Oprah fans may only know of Stacy Smedley as a sperm-donor baby who met her DNA half-brother in 2008, thanks to the talk show. Green building enthusiasts may only know of her as an avid campaigner for a better built environment.
Few people know the two aspects of Smedley are connected—that her DNA identity indirectly inspired her life’s work. But because her working mother, Kimberly Hoffman, was single, her grandfather George built a house for all three generations on five wooded acres in then-rural Clackamas County, Ore. George—who lived upstairs with her grandmother Edith—was her heroic father figure and his woods her beloved playground.
Then, when she was 8, George sold out to a developer of tract housing—to finance retirement. Smedley was devastated by the loss of her Eden. “It was the first time I was angry,” she says. “My mom remembers me saying, as I watched the clear-cutting, ‘One day I am going to grow up and build things that don’t destroy nature.’ ”
The same year, Smedley picked the late Julia Morgan—the first female architect licensed in California—for a school report on a person who had done something first. Smedley thought, “I need to become an architect like this bad-ass woman and design buildings that do no harm.”
And she did, first by earning a bachelor’s degree in architecture from the University of Washington in 2003. Later, Smedley landed at KMD Architects and started a sustainability team, having been inspired by Jason McLennan, founder of the Living Building Challenge. She soon convinced KMD to waive its fee and design the Bertschi School science building—the first Living Building in the state of Washington—as a research project. And she pressed the rest of the team, including Skanska USA Building, to work pro bono.
The Bertschi exercise taught her a lesson: She could aim high and convince others to follow.
Smedley’s focus on materials began in 2013, when she joined Skanska as an estimator. Last year, as director of sustainability, she won an internal grant to develop the Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (EC3), which will eventually estimate all carbon emitted during a building’s production.
Microsoft will pilot EC3—which starts with EC in materials—for the retrofit of its Redmond, Wash., campus. And last month, the Charles Pankow Foundation announced a research grant to further develop EC3 as an open-source tool. Smedley is involved.
Kate Simonen, Smedley’s ally in the EC-diet crusade, is the lead investigator. “Stacy is incredibly optimistic, curious and not intimidated,” says Simonen, director of the University of Washington’s Carbon Leadership Forum, which co-developed EC3. “She sees opportunities to connect complicated things and make them simple.”