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Sitting Down with an Emerging Leader: Eliza Clark

May 10th, 2017

In honor of our 25th anniversary, we’re taking the time to honor those who’ve been essential and influential in Minnesota’s environmental community. In addition to celebrating outstanding projects, we’re also recognizing the leaders that have helped us get to this point, and those that will continue to improve our community.

Eliza Clark is the Director of Sustainability and Environmental at Andersen Corporation and this year’s Emerging Leader Award recipient. In her role, she’s responsible for developing and advancing programs that measurably reduce environmental impacts across the company’s value chain.

Eliza Clark (pictured right) and Andersen sustainability team members

However, she also believes that there are some problems organizations can’t solve by themselves, which has led her to seek groundbreaking solutions. Known for reaching outside of her organization’s four walls, she has also served as a founding member of the Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition, acting Vice Chair of Super Bowl LII’s Sustainability Committee, an Environmental Initiative board member, and co-founder of the Sustainability Practitioner’s Roundtable. You can read more about her here »

As part of the festivities, I got to sit down with Eliza and talk about her career, her team, and her advice for those currently working on environmental issues.

SITTING DOWN WITH ELIZA CLARK

What excites you about the environmental community, sector, or movement in Minnesota?

One thing that I’m excited about right now is that we are starting to work across all sectors. We haven’t always had the best cross-sector, public-private dialogue or cross pollination, and I think that sometimes causes misunderstandings. Working with a diverse set of businesses, government entities, NGOs and academics really could be the “secret sauce” to solving our most complex problems.

In the private sector, though, organizations committed to sustainability have been meeting, sharing, and collaborating on work and best practices for many years. We have a really robust network of people that genuinely like each other and are willing to be very honest about challenges. I think it’s fun to see all of us come together and be more action-oriented, which really was the genesis of the Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition. We have a strong foundation of people helping each other and working together, and now poignantly understand that there are problems that we can’t solve as individual organizations. I think that nexus of energy and influence is really powerful.

I also think that there is actually a lot of optimism right now. It was a very difficult election season with a lot of negativity and divisiveness, but in the end, we all feel like there are some important economic factors that are driving things like better access to renewable energy or more energy-efficient technology for manufacturing. It feels like we’re on the cusp of being able to do some transformational things.

What does partnership or collaboration mean to you? Why is it necessary?

I think collaboration is really the reason I want to get up in the morning and do the work that I do! All day every day, I’m basically trying to convince people to change the way they do things, often making their lives harder. I think the primary reason that it’s fun—because it is fun—is that I get to build relationships and work through challenges collaboratively. I think a core part of the human experience is that nothing feels better than solving a tough problem or achieving some kind of landmark that you really had to struggle to get to. A lot of my work is like that. Once you get to the mountain with a group of people, it feels that much more rewarding. I’m really grateful for the work that I get to do within my company and outside of it.

Partnership and consensus isn’t always easy. What lessons have you learned so far?

What I’ve learned at this point in my career is that collaborative problem solving is not all about making everybody happy. Truly difficult environmental problems have tradeoffs, and so that depth and intersection is incredibly challenging to “solve.”

My style of partnering has really changed to not just go directly to a solution, which is tempting, and instead to spend more time on the front-end. I work with stakeholders to understand the history of the problem and why people want something to be a certain way, and then taking that heart and those passions to have an open and candid dialogue with all parties about what they might lose or gain by making big choices.

Notably, I’m not positioning that process as having one, perfect solution. How most of those problems are solved is through compromise and through an honest assessment of tradeoffs. We have to collaboratively agree on accepting or not accepting those conditions.

What successes are you most proud of in your career?

I was very proud to help my company declare its first set of public sustainability goals and to announce its signing of the Ceres Climate Declaration. I’m also very proud to have led Andersen to sign up to up to 19 megawatts of community solar subscriptions, which is a pretty significant amount of renewable energy. That feels very meaningful to me at a national level.

But honestly, for me, it’s the journey and not the various outcomes. I’m just proud of the work that my team and my peers do every day because most of it is not glamorous—it’s just chugging through it! Making sure things get done and then measuring what’s happening… it’s more just the fact that we remain committed to the mission and the environment, and that we want to keep going together.

What advice would you give your peers working in the environmental sector? What advice do you give to young women working on environmental issues?

Generally, I think we all need to do a better job of understanding social, financial, and human implications of potential projects and really how human behavior affects what we’re trying to achieve. We need to have that holistic understanding of the problem and then identify key working partners and other leaders that can help advance solutions.

Speaking about young women, sometimes we aren’t bold enough. I think sometimes we decide ahead of time what we can and cannot achieve. I recently spoke at the Women in Green Power Breakfast (a program by the U.S Green Building Council) and my primary message was to ‘fail forward.’ We have a lot of capacity within us, and if you know your stuff and the broader implications of what you’re advocating for, then don’t be afraid to be a champion regardless of our role in the hierarchy.

Damian Goebel

POSTED BY:

Communications Director

Policy Forum Recap – What Is Needed for Minnesota’s Future Energy Infrastructure?

September 22nd, 2011

If you are reading this blog post you are either (a) a true energy geek, (b) paid to care about what kind of energy infrastructure we have in this state, (c) a concerned citizen who deserves an award for caring so much about the common good, (d) desperately looking for a distraction from whatever else you should be doing, or (e) possibly all of the above.

“Infrastructure” is one of those ten-dollar words that policy wonks love to use because it’s so economical—it can describe a million different things all in one little word. In the case of energy, it can cover everything from power plants and transmission lines, to the emerging “smart grid” and “smart meters” that give real-time information about how much energy we are using and its cost.

(more…)

Rolf Nordstrom

POSTED BY:

Great Plains Institute
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