Sustainable Origins

Blogger: Michaella Wittmann, Director of Sustainabililty | Omaha, NE, USA
April 13, 2012

Today's post is part of a series of posts by our Sustainable Solutions group, as part of our celebration of Earth Day. See all Earth Day posts.

My personal passion for the environment started early, although I can’t remember just when or where it actually began (although I do remember having to buy my groceries and supplies at about four different stores and co-ops until Omaha finally got its first Whole Foods Market a few years ago).

In my career, the foray into sustainability started a bit by happenstance. I studied Electrical Engineering in college (also with a few marine biology classes!) and ended up working as an electrical project coordinator for HDR Architecture. I’ll be honest – I wasn’t overly passionate about electrical engineering and started thinking about going back to graduate school for “something environmental.” Fortunately for me, I started reading some about this “sustainability thing” at about the same time and met some passionate, amazing people at a small conference in Georgia (of all places) who were just dreaming up what would become the LEED Rating System. As luck would have it, HDR had a few savvy clients who were starting to talk about things like recovered materials and efficiency. Always up for a challenge, I broached the idea of sustainability services to HDR Architecture’s president 17 years ago and never looked back. I now think I have the best job in the world, leading HDR on their sustainability journey with an amazing team of people.

Over the years, I’ve been inspired by many people who embraced sustainability as a fundamental belief in both their work and personal lives. People and their stories that have moved me include –

  • Ray Anderson, CEO of Interface Carpets. I was lucky to call Ray a friend. Check out, a blog honoring this leader who just passed away last summer (coincidentally on my birthday). I was particularly moved by a poem Ray wrote called Tomorrow’s Child.
  • Anita Roddick, founder of the Body Shop. Her story is well told in the book Business as Unusual.
  • Sylvia Earle, an amazing marine biologist. If you love the ocean, you’ll love her book Sea Change: A Message of the Oceans. You can also follow her on Twitter: @SylviaEarle.
  • Janine Benyus. Her book Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature is a must-read.

You don’t have to look too far to find some amazing stories about how people are changing the world….one company and step at a time.

Image—dreamstime: Riverlim

Reader Comments (3)

"Tomorrow's Child" is my jam!

Congratulations on your first BLiNK post, Michaella! As a sustainable-minded guy, I truly am proud to work at a company so devoted to sustainability. Having worked with many of the folks in the Sustainable Solutions Group (including you), it's great to see that HDR treats sustainability as more than just another "business service." It's a way of life. It's a part of everything we do.

I look forward to reading all the Green Week BLiNK posts this week! And I really need to try out this breakfast burrito cart...


Great post Michaella.  And I love your story!  You are an example I often give to new recruits on the entrepreneurial nature of HDR.  All it takes is coming up with a great idea and if it makes good business sense, you can be off and running on the path you created.

Post a New Comment