Green Building for a Better World

By: Soyoung Lee

Ten years ago, when the term “sustainable development” was just starting to gain traction in Korea, I was beginning my career as an international “green building” specialist. The timing was perfect. I was new to the field, and as part of my role with a major construction project, I had the opportunity to complete a professional certificate in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). Little did I know that it was the first step in a much longer journey that would literally take me around the world, including to the United States and India.

The project I was assigned to at the time, the Songdo International City development project, was a master-planned site with 350 commercial, institutional, retail, and residential buildings. The goal was to launch and sustain a LEED Neighborhood Development pilot certification program, the first of its kind in Asia. More than a dozen local and international planning, architectural, engineering, consulting, and construction firms collaborated on the project, demonstrating a new type of leadership and commitment to sustainability among many stakeholders. The project is now approaching completion, and many similar projects have since been launched.

My experiences with the joint construction management (CM) team in Songdo, helped me realize why effective leadership and collaboration are the keys to solving complex environmental challenges and transforming our approach to development through green building and infrastructure. Buildings are responsible for more than 30 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change and global warming.

With this recognition and my passion for green building and Triple Bottom Line principles, I made the decision to pursue the Executive Master of Natural Resources (XMNR) program with Virginia Tech. The program, focused on leadership for sustainability, enhances students’ knowledge and understanding of major challenges such as climate change, urbanization, global supply chains, agriculture, and water quality and supply, among others. Additionally, the integrated approach advanced by faculty equips students with the professional leadership and communication skills they need to collaborate across sectors effectively.

The XMNR program provided an outstanding foundation for my next professional chapter, upon my return to Korea. I’m now honored to work for EcoLead, a comprehensive green consulting firm, as the head of the LEED certification department and as a general manager. The XMNR program provided me with interdisciplinary knowledge and professional skills that I continue to apply each day.

I’m grateful to the XMNR faculty and my fellow students for broadening and brightening my perspective on the future. Together, we are inspiring and supporting one another as we move forward to make a positive difference in the world. Small, yet, collective efforts result in significant change.


In addition to her global CM work for the green building projects, Executive MNR program alumna Soyoung Lee offers lectures and workshops on sustainable building strategies, and  has been working on writing books on sustainability issues. She is currently staying in Seoul, Korea. She practices Yoga every day and likes traveling and writing, hiking, cooking, and various art activities. Her life-long goal is to maintain a sustainable lifestyle herself.

The Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability thanks the photographers who share their work through the Creative Commons License, including: Hwan Hyeok Kim, Jens-Olaf Walter, and Weli’mi’nakwan.