Sherill Baldwin; Source Reduction and Recycling Analyst; Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection

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The National Wildlife Federation EcoLeaders Career Center is celebrating the motivating stories and career accomplishments of young professionals making their names (and a difference) in the sustainability movement. We’re calling this group of change-makers and rising stars “The EcoLeaders Top 50 Inspirations.”

Interviewee: Sherill Baldwin
Source Reduction and Recycling Analyst
Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection

Interviewer: Elizabeth Morgan, NWF Career Center Fellow

Sherill is a Source Reduction and Recycling Analyst at the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, where she focuses on sustainable materials management. As a 2002-2003 NWF Fellow, Sherill researched how edible food by-products from agricultural research were being managed and sought opportunities to divert more of these products for human consumption.

Elizabeth Morgan: So, to start out, looking back at your experience with NWF, how did participation as a Fellow fit into your career?
Sherill Baldwin:
I was an older student when I applied for the fellowship, so I already had an established career behind me; I imagine that’s different from most of the past fellows you’re reaching out to. But, it helped me bring up a new topic – a new arena – in the sustainability world, specifically to research facilities at universities. So I think it helped expand the conversation about what is a sustainable university, especially in an agricultural university.

EM: Which university were you at? How would you describe their sustainability efforts at the time?
I was at Michigan State University. They had formed a sustainability committee and were working on a number of initiatives; however, my research expanded it beyond those initiatives to understand what sustainable efforts were taking place within the research arm of the university, specifically agricultural experiment stations.

EM: What was the top thing, a skill perhaps, that you learned in your professional development at NWF?
NWF helped me be able to complete my thesis work; I would not have been able to do without it. A lot of it had to do with being able to pay for transcriptions. I ended up doing qualitative research work, which is a little different than what NWF normally supports. I know a lot of the work you normally do is quantitative, so it helped to bring in a different kind of conversation.

I think that platform allowed me to be a part of the sustainability world, even though at that time there was some reluctance about whether or not it fit. Of course, in my mind sustainability in the conversation is ever-evolving, so you guys took a chance which was great.

EM: What are you up to these days?
I work with state government. I work for the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. I work in sustainable materials management. I’ve been working in this field for a very long time, so this is another stage in my development as a professional.

EM: What would you say is your personal mission for sustainability?
That’s a broad question – I would say constantly moving forward and improving the world, and also integrating improving the world within one’s personal and professional life.

EM: What motivated you to begin on this path?
Sustainable material management program is related to waste management and recycling. I’ve been on this path for a very long time and it has to do with pollution, people wasting resources.
The long answer is my mom was a naturalist and conservation person in my hometown, and part of the work that she did was to conserve land in the town. Part of the land she was conserving is something that we call wetlands today, but at that time they were wastelands that were used for dumping trash. Today we have landfills or sanitary landfills or waste-to-energy facilities, but at that time, in small rural towns, people just dumped trash and garbage in open spaces or wastelands. So when she was looking at trying to conserve this land with the conservation commission at that time, we would walk the property and you would see all this incredible stuff, half-buried as well as oozing pollutants probably coming from it, so that was my introduction in terms of waste management and how it was done before I was born.

EM: That’s sweet; it sounds like you followed your mom’s career?
Yeah; it’s a good story (laughs).

EM: Who are your primary “influencers” or inspirations in the sustainability movement, other than your mom?
It is important to note when I was growing up there was no sustainability movement. The word sustainability wasn’t even used, even to the point where there was no sustainability degree or career when I went to school. It was really about environmental protection and trying to figure out how to protect the environment. So now, if you look at the sustainability movement, it is much more progressive and proactive. Whereas, the environmental movement before was more reactive.

I had to put together my own degree as an undergrad because nothing really existed yet, and you’ll find many people about my age who did similar things, where they had to sort of piece it together because it didn’t really exist. Some science, some policy, depending on your area of interest in protecting the environment or issues with sustainability without necessarily that term.

EM: Have you had any mentors or career coaches assist you in developing your career path?
Many, many, many. Some people I know are not alive, so there is that. I don’t think any of them are known or even working anymore. I think often what happens is you find mentors when you need them in different stages in your life and your career. I am thankful I had them to guide me when I needed it.

EM: How would you describe or characterize that relationship? What made it a successful mentorship relationship?
SB: On the mentoring end, it’s really trying to take a moment and listen to how the person is looking at the challenge or opportunity, trying to provide input, but not necessarily couching them in or putting bookends. Really the sustainability movement continues to expand and grow, if you think about how we use to call it greenhouse issues and now its climate change, everything keeps getting rebranded but at the same time you have different approaches to the science and different approaches to thinking about solutions, and even different ways of doing the metrics.
I’m not in school anymore, so I have no idea what people are learning and how people are learning it, so I may be able to provide some background content but I don’t necessarily know all that they are aware of, and how they are going to frame it, because their framing it for today. It is exciting to see how things are moving and what people are learning.

EM: How important do you feel it is for students to receive project design and management or leadership experience before entering the working world?
I think it’s fantastic, very important.

EM: What would you recommend to students who want to make a difference for sustainability in your sector?
I think its two things. Being able to listen to what has happened before but at the same time, not to be afraid to give your ideas or how you are viewing things for today and how you would move to improve it for today. It’s a tough thing, I think in any area, that you are respectful of the place where things are now and where people have brought it today, but how to propose to bring it further along and make it better.

Sustainable Energy

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Date Added: May 12, 2017
Date Last Modified: May 15, 2017