Julian Dautremont-Smith; Director of Programs; ​Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education

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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: Julian Dautremont-Smith
Director of Programs
Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education

Interviewer: David Corsar, NWF

As an NWF Fellow, Julian focused on inventorying greenhouse gases (GHG) at Lewis and Clark College and developed a guide to be used at other institutions wanting to do the same. Julian is now the Director of Programs at the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).

David Corsar: Looking back at your experience with NWF, how has participation as an NWF Fellow help shape your career path?
Julian Dautremont-Smith:
I didn’t know it at the time, but my Campus Ecology Fellowship really shaped my career. I used my time as a fellow to develop a how-to guide for inventorying campus greenhouse gas emissions that NWF published. This helped start me down a path of providing information and resources to support higher education sustainability advocates.

DC: What was the top thing that you learned in your professional development with NWF?
I learned a lot of technical information about greenhouse gas emissions inventory methodology, but the most important things I gained from the experience were the connections and relationships I was able to develop with leaders in the emerging campus sustainability community. I’ve learned a great deal from these folks!

DC: What are you up to these days? What is your role at AASHE, and why did you choose to work there?
I work as the Director of Programs for AASHE, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. In that role, I have the privilege of helping to coordinate AASHE’s programs and services, including:
I love working at AASHE because I really believe in the mission of inspiring and catalyzing higher education to lead the global sustainability transformation. Higher education often plays a leadership role in social change, and it will be essential in overcoming sustainability challenges.

DC: What would you say is your personal mission for sustainability?
My sustainability mission is to ensure that all college graduates have knowledge, skills and motivation to help solve global sustainability challenges.

DC: What motivated you to begin this path?
I started my work on campus sustainability as a student activist working to reduce my college’s contribution to climate destabilization. I was focused on trying to change my institution because that’s where I felt I could be most influential as a student. Eventually, I came to realize the critical role of higher education in advancing sustainability, so I’ve made that the focus of my career.

DC: Who are your primary “influencers” or inspirations in the sustainability movement?
I have a lot of respect for pioneers of the campus sustainability movement like David Orr, Tony Cortese, and, of course, NWF’s Julian Keniry. The movement has developed a great deal since they really kicked things off in the 90s but many of the basic ideas and principles they developed then still ring true today and continue to guide the field. I also take inspiration from leaders who have been able to effectively connect sustainability and social justice goals like Gus Speth, Majora Carter, Gar Alperovitz and Van Jones.

DC: Did you have any mentors or career coaches assist you in developing your career path?
Yes, definitely. Eban Goodstein (currently Director of the Bard Center for Environmental Policy) was one of my professors in college. He invited me to join him on a summer researching project attempting to quantify Lewis & Clark College’s greenhouse gas emissions. This really set me on my current path and led to variety of other opportunities (including the Campus Ecology Fellowship). My first boss, Judy Walton, also had a profound impact on me. She really models what it means to be a servant leader. She was always open to my ideas and, although she works tirelessly, she was always happy to make time to offer advice or support.

DC: If so, what made those mentorship relationships work?
In both cases, the mentorship relationship developed in the context of an employment relationship. Our relationship deepened through our work together and, over time, an informal mentorship relationship developed. Both Eban and Judy were generous with their time and were happy to offer advice based on their experience and knowledge. Because we’d worked well together and developed trust, both also felt confident in connecting me with their networks and recommending me for opportunities.

DC: How important do you feel obtaining project and leadership experience is when entering the workforce?
It’s really important. My experience as a student activist informs a lot of what I do now. It equipped me with valuable practical skills that I don’t know where I else would have developed. I view it as a necessary complement to classroom learning.

DC: What would you recommend to students who want to make a difference for sustainability?
One of the challenge for sustainability advocates is that the concept of sustainability is so broad - it encompasses everything from human health and wellbeing, social justice, ecological integrity and economic prosperity - that it’s virtually impossible to be an expert in all or even most dimensions of sustainability.
I recommend that people find a specific dimension of sustainability about which they are passionate about, and, while keeping linkages with other dimensions and broader sustainability goals in mind, really build their expertise in that particular area so that they can be an effective advocate on that dimension. It can be tempting to try to become a sustainability generalist but, while it is essential to maintain a strong understanding of the bigger picture, most careers in the field will require some degree of specialization.

Climate Adaptation and Mitigation

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