On the kind of values that endure and could very well win the day

To meet someone like Rosario Marin who is a former treasurer of the United States, a champion for people with disabilities, a champion for sustainability through her work in California and a Republican, could be highly confusing.

The woman comes from the wrong side of the political tracks for saving the planet you might think. But then again, maybe they’re exactly the right tracks.

Rosario Marin

Marin’s thinking, her values and the strategies she employed to mandate sustainable buildings in California despite tough opposition and while maintaining her loyalty to a conservative political party could provide some of the answers for the challenges we face in this country.

Marin was in Australia late last month speaking at the Urban Development Institute of Australia’s national congress in Sydney.

It’s not the place we’ve tended to frequent in the past. Sure the UDIA has got its EnviroDevelop tool – and it’s a great start to shifting the residential development industry. But by and large we’ve read the UDIA as part of the system that wants to make things smoother for its members but not necessarily greener faster.

Looks like things are shifting. Among the speakers were some well known names, among them Terry Leckie of Flow Systems, who was one of the highlights of our Sustainable Precincts ebook, and Darren Pearson who stunned his peers with his Kellyville project, and is a friend of Marin.

Marin was a surprise and slightly head-spinning, yes. Her introduction to the audience included praise for the Australian prime minister Tony Abbott, saying here was a good man the audience should be proud to have as PM.

The PM’s personal qualities aren’t a matter we want to debate, but we certainly question his actions on climate and sustainability. Not at all nice we think.

(See our interview for how she handles politics and politicians who are actively opposed to climate action and sustainability. It’s supremely skilful.)

But then came Marin’s more personal thoughts, her values that sustained her through the most intense challenges posed by life.

It’s this personal kernel of strength and stability that we saw somehow as a key that could unlock so much of the good will wanting to save this planet, on both sides of the political divide.

Marin is achingly simple in her techniques and strategies.

Asked what chance she thought the world had to stop catastrophic climate change, she pointed to the kids. In 20 years time she said, California will have a generation whose mantra is to re-use, reduce and recycle. One that is conscious of its footprint.

Asked about the potential conflicts on climate within her own party, she says there are ever more people wanting to “do the right thing”.

Terry Leckie, Flow Systems

There is nothing wrong at all with wanting to protect the environment, the air and the water, she says.

Nothing wrong with that at all.

All you have to do is quietly persevere, pursue your cause, state the benefits over and over, Marin says.

Don’t fight the capitalist system, work with what you’ve got.

People say that introducing minimum mandated environmental standards in California would cost an arm and a leg. She firmly turns the talk to an “investment”, instead of a cost. If you have asthma you will breathe better in green buildings, your children will learn better in green schools, your staff will have better productivity in a green office, you will be happier…

In California, Marin put the building industry in charge of the voluntary standards, addressed all “legitimate” issues and spoke ceaselessly to the many individuals who had concerns. There are no short cuts, only a long but certain path. When the voluntary standards were taken up, the system went mandatory.

But more impressive than the political strategies are the values that Marin says power her life on a personal basis.

“I’m often asked,” she told the rapt audience during her keynote, ” What makes you get strong and helps you get up, no matter how many times you’re on the floor? What are your values?”

Darren Pearson, Diversified Property Group

“I came up with seven, I will share three of them with you here; these are the ones my children grew up with.”

The first, she says, is to “always do the right thing, no matter where or when”.

Marin says she has always “done the right thing”.

When the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) searched her background ahead of her appointment as treasurer, she was proud they found nothing untoward.

“It’s easy to do the right thing when everybody is looking. It’s easy for us politicians to do it when the cameras are on, but very difficult when no-one is looking, when your false friends betray you and people are saying really nasty things about you.

“But when you do the right thing you can look in the eye the people you love.

“When you don’t do the right thing you always put your head down and bow your head in shame.”

“It would horrify me to think I could not look in the eye my mom or my husband and my children.”

Next is to do your very best, to be like the artist who only when their work is perfect do they put their signature on a work.

Debra Goostrey, CEO, UDIA WA

“Only do things with such gusto and commitment that you are so proud that it deserves your signature.”

The second is her own mission, to “leave this world a better place”.

This is the promise she made when her child was saved from dying.

“When my husband, who is the smartest man in the world, smarter than all of the people in this room heard this he said, ‘if that’s your mission then mine is to make sure you accomplish that’.

“I believe we’re all given the same mandate, leave this place a better place.”

And finally her third value is to treat people well. Not so much how you would like to be treated – and everyone knows you need to treat the boss and the client right.

Marin wants to go one step further. “Treat people the way you want the people you love to be treated. The way you want your mother to be treated.

“I don’t care about me, but treat my mother right. Respect my husband, respect my children.”

Each of these values is so simple, almost clichéd.

But if you stop to think about the power they impart, and if you think about adhering to them, then something quite magical can start to happen.

You start to think you can’t lose.

This thinking also put us in mind of Elizabeth Farrelly’s recent Easter column in the Sydney Morning Herald. The theme was highly provocative – not unusual – on how Jesus may have been a woman given that he evinced so many female qualities of humility and love instead of anger and hauteur. Skip the religious element and you get a much deeper analysis of our collective psyche. The key Farrelly argues, is that love – or for our purposes, collaboration and bi-partisanship for instance – could be far more powerful than anger and opposition.

There is a fear, she says, that the “apparently weaker virtues are, paradoxically, stronger. The fear is well based. It is a common mistake of those in power – be they squarehead politicians or bratty children – to see love as weakness, and to exploit it. But in the only slightly longer term, might cannot win.

“This was the revolution,” Farrelly says. “Christ doesn’t simply oppose male power structures. He insists that the old power model – aggressive, domineering, objectifying – is illusory; that real power is openness, vulnerability, love. This is what made them so angry. It’s why he had to die.”

As we look at the angry federal government and its recent energy white paper attacks on the renewable energy target and so on, it’s a good thought to keep in mind.

So do the right thing, leave a better place and treat people well. In other words, love, not war.