Phoebe Romero; Energy Efficiency Consultant; CLEAResult
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. NWF EcoLeaders staff has interviewed this group of change-makers and rising stars that we call “The EcoLeaders Top 50 Inspirations.”
Energy Efficiency Consultant
David Corsar: So, to start out, can you tell me a little bit about your project on proposing a rainwater harvesting system? What inspired you to work on this project and how did it go?
Phoebe Romero: It was part of my master’s research project. We had to get into groups of 2 or 3 and then come up with either an ecological or environmental management study. Once our team got together, we met with one of our professors and got to discussing our interests in green building and university sustainability. We were specifically interested in researching how we could help improve our own campus. Our professor mentioned rainwater harvesting as a conservation technique, and noted that his house was actually fully functioning on rainwater. We started looking into it and saw that it was a practice that was increasing across the state of Texas, and had been adopted by large universities like UT Austin and Texas A&M.
We really wanted to see (a) how much water we could save, (b) where on campus we could place it, and (c) whether or not it was financially viable. From there it took off. I developed a pretty close relationship with the sustainability coordinator on campus who also worked with the university president, so once all of our research was said and done, we were able to present it to the board of trustees and actually build a semi-formal proposal for it.
Around then I heard about NWF EcoLeaders, and I thought the project was right up the program’s alley, and that maybe we could provide some resources to inspire others or acquire a framework to complete our proposa.
DC: Looking back at your experience with NWF, how did participation in the EcoLeaders program, and in particular the certification process, help you plan out your career path?
PR: Part of the application has you reflect on what parts in your process went well and what parts would you change or work on in the future. I think having that reflection about where we could have improved, and what the setbacks were and the lessons learned – that was a huge learning experience. When it came down to it, the university has not implemented the rainwater harvesting system.
DC: What was the top skill that you learned in your professional development at NWF?
PR: Part of our master’s program was focused on the steps of project management, and a lot of it was kind of theoretical. I think that having done something that was actually a project proposal, and then writing it out, was beneficial. It also helped a lot to have those resources for framing the different steps to achieving a project.
DC: What are you up to these days? Where are you studying and/or working?
PR: I currently work at an energy efficiency consulting firm; what we do is work with large utility companies to implement energy efficiency programs. Personally, I work with a utility that’s in South Texas. At this firm, we work with the utility’s customers, including school districts, universities, government agencies, businesses like car dealerships, etc. On top of processing incentives, we’ll do energy audits, provide an incentive based on the savings on behalf of the utility, and we also provide educational services, energy workshops, and we do some benchmarking services. So, we do a lot of different things that are all related to energy efficiency.
DC: What would you say is your personal mission for sustainability?
PR: Right now, it’s really trying to do a lot of outreach. I live in a pretty liberal city, Austin, so there’s a pretty large eco community here. So, besides the work I do, I am involved here in my office’s green team; I’m a co-captain. And some of what we do here is to have eco-focused events where we either volunteer with a clean-up organization, or we have a recycling drive, try to get office composting, and other things like that.
So, that’s a huge part of what I’m trying to do now. A lot of the people that work at this company are in the finance department or marketing, and maybe sustainability may not be their biggest priority. But by adding the green team, we’re trying to bring that message to everybody.
I’m presenting at the Engineers for a Sustainable World annual conference here at UT, and I’m talking about the utility industry and where we’re going in general – not necessarily the work that I do but more about just how technology is changing the energy industry.
I’d say my mission would just be to remain an advocate and maintain a strong sense of community around sustainability and not just get caught up in the day to day of my job.
DC: What motivated you to begin on this path?
PR: In undergrad, I studied political science and worked with human rights organizations, and then I found this grad program that focused on sustainable development, so I started to make the connection between human rights and sustainability education. I realized how much that connection is going to continue to increase – the issues of human rights and economic inequality are very closely tied to environmental issues. Also, the green jobs market is a great place to be right now. Despite the current administration, it’s a rapidly growing market and a good opportunity for employment.
DC: Have you had any mentors or career coaches assist you in developing your career path?
PR: One of the things that I mentioned with the rainwater project was that I made it a point to reach out to our sustainability coordinator at the university. I helped her out with organizing our college Earth Week and talked to her about my career goals and such. I think that she was a great mentor to me because she was the closest resource that I had for somebody that was doing a job that I was interested in that was able to connect me in our university community. I would advise any college student today to know who your sustainability coordinator or team is. I think that that’s a great place to start your mentorship, or finding a mentor that’s currently involved in that field.
DC: How would you describe or characterize that relationship? What made it a successful mentorship relationship?
DC: Do you plan to seek out opportunities to act as a mentee again or perhaps a mentor yoursel?
PR: Absolutely, I try to participate as much as I can in the community. A few weeks ago, Saint Edward’s University had a “Careers in Environmental Science” panel, and they asked me to come with a couple of other alumni. We were a pretty diverse group from different sectors, and that was a great opportunity to answer questions from students and provide advice on things like fellowships and the EcoLeaders program – all of these things that are available that helped me.
DC: What would you recommend to students who want to make a difference for sustainability in general or in the energy sector?
PR: In general, I would say forming partnerships. This is something I’ve heard all over when I go to panels and such; it is about finding a group of like-minded people. So if you are interested in energy efficiency, for example, looking up what local organizations are already working on that and joining forces is a great way to be more effective.
As far as the energy field goes, one of the things I did was volunteer with the Green Impact Campaign that I found out through Net Impact. That was just getting a team together of 3 to 10 students and going around and asking small businesses if they wanted a free energy audit and recommendation report. That’s the way I started with energy audits – I counted light bulbs at small coffee shops and places like that.
One last thing is that I really advise students is to try to study abroad, work on an international project or to at least look at sustainability from an international viewpoint because that’s something that’s really given me a good perspective of where other countries are, their needs and policies, and what we can learn from them.