In Spotlights

Shawn Rosenmoss — Manager of Development, Community Partnerships and the SF Carbon Fund, SF Department of the Environment

A long-time social justice advocate, Ms. Shawn Rosenmoss is committed to ensuring that all San Franciscans can participate in the City’s environmental programs, while promoting the City’s work to audiences around the world. At the SF Department of the Environment, she develops resources for renewable energy, zero emission vehicles, and climate initiatives, and oversees the Department’s grantmaking and partnerships such Greenstacks, a collaboration with the City’s 27 public libraries.  A former dancer and aerialist, she holds a BS in Electrical Engineering and a Secondary Math Teaching Credential. Shawn sits on the board of Mission Science Workshop and works on several initiatives to promote diversity in environmental STEM fields.

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

I did not start out as an environmentalist.  When I went to engineering school in 1975, it was mainly to address a social justice issue — women and people of color were not accepted in that STEM space and we needed to be. The thread that weaves some of the more disparate (to others) parts of my career together is that commitment to social justice and equity.  I was one of the first female engineers working for GE’s semiconductor division, which didn’t quite answer the call to be involved in systemic change. So, I became an educator and worked on filling the extreme opportunity gaps in our education system. Over 15 years in education, I opened a school for youth who had “checked out”, ran programs to help foster care youth get into college and managed a circus that provided equitable access to the arts and use them as a catalyst for social change.

How did you become interested in environmental work?

My dad was a manager for a utility company and it was all energy efficiency, all the time in our home.  I also grew up with my parents’ post-WW2 ethos of “wear it out, use it up, make it last”, so I was very aware of resource conservation.  I didn’t necessarily think of those things as being environmentally focused, they just seemed like a sane idea for how people should live on the planet.  I still don’t consider myself an environmentalist. My concerns are still equity and social justice. When I was working on educational programming in Bayview Hunters Point, I started learning more about environmental justice issues –particularly related to energy production. That was interesting to me and I re-arranged my life to get back in to engineering (but not before I managed the aforementioned circus, which performed around California and in Bay Area schools and integrated themes of renewable energy and zero waste).  After doing research, informational interviews, and participating in public meetings of the City’s Electricity Resource Plan, I decided the SF Department of the Environment was where I wanted to work and pounded on the door until they let me in.

What environmental issues are of most concern to you?

Is “all of them” an appropriate answer?  One of the challenges in this field has always been communication. I think for a very long-time environmentalists mainly talked to each other or when they did share, there was a lot of finger wagging. This left the door open for the fossil fuel industry — which spends LOTS of money on communications – to sow their decades of doubt. We are catching up, but I am endlessly amazed at how many people I meet who think the technology to solve climate change hasn’t been invented yet, or it’s not ready for prime time, or it is WAY too expensive. So, we need to help people understand that the technology is already here. Massive wind farms, utility scale solar, battery storage, and on and on.  Yes, there are challenges, but we need to do a better job of showing and telling people about solutions.

Want to connect with Shawn? Connect with her on LinkedIn.