the idea of the world as laboratory, as a place to experiment.”

In the fast-paced event (10 presenters have 10 slides and 10 minutes to share their story), you’ll hear about technical innovations used in the projects, but more importantly you’ll witness stories of the willingness to stretch, to share information, to expand the definition of “green” building to include social equity, and more. It’s going to informative; it’s going to be inspiring; it’s going to be fun. I can’t wait.

(Oh, and I wasn’t too surprised that two of the presenting projects – Mighty House’s “Sustainable Makeover” and Living Shelter’s “Net Positive Home in Yakima” are the work of EMERGE alumni! Right on EMERGErs!)

The slam’s only two weeks away, you can learn more details and register at: See you there!

On “The Way” Again!

OntheWayBuenas Dias, mis amigos and la communidad de EMERGE! After a two-year hiatus due to physical challenges, John and I are embarking on our third “leg” of The Way, starting tomorrow, September 22,2014!  On our last trip we managed to cross over the Pyrenees from France into Spain after having completed the French Chemin de St. Jacques. This time our plan is fairly modest – the 100 miles between Pamplona and Burgos.  It will be an opportunity for both of us to clear our minds and ready ourselves for our respective, and very busy fall/winter schedules.

As some of you know I’ve been writing a book on EMERGE Leadership. I managed to wrap up the first (very rough) draft and get that out to a few wonderful volunteer readers this week, just in time to pack! When I return in October my first priority will be to take the book to the next level. My (not so secret) desire is to have advanced copies on hand for the EMERGE workshops in January…but we shall see!  The Camino de Santiago has been a wonderful exercise in practicing patience and experiencing the joy of really seeing!  I am hopeful it will once again provide perspective on our leadership initiative. Have a wonderful several weeks; I will be back in the saddle by October 20, 2014.

For those with questions about the EMERGE events coming up, several EMERGE alumni have stepped up to provide coverage. Just check out the events page for the specific event you are interested in and you’ll see who is acting as a resource for that event until I return. If you have difficulty with website functionality, please contact

Buen Camino! – Kathleen O’Brien

EMERGE Leadership School Bells Ring!

SchoolhouseThis weekend, the change in the air that says “school” was palpable, even here on beautiful and (still sunny) Bainbridge Island, Washington.  Berry’s are going by, the marine air has a “Fall” weight to it, and the book I’ve been writing on EMERGE Leadership this summer is nearly written!  (Three more chapters. So….close.)

So it’s timely to post this winter’s workshop schedule and launch registration.  Take advantage of Earlybird registration options and nail down your commitment to yourself now before the year gets away from you!  And double down your savings with the special “Local Champion” discount which rewards SBA grads and/or active members in local green building and sustainability non-profits.

We have three unique learning events planned for green building practitioners and activists this upcoming “school” year:

January 8-10, 2015:  Islandwood EMERGE Leadership Weekend Residency.  This year, we’ll be opening the Islandwood workshop on Friday night, offering more opportunity to retreat and relax in a beautiful LEED Gold Educational Center set on 250-plus acres.  On-Site lodging included. More information at:

January 14-15, 2015: Los Angeles EMERGE Leadership Workshop.  We’re partnering with the LA Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council to hold this two-day intensive at the Southern California Gas Energy Resource Center.  More information at:

February 28, 2015: First Annual EMERGE Alumni Summit: The theme for this summit is “Building the Beloved Community. This one-day event is intended to refresh, restore, and re-ignite our EMERGE Alumni community.  We’ll convene at a beautiful private retreat location on Bainbridge Island. More information at:

EMERGE in Canada: Alumni Dawn Smith carries EMERGE message to peers in Ontario


Dawn Marie SmithIn early March I had the pleasure of bringing Emerge to the conference of the Ontario Natural Building Coalition (ONBC). The ONBC had expressed interest in the work of Emerge, and I had accepted David Eisenberg’s invitation to present a two-hour distilled version of the full two-day workshop with him, attempting to relate the highlights of the material to a room full of builders, teachers, and interested locals. I had attended Emerge as a participant for the first time only a few months before, but had quickly realized the applicability of the material and its incredible interconnection with so much of my own avid reading and experience. Now I was attending with my shoe on the other proverbial foot: as a co-presenter instead of a student.

Co-presenting also challenged me as a young woman working in green building to bring my voice forward and speak honestly to my colleagues about the leader I want to be, the kind of leaders I call on them to become, and the shared bright future I hope we will walk into together. I am profoundly grateful for the opportunity to present the material with David to our colleagues in Ontario, and to understand myself within the movement we share on a deeper level.

ED Note: Dawn Smith attended the December, 2013 Islandwood EMERGE Residency. Sign up for the next Island Residency now! Photo credit: David Eisenberg.


Join in discussions with your EMERGE Community via Google Hangout

Upcoming Google Hangout: Thursday, May 8th  3:30 p.m. PST

Google Hangout

Google Hangouts are a wonderful way for the EMERGE Community to stay in contact and keep the connections and collaborating going.  During the most recent Portland workshop our Guest Faculty Steve Loken raised the issue of (re)creating cities in a way that would incorporate the lessons of nature, but reflect the reality that some of us “like things the way they are!”

Hence the topic for our next discussion: What does the truly sustainable city look like? And given the reality that some of us (perhaps many of us) “like things the way they are” what can/should we do as emergent leaders?

If you would like to attend please email us at:

This Hangout does not have a cost associated but in order to attend you will need create a Google plus account and once you RSVP to attend you’ll be sent details on how to set that up.

We’re looking forward to sharing insights and creating community with you then!




January 2015 Islandwood Residency Expanded in Response to Demand

Suspension BridgeThe annual EMERGE Leadership Residency at Islandwood is about to undergo a CHANGE!  Ironic, isn’t it, since the workshop is all about helping us become better change agents?  Many alumni have felt that the residency at Islandwood merits more time to digest the experience of EMERGE, and to simply relax and take in the beautiful natural setting that the Islandwood Environmental Education Center avails us. In response to this desire, the schedule for the next EMERGE workshop at Islandwood will include Friday evening.  Friday evening’s session will focus on connecting (to people and place), and allow participants to be fully present for Saturday’s work sessions.  (It also means you won’t have to take that 6:20 am ferry to arrive on time for Saturday’s opening session!)

So if, in addition to downloading lots of good learning,  you are hoping to experience a retreat from your everyday life…pencil in January 8-10, 2015.  We’ll be uploading registration information soon!

The commuter-version schedule for the workshop will remain two-days. Information on commuter locations will be forthcoming.


A belated tribute to International Women’s Day, 2014

A-PHurdatGLYI have recently been privileged to be witness to some powerful women. These gals are willing to tell the truth and lead from a place of integrity.  At the Puget Sound Chapter of the National Association of Women in Construction Forum held on March 7th at GLY’s Office in Bellevue, Washington, we shared the stories of our professional lives, which naturally included times when as women we have faced  difficult, sometimes even hostile circumstances in a male-dominated industry.

A sell-out crowd of women ranging widely in age and backgrounds, we revealed failures, we celebrated victories, and we shared solutions. A-P Hurd, keynote and author of “The Carbon-Efficient City,” discussed how important it is to “take your whole self to the table” and that means we need to “get familiar” with that whole self. She suggested techniques including everything from finding role models and affirming companions to challenging ourselves from time to time with travel, physical adversity, and “making space for others to be different.”  A-P described how important it was for her to hear from a male mentor once: “be deliberate about your legacy…know what legacy you wish to leave behind.”

WICPanelatGLYThis last statement resonated strongly for me, as I was invited to the Forum to present the story of my own professional arc, how it helped shape the leadership model I used to succeed, and how it can be used by anyone called to being a change agent.

By the very nature of being a minority in the building field, women represent change, so like it or not we are change agents. This perception is only amplified when the individual woman is also intent on bringing concepts such as green building to the design, construction, and/or development process.

My legacy project is to pass along a leadership model that my personal experience and studies tell me works for all, as well as skills this model requires, and to do this through training, mentoring, speaking, and writing. In my mind, the EMERGE Leadership Model is far more conducive than conventional leadership models to creating the transformation that urgently needs to come within and through our built environment.  Explicit in this form of leadership is an integrated collaborative approach, which most thought-leaders in the field agree creates more resilient, more innovative solutions. Studies show that the more diverse the teams involved in the design process, the better the results. So everyone – not just women — bringing their “whole self” to the table is a good thing.  The other reason I am a proponent for emergent leadership is that it addresses the urgency of our times. We need lots of leaders and we need those leaders acting effectively and deliberately at multiple and varied vantage points within the systems that create and impact our built environment. The principles of emergent leadership work whether you have positional authority or a forceful personality.

And at the American Writers & Writing Programs Conference in Seattle, I absolutely fell in love with Kathleen Dean Moore, who was sitting on a panel to discuss social purpose writing (The title of the workshop was “So you want to change the world.”)  Kathleen encouraged the writers in the room to speak the truth, practice “relentless citizenship,” and to use our art to “creatively disrupt” the status quo.  Kathleen recently retired from teaching at Oregon State University as Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, and is focusing on her legacy, speaking and writing about our moral responsibility to address climate change. Her newest book is Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril.  In her talk, she discussed the importance of humor as part of truth telling, and she is amazingly funny given the seriousness of her message.  After a genuine hug, Kathleen pointed me to her website where today I found a riveting video entitled “Climate Activism: If your house in on fire.”  Check it out. And guys, its okay to cry when you do.