When she found her way to Antioch Seattle in 1999, Kathleen O’Brien says she sought the enrichment the University offered for her work in green building and sustainable development.
“Antioch gave me a better basis for understanding the urgency of what I was doing. I needed a social and economic understanding of the bigger picture,” says the 2002 graduate and winner of the 2009 Distinguished Alumni Award.
In Antioch’s Environment and Community master’s program, O’Brien tackled academic projects that related directly to her work. She says she found other like-minded individuals and a more robust sense of community.
Today, her firm O’Brien & Company promotes informed sustainable development of the built environment. It has grown from her one-woman shop to a respected company with more than 20 employees.
She became nationally recognized as an expert in sustainable design, construction and development and has worked on projects for the Center for Urban Horticulture at the University of Washington, Poulsbo Central Market and Sakai Intermediate School on Bainbridge Island, among others.
Her efforts to promote healthier, more efficient schools have taken many forms. For the Snohomish County PUD, she helped develop an incentive program for sustainable school construction and has helped two schools in Hawaii develop sustainable campus plans to reduce their operation costs and provide a distinctive educational experience for their students.
On a statewide level, she coordinated the pilot for the Washington Sustainable Schools Protocol, which provides building guidelines for high-performance schools. She is currently in charge of a new pilot program called Washington Green Schools to help schools throughout the state engage students in reducing the environmental impact of the building. O’Brien also is responsible for training thousands of design and construction professionals through various means including the sustainable building adviser certificate program she helped develop in 1999.
In 2008, her first book, The Northwest Green Home Primer, was published. While the majority of her work has been to help professionals in the building industry, this was her first major contribution to making green homes accessible to the public. The book provides guidance and resources for people buying, building or remodeling a green home.