Gail A. Lindsey, FAIA, LEED AP, founder of Wake Forest, N.C.-based environmental consulting firm Design Harmony, died Feb. 2, 2009, at age 54, due to complications from liver cancer. Her husband of nearly 24 years, Michael Cox, was at her side. She had recently been fighting breast cancer.
Lindsey will be remembered by colleagues in the industry as one of the green building movement's strongest, most active, and most influential figures, as well as for her sincere passion and holistic approach to both her life and her work.
A member of the green building movement since its infancy, Lindsey had a tremendous impact as an educator, a developer of tools and training courses, and a researcher. She traveled nationally and internationally as a consultant, facilitator, and speaker, giving more than 300 workshops and presentations on green architecture since 1990 at universities, conventions, and conferences.
"From an educational standpoint, having Gail as your teacher could probably not have been a better situation," says Rick Fedrizzi, president and CEO of the U.S. Green Building Council. "She had such a love of her work, and you had a hard time not learning something from her. She approached everything that way."*
She was responsible for several important federal projects, including the Greening of the White House, the Greening of the Pentagon, the Sustainable Design Initiatives for the National Park Service, the U.S. Department of Energy's International Green Building Challenge, the Sustainable Design Training Program of the U.S. Department of Defense, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star program. At the time of her death, she was working with colleagues and the U.S. General Services Administration on a regenerative design approach for federal buildings.
Lindsey was instrumental in the development of the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED Green Building Rating System and its training and reference materials, and she is credited with creating The American Institute of Architects' (AIA) Committee on the Environment (COTE) Top Ten Recognition Program for green projects. Lindsey was a founding member of the National AIA COTE and served as its chair. She also served as chair of the North Carolina Green Building Council and on had been a member of the Environmental Building News advisory board since 1994.
Her spirit, sincerity, and vibrant good nature charmed nearly anyone with whom she came in contact, friends say. "People know her across the country for the energy and spirit that she brought to the environmental movement," says Marvin Malecha, FAIA, president of the AIA and dean of the North Carolina State University College of Design. Malecha, who knew Lindsey for about 20 years, notes that she never talked about sustainability with an overserious scowl on her face. "She convinced you to do the right thing because she was so enthusiastic about everything," he adds.*
Lindsey was honored throughout her career with several industry awards for her work, including USGBC's Leadership Award for Community in 2007 and in 2008 for Organizational Excellence as one of the founding members of AIA COTE. In 2008 she also received the North Carolina Chapter of the AIA's Gold Medal Award. In 2005, she was recognized by North Carolina State University's College of Design with a Design Guild Award.
For all her achievements and her prominence within the industry, Lindsey was never interested in being in the limelight. "She was one of the leaders of the movement and one of the most respected people in the field, but that wasn't important to her. What was important to her was the people-to-people aspect [of the work], and that's what I will remember about her," Malecha says.*
"She's left a huge mark and a huge hole," says Douglas M. Brinkley, AIA, LEED AP, principal and director of sustainability at Pearce Brinkley Cease + Lee of Raleigh, N.C., and the president of the North Carolina Triangle Chapter of the USGBC. "We wouldn't be where we are today in sustainability and the green movement without her early laying of the foundations. She's going to be sorely missed by thousands and thousands of people."
One of Lindsey's most recent endeavors was Delving Deeper, an organization she co-founded with several colleagues to facilitate deeper integration between individuals, work, communities, and the world and to explore the deeper meaning of sustainability and its relationship with living things and beyond technology. "All of Gail's work in the last few years had nothing to do with green technologies," says Delving Deeper co-founder William Reed, AIA, LEED AP, principal of environmental consulting firm Integrative Design Collaborative of Arlington, Mass.
Reed remembers Lindsey as "incredibly inclusive" and a linker of people who had a deeper and earlier understanding of sustainability issues than many. "What made Gail unique is that she took time for everybody and she cared for everybody. That's significant," he says.
Lindsey's character is most illustrated, Brinkley believes, by the way in which she would respond to personal notes of support while treating her cancer. "She'd write a note back that made you feel better about yourself when you were trying to cheer her up. She was the eternal optimist," Brinkley says. "She was the person who ignited the green spark in all of us through her optimism, her passion, and her outlook on the future."
In the book Women in Green, Lindsey was quoted as saying: "A mentor once told me that to change the world, I should change myself. But that's hard! Sustainability is most profound when you find it personally. Once you respect and love yourself, you start respecting and loving and valuing everything else—other people, the planet—because you know that you are connected." Reed believes that this outlook will be Lindsey's greatest legacy, because she lived it every day. "That's what Gail would want to be known for," he adds.
Lindsey's obituary, published by Cremation Society of the Carolinas, which handled her services, simply asked friends to "please do something nice for the earth" rather than send flowers. Several friends and colleagues have written tributes to Lindsey, among them: BuildingGreen's Alex Wilson, Interior Design's Penny Bonda, and the USGBC North Carolina Triangle Chapter Emerging Green Builders.
* This article was updated on February 20.