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LEEDing the Way

LEEDing the WayTufts graduate Rachel Gutter (A'03) is helping schools around the country meet increasingly common standards for sustainable construction.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [07.14.08] As gasoline prices climb and energy is on everyone's minds, there is a growing fascination with green technology. One Tufts graduate is at the cutting edge of promoting environmentally-mindful construction in one of the largest and most important markets for sustainable technology.

Rachel Gutter (A'03) is the senior manager of the education sector for the United States Green Building Council (USGBC). The USGBC is the organization responsible for the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building rating system, the most widely used and accepted benchmark for energy-conscious building design.

While colleges and universities have been working towards greener campuses and seeking LEED certifications for years, "with K-12, it's only really taken off in the past year," Gutter says.

The new certification system has opened the floodgates for school districts across the country to join higher education institutions in building greener campuses. "Currently we see, on average, one or two schools a day registering for certification." she notes. Because this new system is tailored for schools, it has allowed some communities and even states to mandate that all new schools be built to LEED standards.

Finding the Green Path

If someone had told Gutter when she was a student that in five years she would be working for the USGBC, it might have come as a shock to the English major. But if someone had also added that she would be in charge of the school sector, it would have made perfect sense.

"I did the Special Friends program at the Tufts Day Care Center and I was writing children's books, so that was the piece that was really engaging," Gutter says. "And after I left Tufts, I did a lot of private tutoring and curriculum development."

It was only after college that she got into green building, working for a environmentally- conscious New Mexico-based architectural firm. She went to the USGBC's annual Greenbuild conference, where she heard about the development of LEED standards for schools. The opportunity to blend her newfound interest in sustainable technologies with her longstanding passion for children's education called out to Gutter.

"I basically accosted the woman who was, at the time, running the program and said, 'My name is Rachel Gutter, and I really want to work for you,'" she recalls. "And she said, 'Well, I'm actually leaving to go to grad school.' So I said, 'Great, my name is Rachel, and I really want your job.'"

Through a similar approach, she lined up a non-paying internship with a green building program in Maryland.

"I called this woman who was running it and I said, 'How would you like a free intern?'" says Gutter. "I packed all of my possessions into my car and drove cross-country in three days and showed up at her doorstep. You know, it was that moment that it clicked."

Higher Calling

Gutter's current position with the USGBC puts her in charge of not only the K-12 schools, but higher education institutions as well. "I'm actually looking forward to delving into higher education a bit more," she says. "I'm excited about the possibilities of reconnecting with campus culture."

Colleges and universities, she says, started investing in green building before many other sectors. Indeed, Tufts' Sophia Gordon Hall, completed in 2006, complies with the standards for a Gold LEED certification. This commitment to green technology from her alma mater did not surprise Gutter.

"I think that a lot of the focal points of the green movement, the concept of sustainability, of social responsibility, of responsible and sustainable and community-oriented living are all things that I understand to have been central to Tufts culture not only when I was there, but way back when my parents were there [in 1974]."

In line with those very values, Gutter points out that the green movement is one overwhelmingly championed by the college-age generation. "I would say that there is a growing trend for students to play an ever increasing role in influencing the commitment level that colleges and universities make officially," she says.

"There's such a sense of urgency and it's a cause that our generation can really get excited about, get invested about, and actually play a significant role in."

The next Greenbuild Expo will be held in Boston Nov. 19-21, 2008.

Profile by Hayden Reich (A'09)

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