by Brandi Colander
Senior Advisor, Enviva
Co-Founder, #SheWillRise
Founding Member (DC), Chief
Chair of the Board, DC Green Bank
Board Member, VEIC

I’ve always had a passion for nature and marveled at the power of what is possible when people come together, especially strong women.

These truths have shaped my life in incredibly rewarding ways while also making it possible for me to touch the lives of others. They’ve also placed me at the center of a convergence that is changing how we care for each other and the planet.

Right now, environmental, social, and governance (ESG) principles and practices are being formulated, refined, and standardized. Their implementation is accelerating toward a point from which no regression will occur-no matter what you call it. There is already too much recognition of the necessity of ESG in mitigating risk and creating equitable environments, and we are all the beneficiaries.

Along with the emergence of ESG, women are making strides in other areas of life. With each new generation, we are evolving, and we do that by showing up, lifting our voices, and initiating positive change.

It is an incredibly exciting time, not just for someone who has worked in all three ESG categories as I have, but for all women whose voices and talents are shaping our world.

Connected With Source

When I was a child, my father was intentional about keeping me grounded in nature. He often took our family to hike in the forests of the Native American reservations in New Jersey, where he helped me understand what I was experiencing and taught me to be “connected with source.”

Connected with source. That stuck with me.

I found myself looking and thinking about things through what I now call an ecosystem lens, where one idea, one person, one tree interacts with and impacts everything and everyone around it.

It’s part of what led me to earn a master’s degree in environmental management after getting my bachelor’s in urban and environmental planning. It’s also why, throughout my career in the private sector, environmental organizations, and government agencies, as well as launching and supporting social initiatives that elevate women, I’ve been committed to finding new ways, new platforms, and new paradigms for doing things differently.

Along the way, I’ve come to appreciate how much source comprises much more than nature. It is the peace of the forest, the gurgling of the stream, and the symphony of crickets, certainly, but it’s also an openness to the unexpected, a sense of responsibility to use our time and talents in ways that build people and places up, and the power of all peoples working together with respect, patience and gratitude.

That is why, in forestry, as in all things, we need female perspectives. Without women, source is deficient.

All Perspectives Needed

I also come from a long line of very strong women, and there’s a certain grace that all of them exhibited in leading their communities, in forging and pioneering careers, and even in enduring circumstances that made growth unnecessarily challenging. Successes and setbacks alike held lessons and set the stage for change.

Nevertheless, there continue to be limited spaces where women can, in leadership roles, demonstrate our perspectives on how we care for our natural resources and ecosystems. Such is the case, even though women are an infinite source of unique knowledge, insights, and ideas.

If we truly want to address the most momentous challenges in human history, we need to draw from the entirety of human experiences and expertise. To sustainably manage forests, address societal inequity and tackle the climate crisis, we need to listen to all the inputs, pay attention to all the outputs, and problem-solve accordingly. I am committed to developing safe spaces for women to not only grow but also to connect, inspire and act as catalysts for change.

Women’s Forest Congress is such a space.

In fact, the Women’s Forest Congress is many things: a community; a vehicle for sharing, educating, and collaborating; an incubator for thought leadership; and a source for news for and about women in forestry.

Convening Power

From my point of view, the most important aspect of the Women’s Forest Congress is its convening power.

Convening power is the ability to bring people together, address complex issues and commit to action. It is crucial in a sector like forest management where women have been underrepresented. Especially now, in our hyper-digital, post-pandemic age, convening women in a unique, thoughtful, and cultivated space that allows for shared experiences to bubble up and connections to come to light is powerful indeed.

This is how we grow. It’s how we get important work done. And it is how we create equitable, workable solutions. Convening allows us to establish new platforms and cultivate models of support in order to edify one another. This is work that requires intent in spaces where a scarcity ideology can make it hard for those in the minority to thrive. This is especially critical in an industry that deals with natural resource management, where the work is centered on the constant balance of supply and demand to support our most basic needs.

It is no surprise, then, that in a relatively short time, the Women’s Forest Congress has garnered tremendous buy-in and support across varied sectors. Supporters understand that when women are better represented, we are all better. Period. Our forests and natural resources too.

This Forest Community’s Moment

I feel incredibly privileged to be part of a generation of women that has done more than any generation of women in the history of the species. That’s impressive and incredible, but it’s also humbling.

While we have made important contributions in ESG, forest management, and so many other aspects of how we care for each other and the planet, we have a responsibility to do a lot more. And we can.

This community of dedicated, intelligent, and resourceful women is already impacting how we get there.

It is an honor to engage with you through the Women’s Forest Congress, forging a society in which we elevate women, support women, and ensure women are deeply involved in shaping our collective future.

We are the source.