The National Association for Environmental Management (NAEM) is the largest professional association for corporate environment, health and safety (EHS) and sustainability decision-makers. We are dedicated to empowering our members to advance environmental stewardship, create safe and healthy workplaces, and promote global sustainability.
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Member Spotlight - June 2011 - Laura Ryan - City of Pleasanton, California
Laura Ryan

This month we introduce you to Laura Ryan, Manager of Energy and Sustainability for the City of Pleasanton, Calif., one of the members who helps make our network so unique.

1. Why did you join NAEM?

Years ago, I attended a NAEM workshop in the South Bay – I don’t remember the topic, but what resonated with me is the camaraderie among the members and attendees, and how open and straightforward everyone was about offering assistance and lessons learned. Since that day, I’ve been an unwavering supporter of NAEM.

2. What do you like about your job?

I am fortunate to have a job that is less than a mile from home, and affords me the opportunity to make real changes in my community relative to sustainability. Currently, I’m overseeing the development of the City’s community-based climate action plan. I also get to plan and participate in a myriad of public outreach events, such as our City’s annual Green Fair, Family Earth Festival, and several partnerships that revolve around youth involvement and job training. In addition, I am blessed to get to work with some of the brightest and most ethical people I’ve ever met. That trumps everything.

3. Has your environmental program received any awards or recognition? If so, what?

In addition to community recognition, we received an award from Pacific Gas & Electric Company for our community outreach efforts. This was a collaborative effort where PG&E and City employees made “house calls” to local businesses to offer energy audits and provide rebates/incentives for installing energy efficiency measures. In less than a year, we captured over 1.24 megawatts of savings for the community, and installed over 424 kW of solar on our municipal buildings. The City has also been a finalist for several other energy/environmental awards (always a bridesmaid).

4. What is your biggest challenge in your current role?

I have discovered that “green” is analogous to religion for some people; they’re either believe in it or they don’t. Surprisingly, there is still a lot of NIMBY and “what’s in it for me?” to overcome. It’s difficult to inspire people who don’t believe climate change exists.

5. What motivates you at work?

I like “getting to done” and moving on to the next big thing. It’s okay to have multiple irons in the fire, but they can’t stay there for long or you lose too much momentum.

6. What advice would you have for someone entering the field today?

I would advise people entering the green space to find two good mentors: one who knows the ropes and can pass on organizational knowledge to you, and one who is more of a forward thinker. I think it’s advantageous to have alliances with the seasoned pros as well as the movers and shakers.

7. What makes you happy? What are you passionate about?

I am grateful for so many things - this could be a very long list. At the top of the list is my family. They are always supportive, but willing to give me a dose of reality if I get too far off track! I’m a social creature, so anything involving friends and family makes me happy.

8. What are the three words your spouse/colleagues/best friends would use to describe you?

I think my colleagues would describe me as focused and organized, although you wouldn’t think that if you could see my office right now. Those closer to me would say I’m driven (which sounds so much better than obsessive). I’m competitive and want to be the best at the task at hand.

9. What aspect to the natural world/environment impresses you the most? Why?

Nature is the perfect role model. Nature is regenerative and there is no waste – everything fortifies something else. I think we have a huge opportunity to build in regenerative qualities into everything we do. A colleague of mine insists that “there is no such thing as waste.” While I think that notion is laudable, we still have a long way to go to make it the norm. People (in general) are resistant to change, and charging down the path of sustainability requires us all to make significant behavior changes – we need to focus on doing what’s right instead of what is convenient.

10. What are the topics you're most looking forward to discussing at NAEM events?

I am very interested in learning more about social networking for change, and how to brand your story. How do you explain what you do in one sentence, and how do you inspire people to not only support, but to engage in something bigger than themselves?

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