20 Under 40
Sustainability Manager, City of Columbia
I provide coordination and guidance to city staff and community organizations to lead citywide sustainability efforts. I also administer various city environmental and industrial grants and manage related special projects.
Years lived in Columbia:
10 (this time).
I have bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Missouri.
I was employed as Columbia’s first sustainability manager in 2010. Before that, I was a housing specialist for MU Extension and an instructor in the Architectural Studies department at MU. My first major job out of college was for an architecture firm in St. Louis that renovated downtown buildings into lofts.
It often feels that everyone is, or can be, my mentor, because so many people offer experiences and knowledge to a situation that’s different than mine, and I’m a lifelong learner. Two mentors that stand out to me are Stephanie Browning and Michael Goldschmidt. Browning is the director of Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services department. I admire her for her commitment to our community wellbeing, with a focus on alleviating poverty. Goldschmidt is a professor in architectural studies and introduced me to the concept of sustainable design fifteen years ago.
What don’t people know about your job?
That it’s often a cross between cheerleader for good ideas and that voice in the back of your head going, “Should you really do that? Maybe there’s a better way to accomplish your goal…”
What is the best thing about your job?
That I get to be cheerleader and the voice in the back of your head!
A favorite recent project?
I was really proud of the awareness I was able to bring to Columbia’s low recycling rate. By calculating how much trash we throw away and the weight of materials we divert from the landfill, I found out that Columbia’s diversion rate is half the national average. We’ve raised awareness, made some systemic changes (now taking plastics 1-7!), and we’ve made proposals to city council for additional steps that could result in an increase in recycling in Columbia.
What was your New Year’s resolution in 2015? Did you accomplish it?
#ResolveToSave. We had a campaign with the CoMo Energy Challenge to encourage people to make a New Year’s resolution they could keep this year and resolve to save energy. Our family has been doing pretty good, and I think Columbia overall has been doing a good job.
What are your specific professional goals for 2016?
Winning Columbia $5 Million! Columbia is competing with 50 other communities to save the most energy as part of the Georgetown University Energy Prize. Our “CoMo Energy Challenge” is encouraging residents to participate in existing energy-saving programs. It would increase your monthly budget and make you more comfortable at home. One of the goals of the project is to help make a difference in the homes of our underserved populations. I know that some families have to make the choice between food on the table and paying their utility bills. I want to help make the utility bills lower so that they don’t have to make that choice.
What about your day do you look forward to most?
Saying hello — to my husband, my kids, my coworkers, people on the street. I am a people person, and getting to talk and connect with a variety of people every day is what keeps me energized.
What motivates you?
The knowledge that if we work together to make a difference in people’s lives, it will happen.
If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?
I would probably be a teacher.
Before kids, I used to be involved in a lot of different activities! Now I find myself involved with a variety of groups that I can participate in over lunch or via work.
Accomplishment you’re most proud of?
Personally, it’s raising two wonderful little Buffaloes. Professionally, it’s implementing projects that save the city over $120,000 a year to continue our efforts for the Office of Sustainability.
What do you do for fun?
Our family is big on hiking around the different parks of Columbia; we love riding our bikes (and tag-alongs and bike trailers) on Columbia’s awesome bike infrastructure. We also enjoy eating and shopping in The District and attending True/False.
What is your guilty pleasure?
I’m not telling you that!
Greatest lesson learned?
Sometimes you have to remember the Colorado River — the Grand Canyon was not formed in a day. It takes time to make something beautiful. Don’t give up.
Want more 2016 20 Under 40? Check out Caleb Colbert’s Q&A.