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Learned: Sustainable House

02/14/11 5:55PM By Andrea Learned
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(HOST)  Commentator Andrea Learned has enjoyed living here for a few years, but now she's moving on - and reflecting on how much her time in Vermont has meant for her developing career in sustainable business.

(LEARNED)  I don’t know why, but I’ve always had this latent interest in building and architecture. It’s not a profession that runs in my family, and I grew up in an extremely architecturally boring Michigan town.  Yet, it’s been there, and I’m seeing an interesting serendipity around it as I prepare for a move to Seattle.

During the several years I've been here, sustainability has become a continuous thread in my thinking.  And working among such an inspiring mix of socially responsible businesses has been key to my career transition into sustainable business.

As I see it, my progression toward sustainable building interest, in particular, started in the late '90s, when I worked for a reproduction lighting and architectural salvage store in Oregon.  Sustainability wasn’t yet a trendy term; but, just the same, you better believe the building renovators and restorers I met there were passionate about re-using and re-purposing.

From there, my career took a turn in the marketing-to-women direction.  As it is with the sustainability-minded consumer today, many businesses back then hadn’t quite realized the importance of women’s buying power and collective voice in the marketplace.  And that can be a huge mistake.  For both groups, delivering to the highest standard and earning their trust as a responsible company are the goals.  Understand the psychology of the female consumer and her tough buying mind, and you’ll gain clues to the similar psychology of the sustainability-minded consumer.

Which brings me to another serendipity related to my time in Vermont.  Through a greater connection to the outdoors and more experience interacting with socially responsible business minds, I came to see that my whole life’s purpose was not supposed to be how to sell more stuff to women.  And thank goodness for that.  Rather, what I learned about the women’s market actually serves as a great foundation for sustainability - the field I discovered had been calling me all along.

More recently, and with the help of a Goddard College’s Master’s Program, I have begun to tie my pre-Vermont expertise to my post-Vermont vision.  The threads that bind my prior knowledge and career to the ways I will now help sustainable business were all identified and nurtured here.

I'm excited about starting a new life in Seattle, but leaving Vermont is bittersweet.  I'll surely miss the innovative people and sustainable businesses in this community.  And I’m not sure that without seven years hiking, biking and skiing across the state my mind would have gotten clear enough to see the sustainable business direction in my own future.  I needed Vermont’s beauty and space, as well as its people and businesses, to reach this point.

Accepting an offer on my house from a builder who will do energy efficiency retrofits - and then re-sell it - is perhaps my final sustainability serendipity in Vermont.  Now, as I pack, my thoughts turn to sustainable home building - an altogether fitting send-off, it seems to me.
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