Through Michele’s 20+ years of experience in the environmental field she has most enjoyed work on sustainability reporting; learning about varied businesses to help them establish a greenhouse gas inventory; the incredible potential and need for sustainable sport and sponsorship programs; helping people understand the importance of sustainable materials management; identifying efficiencies in green building to benefit the people who work in them; and running a small business. She currently works on sustainability goal setting; tracking and reporting; internal program development; and managing the Waste Management Sustainability Forum. Michele is Chair of the Council for Responsible Sport, a LEED A.P., and a Climate Reality Leader with degrees in Communications and Environmental Science.
What is the educational and career path that led you to your current career?
Garbage has always fascinated me – composting, how/why people recycle, what people throw “away,” our culture’s disconnect between consumption and waste, etc. After lots of travel, farming, odd jobs, and starting an herbal products company with my sister, I went back to school for a degree in environmental science. After graduation I worked as a consultant on greenhouse gas programs. I learned all about the services Waste Management provides beyond waste collection when they hired me to verify their carbon footprint, and figured out how to bring my love of garbage to work on climate change and corporate sustainability.
How did you become interested in environmental work?
An environmental interest has always been there; I guess I was born with it. When I was farming, I was interested in GMOs and organic farming; when I was helping friends with house renovations it manifested itself through reuse and proper recycling of C&D material – they called me “dump girl.” The decision to go back to school for environmental science was largely driven by a desire to give back to society, to do something meaningful. I wasn’t sure how that would play out professionally, but when then-Governor Schwarzenegger signed AB-32, my focus on climate change became clear.
Discuss any mentors that have helped or inspired you to reach your aspirations.
Most of my mentors are women who have shown me, in different ways, how to get sh*t done despite the obstacles. Barbara Toole O’Neil is an engineer and a coal expert, and we built a climate change business group within a small consulting firm. She helped me know when it was time for us to leave that gig, which is when I started working for Waste Management. At WM, Sue Briggum and Susan Robinson have been true inspirations – super smart, strong women who have worked in this male-dominated corporate world for many years – helping me not only see my path but teaching me which tools to use when the undergrowth starts to encroach and trip me up. And my amazing sister, Jennifer Grossman, has taught me that they there are many ways to live this life (for example – https://www.nurses4socialjustice.org); the way everyone else does it may not work for you, and that’s okay. In fact, that’s great.
What are your suggestions on how WEN members can become involved in your sector and the environmental movement?
I think it’s important to remember that all roads can lead to environmental work – every business and organization can use help in being a better steward, no matter who they are. So however you marry your passion to your career, there is a place where you can make an impact. And when you get to a point where you feel you’ve hit a wall, and you’re having a hard time getting programs passed or people to understand the importance of what you’re doing, recognize that THAT is actually the work. Creating a program is easy; implementing it and making behavior change is a big challenge.
Visit the Waste Management Sustainability Forum webpage here.