Happy Women’s History Month! Thirty years ago, Congress declared March as National Women’s History Month to celebrate the contributions and achievements of women. This month, Greenovate is celebrating Women’s History Month by honoring female climate leaders who work to make Boston a thriving, healthy, and innovative city. Check back every Friday this month for our latest Women’s History Month profile.
Our first profile features Abigail Roberts of Turner Construction. Learn more about Abigail and how she sees the role of the built environment to adapt and prepare for climate change.
Which neighborhood do you live in?
I currently live in the small coastal town of Nahant. I grew up in the suburbs with my father who commuted every day into the “big city” of Boston. For me, Boston has always been a special place with such wonderful history, great culture, amazing restaurants, and full of opportunities. My company’s office is located in Boston’s Seaport/Innovation District, which has allowed me to work on construction projects throughout this wonderful city.
What is your background, and how did you come to work in the environmental field?
The environment has always been important to me, so I made sure to keep it a focus of mine throughout college and work. I studied civil engineering in college, which also focuses on environmental engineering. When I graduated, I moved to southern California where I obtained my professional engineer’s licenses. Design in California always had a focus on storm water retention and treatment, which furthered my interest [in the environment] even more. It was also the first place I encountered the idea that rainwater is a resource and can be incorporated within our systems, be it simple irrigation or plumbing. I was able to witness firsthand bathroom toilets supplied by rainwater. When I moved back to my home state of Massachusetts, I switched careers to construction because I wanted more direct contact with our built environment.
What organization do you currently work for?
I currently work for Turner Construction Company. Turner has been a leader in sustainability for decades, and as a Boston builder for over 100 years, we are now laser-focused on leading change toward greater resiliency of our existing and future built environment, and to the effects of climate change. Partnering with the City, designers, and our clients, we bring technical expertise and solutions that will prepare our city for what’s to come. Coming from the design side, I have appreciated how my company proactively strives to identify issues and find solutions long before shovels hit the ground.
What inspired you to pursue your career?
I think part of why I pursued a career in engineering was the challenge-- if someone tells me I can’t do something, I find a way to prove them wrong. I’m proud to be one of the few women engineers in the industry, yet am happy that the number of women continues to grow each year. When I graduated from college, I was one of only two women who majored in civil engineering. Women have come a long way in STEM industries, but we can go much further. Women add a different perspective to industry, and can help drive new ways to approach a solution.
What advice would you give young women starting out in the environmental field?
Follow your passion, which will always provide you with motivation and momentum. Find ways to weave it into your day-to-day life, through community, business, or networks. This type of focus has given me a deeper purpose and helped me find balance within my life.
What female figures have influenced you the most? Why?
I have found a lot of inspiration from women who have advanced in their careers and paved the way for future generations like myself. I’m a member of CREW Boston, which is a membership of women in all aspects of the real estate industry. Through this network I have heard so many amazing stories and been a part of some wonderful events which both continue to motivate me to push forward in my passions and industry.
What do you believe is the most pressing environmental issue of our time?
I’m currently focused on climate resiliency and adaptation to climate change. Being proactive is key to getting ahead of the eminent problem of future flooding. Working in the construction industry I see vulnerability in our existing buildings and infrastructure, as well as missed opportunities in new construction. It doesn’t have to be a daunting task if we take action now. Small changes can have a huge impact down the road. There can be solutions to enhance our built environment while addressing and protecting our buildings for future storm events. We are also not the only city who is facing these challenges and we can learn from event like Sandy and implement change today.
What actions do you suggest women take today to get involved and make impact to act on climate?
I believe there needs to be a societal shift in order to be more aware of the changing climate and the impact to our future. This won’t happen overnight, and I believe that grassroots campaigns can be very impactful when it comes to spreading awareness. Educate yourself, attend events focused on climate change, and read up on the issues. Share your knowledge, discuss the issues with anyone who will listen, and don’t be afraid to ask someone if they are aware or interested in this cause. Develop a network of resources to help provide support when needed and push the cause.