In Spotlights

Sandra Lupien, Sustainable Venture Co-founder and Climate Change Policy Advocate and Strategist

Sandra’s love for California’s forests, mountains, coasts, rivers, and wildlife, as well as of the Great Lakes of her native Michigan, drove her to become an advocate for policies and practices that promote sustainable communities, environmental health, and climate protection. She is the co-founder of SapphirePine, a new social venture transforming drought- and beetle-killed Sierra Nevada pine into beautiful industrial modern furniture. Sandra has two decades of diverse leadership experience in the non-profit and public sectors; she has also worked as a public radio news anchor, and as a theater performer, director, and producer. Sandra is currently pursuing a Master of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley.

How did you become interested in environmental work?

In the late 1990s, I was living in New York, and coming to the realization that I didn’t have the fire in the belly needed to keep fighting for a sustainable career as a theater performer. At the same time, my concern for animal welfare was leading me to learn more and more about the industrial food system—including its environmental impacts. As I dug deeper, I eventually realized that climate change was the crisis of our time. The realization that I could find deep meaning and a sense of mission working to protect the environment gave me the courage to step off the theater path, and onto a new one that led me to the San Francisco Bay Area in search ways to plug into the environmental activism/advocacy space.

What environmental issues are of most concern to you?

Haha—maybe a better question for me is which ones aren’t! I have focused on toxics law, water pollution and quality, fossil fuel extraction, air pollution, and sustainable transportation. But for me, the overarching issue is climate change. How do we mitigate the greenhouse gas emissions that exacerbate it? And, how do we protect communities (especially those most at risk—typically people in poorer neighborhoods and people of color), resources, food systems, public health, and economies from the impacts of climate change we’re simply too late to stave off? While there’s no causal link established between hurricanes and climate change, the recent disasters in the U.S. South and Puerto Rico clearly demonstrate a) our communities are not resilient to disaster, and b) this lack of resilience has the most dramatic impact on people with the least amount of resources to recover. How can we change that?

What is the educational and career path that led to your current career?

I’ve taken an unusual path—at least among those working in my field. I had three distinct careers—theater, public radio, and environmental policy advocacy (with some others in between)—before I finished college in 2015 at 41. The weekend after graduating from USF, I took myself on a retreat in the Sierra Nevada to reevaluate my vision, mission, and next steps. I reaffirmed my commitment to working on climate change, but realized that I lacked the research and quantitative skills to really evaluate a policy’s effectiveness. I also wanted to explore paths outside the non-profit sector. These two insights led me to UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy, where I’m pursuing a Master of Public Policy. Over the past year at Berkeley, I’ve had the opportunity to research sea-level rise preparedness in California, access to water by vulnerable California communities, and climate resiliency in Hartford, Connecticut. I also co-founded SapphirePine, a social venture tackling climate emissions and wildfire hazard by transforming California trees killed by drought and beetles into furniture.

What are your suggestions on how WEN members can become more involved in your sector and the environmental movement?

Meet people doing work you think you’d like doing! Most people will be happy to talk with you (I am!) Invite them to coffee, be prepared to ask insightful questions, and do your best to maintain those relationships. Volunteer for organizations doing work that interests you, or that you think would draw people working in spaces that interest you. Attend talks and events and always take advantage of the networking opportunities—speak from the heart about what inspires your desire to move in a particular direction. Don’t let fear—or thoughts that “it’s too late”–keep you from switching organizations or disciplines at any stage. The environmental movement needs you.