Tuesday, 26 January 2016 16:01

Bravo recipient: Sheila Blake ignites passion for green solutions in Houston

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For the past five years, interest in tiny homes has grown in Houston. 

"Everybody called me to find out how small you could build a house," said Sheila Blake, retired assistant director of building code enforcement for the city’s Public Works and Engineering Department.

Blake, who oversaw the adoption, amendment and interpretation of the city’s construction codes worked to promote sustainable, low-impact building techniques during her 20-yearcareer with the city.

“Green building is definitely one of my passions,” she said. “I have always been an environmentalist.”

When Blake was not working to promote green building, she implemented programs that guided residents through the city’s permitting process.

“I created an ombudsman program to help people navigate the process and system,” Blake said.

And Blake’s continued passion for green solutions led to the creation of the city’s Green Building Resource Center in PW&E, which educates residents about going green.

“It’s a wonderful showcase of public outreach to teach the public, schools and children to participate in green events all over the city,” Blake said of the center’s interactive displays and mission to promote sustainable building and energy conservation.

“If you’re being wasteful you might not see the impacts,“ she said. “But there are impacts.”

Blake’s outstanding service along with her efforts to educate and empower the community earned her a Bravo award at the May 12 ceremony. Bravo awards recognize employees for their volunteerism in the community and service that goes above and beyond.

“Sheila absolutely deserves a Bravo award as her service and attitude has been truly outstanding,” said Steve Stelzer, program manager for the green resource center.

Hired as the city’s first female building inspector, Blake soon began to blaze a path of service. In 2007, she found herself conducting research on energy grants and projects for the Mayor’s Office.

 “We created a brand new process to make it easier to get solar panels on a house,” said Blake, who first learned about green building at a national conference.

 “I got inspired and came back and got involved locally in some community organizations,” she said.

But Blake’s green efforts would ultimately extend beyond building codes.

In 2010, Blake traveled to the Amazon rainforest to visit with the Achuar people, an indigenous community who helped form the Pachamama Alliance. A global outreach program, Pachamama encourages the world to learn about sustainable living and practices.

“It’s an alliance between the modern world and the ancient world to bring forth an environmentally sustainable, socially just and spiritually fulfilled human presence,” Blake said.

“I wanted to see what their lifestyle was like,” she said.

Inspired by her journey and experience, Blake formed the Pachamama Alliance Houston Chapter.

“We do a symposium called  Awakening the Dreamer, Changing the Dream,” said Blake of the online program that focuses on exploring humanity’s current challenges.

“Mother Earth is our life support system,” Blake said. “We can’t keep taking and trashing our own life support system.”

Before retiring, Blake helped insert green provisions into the city’s 2012 series of codes.  

When citizens save water and energy, they have healthier buildings, said Blake of the benefits of incorporating green provisions into the city’s building codes.

“Her contribution to the common good through her environmental efforts has been phenomenal,” said Stelzer, who has worked with Blake for the last eight years. “She did everything in her power to improve the state of the environment and the quality of service to the residents.”

Since retiring, Blake has spent time with family and traveling.

“I’ve traveled to the Bahamas, Colorado, Missouri, Ohio, Kentucky, and recently made a trip to North Carolina,” she said.

And Blake’s advocacy for the environment is ongoing.

“I plan to start a business related to green building and energy efficiency,” she said.

She urges others to do more and get involved.

“There are so many organizations out there,“ she said. “Whatever it is that you care about, there’s an organization you can contact about it.”

Currently Blake serves on the board of directors for the Blackwood Educational Land Institute, Nature Healing Nature and as the secretary for Green Door Houston.

“We can either choose to consciously improve and increase and do more, or we just sit still and do nothing,” Blake said. “That’s not living to me.”

To read more about Blake’s story, log on to cohemployeenews.com/home-bravo.