Gayle DeBruyn announced as first ever Legacy Awardee

The U.S. Green Building Council of West Michigan (USGBC-WM) announced Gayle DeBruyn as this year’s Legacy Award Winner. The Legacy Award recognizes individuals for their critical work within the community. Their character and the reputation they’ve built in their community as a leader for a sustainable future are notable, and their accomplishments and actions resonate with the people around them.

Gayle DeBruyn, is a professor and sustainability officer for Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD) in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In addition to teaching, she is on KCAD’s planning team for the Wege Prize and Wege Prize High School Summer Collaborative Studio. Gayle has been recognized with multiple awards for her work in the community, including in the West Michigan Sustainable Hall of Fame, with The Dave & Carol Van Andel Leadership Award, and now, with the USGBC-WM Legacy Award! We are thrilled to recognize Gayle for her work within the community with the Legacy Award. 

The following content is an interview with Gayle DeBruyn in regards to the Legacy Award:


Can you talk about your path to focusing on sustainability? How has that developed over your time at Kendall?

This is an interesting question. In May of 1999, Bill McDonough received an honorary doctorate from Kendall College of Art and Design and during the commencement ceremony, he delivered a short – compelling speech that changed for me - the urgency of the issues at hand. From the chemistry used in manufacturing products to the way we mined the materials and embedded energy of transporting materials, to their durability and life cycle assessments. I was an adjunct instructor at that time, sitting in the balcony watching the commencement.  We were working as Lake Affect Design Studio, and it was at that time - Bill's speech - that we made the decision to focus on sustainable design. We were already members of the WM Sustainable Business Forum where we found our career mentors like Bill Stough, Tom Newhouse, Guy Bazzani, Wendy Ogilvie, George Heartwell, Keith Winn, and of course, Cheri Holman and many others encouraging and teaching. And were one of the founding members of the USGBC West Michigan Chapter. 


A couple favorite projects:

We worked with Habitat for Humanity and Ivor Thomas on the American Lung Association’s Healthy Home, before there was a LEED protocol, And the coolest project we worked on was the Habitat Net Zero – Zero Step home at 341 Freyling. 


How do sustainability and collaborative design overlap? How does this relate to community and community sustainability?

Collaborative Design emerged fairly early in my work at KCAD. It was advocated by colleagues who understand design methods for managing big projects. The National Charrette Institute recognizes design methodologies of co-design as best practices for community engaged work like our Grand River Restoration. The design community have evolved the process over the years to gain stakeholder by-in for large projects, and to improve the outcomes through user centered design methodologies. 


If your students took one lesson or idea away from your classes what do you hope that would be?

That as students they have great power and access to make positive change! 


What did being highlighted in the West Michigan Sustainable Hall of Fame mean to you? 

The SBF has been an important collection of mentors and thought leaders who deepened our understanding of the connectedness of design to solving complex problems. I am deeply grateful for the open and encouraging community of passionate people striving to make the world better each day.


What about receiving the Dave and Carol Van Andel Leadership Award?

The GR Public Museum has been a motivator with KCAD, GVSU, GR Public School, and the City of GR in the wild thinking of how we can transform the way school happens – leading with place-based design thinking through the lens of the museum mindset. We must understand our past to best realize transformational change.


What do you want to see for sustainability in our community in the future?

We are a community with a core competency of making. A high technology, high-performance expertise of making - that requires a high level of design expertise to sustain. And, the wicked problems our design innovators are solving, need the support of the legislature to be successful. Here in lies the integrative, cross-disciplinary, collaborative effort required to achieve success. Get out of the way – and support the work.


What do you want to see for sustainability in design in the future? 

Our economic development leaders of our state wonder what will keep the young folk here. Well, the obvious, good jobs that will sustain their families and livelihoods. What will attract new talent to the state? Exciting, innovative, business with big ideas making big leaps to positive change – moving barriers while embracing with empathy the complexity of community needs. We are well poised to be experts in circular economic strategies in design, keeping materials in flow. For example, the Kent County Sustainable Business Park, is an excellent idea! Get out of the way and get it done! Solar! Microgrids! Get out of the way. We do not have any more time to be patient and wait…. Innovate or get out of the way!


Is there a common theme between the two (sustainability in design and in our community)?

RCE GR and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. We are all interconnected. Grand Rapids (West Michigan) is uniquely practiced in sustainable design. We cooperate across business, government, municipalities, academia to better our best. It behooves us to share our learnings so that together we can succeed faster. We have a gift of connectedness to the greater world resources of the 190 United Nations University, Regional Centers of Education for Education for Sustainable Development. Let’s leverage those resources as well. 


How has your work in the community and commitment to sustainability developed and changed over time?

My community work has evolved to a deeper focus in climate justice and social equity. As the Community Sustainability Partnership evolved to the Community Collaboration on Climate Change (C4), I engaged in the transitioning work necessary to make that change. This learning has been interesting, full of care and thoughtful. The change has focused on a building of understanding and strengthening of relationships. All the fits-and-starts that one expects new beginnings to have with a shared promise to center equity.


Are there any individuals you would like to mention or other points you would like to highlight in this blog? 

In addition to those I have already mentioned- who are thankfully quick to answer an email to clarify a question, to calm my anxiety or betty yet, drop in on a class and share stories:– I will definitely like to thank: Lee Davis, long-time friend and design colleague who encourages all kinds of crazy ideas! Many of which I have yet to do…And the KCAD administration past and present, most notably, President Tara McCrackin who is the top sustainability leader of the college! Hers is a thankless role and I appreciate her sense of humor as we give students space to try some interesting ideas.


“Michigan is one of the top 5 states for clean energy commitments, number two in the country in drawing down federal funding for climate and clean energy, and number one in the Midwest for clean energy jobs, clean energy growing twice as fast as the overall economy,” said Cheri Holman, Executive Director of USGBC-WM. “These investments by the federal government, concrete action from the state, and the  collaboration inside our community has energized me like never before.”

Gayle DeBruyn was awarded at our 2023 Annual Party & Leadership Awards Ceremony on December 5, 2023. Hosted by the U.S. Green Building Council of West Michigan, the evening event was held in the Ballroom at the LEED-certified CityFlatsHotel located in downtown Grand Rapids. The program included a keynote address by Dr. Brandy Brown, Chief Innovation Officer of Walker-Miller Energy Services, an Awards Ceremony, and the celebration of this year’s achievements.  

To learn more about the event and to read our 2023 Annual Report visit our Annual Party & Leadership Awards Ceremony page.