I get home late from the GoGreenNYC 12 Conference. The collected brochures, business cards, magazines, one-pagers, and handful of free “eco pens” spill onto the floor of my bedroom; “purse barf” as I captioned the photo I was so completed to post onto my instagram. I can honestly say this is the first conference I attended where I actually care about all of these resources I lugged all the two hours home on Amtrak to Bard College from “The City”. Now the only reasonable question is, what do I do with it all? Do I contact the men and women who so casually handed me business cards upon our courtesy “hello, how are you” interactions? Do they even care what I have to say? Did they really want to give me a job?
What I found interesting as a first year—first month, really—graduate student was how most people positively responded to my meager title; I assumed they were hoping to network with a potential employer, business contract or important speaker at the sustainable business conference. I was handed business cards without the presumption I was someone important, most of the people I talked were sincerely interested in listening to my education experience and environmental policy career goals.
I met one woman who said she earned her Environmental Policy Masters degree in 1990 and I was shocked that the rare, and amazing, masters program I found at Bard College even existed that long ago. She is now some sort of boss at some sort of energy agency in New York City. She said she wishes she could hire more innovative young women like me, but unfortunately there is no budget and no precise title that I could even be hired under.
Most of the powerhouse women who spoke at the conference said that they had to work their way up in their business before they were in the position ask to start a sustainable campaign to better their business for the environment. Again I was amazed. These women hold leadership positions at L’Oreal, Wyndham Worldwide, New York-Presbyterian Hospital and Con Edison just to name a few. Most conversations about how to initiate sustainability programs in the work place, leads to the simple answer, just ask. I kept hearing this all day long. Just ask. They would then be given no budget, no team, and no less responsibility to their current title.
The main purpose of this conference was to reach out to individual businesses in NYC who needed to get their foot in the door of sustainability. Most of the advice I heard was as follows:
- Just ask- Start a program that everyone can get involved in. Start with problems everyone can see and then a team of caring individuals will follow.
- Never close your sustainability goals to the short term. Always assess the holistic, long-term goals in order to see real results.
- Tell a skeptic: the results of this program will include: reduced energy bills, reduced trash bills, positive green media for your business, a better well-being for the staff, and the capability to influence others.
- Hopefully, then, a branch of environmentalism will spring up in the industry- and more jobs will be available for educated, young interns like me.
I was initially very nervous about showing up to this conference in business professional attire. I asked myself how I was going to interact with real people when I cannot hide behind my brightly colored prints and floral patterns. As a young eccentric, wearing an all black dress that fell to my calves, accompanied by a slick long blazer, I lost my girlish charm of personal style. Here I was, representing Bard Center for Environmental Policy with only my ideas and knowledge to flash and sparkle when shaking hands with strangers who may just be someone really important in my sector. I did it though. I got through the entire conference with so much confidence in my own thoughts to share, adult conversations to hold, and business cards to accept with a smile. I am still unsure of how to file all these materials, but really, the experience itself really reads more than the print materials that are still flopped on my bedroom floor.
M.S. Environmental Policy, ’14