An Interview with NRDC’s Director of Sustainability: Anthony Guerrero
Interviewed by Andrea Becerra
“It’s an incredible feeling to wake up and get ready for a job that I’m truly passionate about. As Director of Sustainability at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), I’ve had the privilege to learn about sustainable practices and apply them in my work and personal life. Now, as a new member of the board at the International Living Future Institute, I have an opportunity to contribute to the conversations around equity and justice in the environmental movement. At the heart of my work is my love for our planet and the people who live in it.”
1. What do you love most about the work you do?
To evaluate an organization’s internal operations, to determine strategies to be more efficient and more sustainable, and then to successfully carry out those strategies, in my opinion, takes skill and creativity. I get a profound sense of accomplishment when the daily work I do to reduce our consumption results in real reduction. The hard work pays off. I love the work I do.
2. Do you consider yourself an environmentalist? If not, why?
I do consider myself an environmentalist. I’m not a typical environmentalist in the sense that I don’t often wax poetic over the beauty of the mountains and oceans. Nature is essential to humankind. It’s our duty to commune with and protect nature. And making the urban environment, where most of the world’s population spends their time, sustainable is equally important. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average American spends 87% of their life indoors (and another 6% of their life in automobiles)! Equal access to clean drinking water, clean air and also having efficiently built offices, factories and housing (less drafty, more comfortable), that are built with nontoxic materials (healthier for the people that work and live in them) have a huge impact on the immediate human environment. The challenges to reducing cities’ environmental footprints are equally complex as in rural areas and, as an environmentalist I’m passionate about tackling these challenges.
3. Why do you think it’s important that we tackle climate change? Is there an issue affecting your community?
This is deeply personal to me and where I’m coming from; my mom worked two, sometimes three jobs. Money didn’t come easy. It’s cold in winter in Colorado. Balancing paying the heating bill and purchasing warm jackets and warm boots for her children was a terrible situation for my mom. It drove her mad. Families that are unfortunate enough to live in a terribly built apartment building pay larger heating bills and buying the warmest clothes can be too costly and a sad trade off. That kind of daily struggle is a devastating paycheck issue and also a devastating contributor to climate change. It took some time to realize that climate change impacts underserved communities disproportionately. The same air pollution that billows through the city is causing respiratory problems for the residents where emissions are concentrated. The drafty windows in the winter that make utility bills so expensive are also the wasted energy that spikes our energy consumption. And it’s not obvious to the families in these communities that their plight is also part of the climate change discussion. They’re environmentalists and they don’t really know it. These families’ voices aren’t heard. That’s what affects my community.
4. What do you think is the best way to tackle this and other environmental challenges?
Actively listening (to all communities) is extremely important to tackling our collective environmental challenges. I was recently at the International Living Future Institute’s unConference. I heard some great leaders talk about needing to act now, to “jump” or “go for it”… meaning boldly do your very best to forge ahead and do some great work for the planet. I agree. I think we can’t afford to wait to design and construct buildings and communities that have a net positive impact on the environment. And I think that actively listening to these underserved communities needs to be part of this “forging ahead” ethos. We need to be inclusive of these communities. Get them involved; it will enable the environmental community to be part of bolder, bigger and better solutions. Otherwise this idea of “forging ahead” is more egocentric and less impactful than what it’s really meant to be.
5. Are there any other leaders that you want to shine a light on? How are they setting an example for future leaders?
I’d like to call out a couple leaders I’ve learned about recently who are involved in reaching out to underserved communities, helping to educate them on environmental issues and providing ways for them to help advance environmental justice. The example they set for future leaders is to activate these communities that are natural allies for the environmental movement, and have the most to gain.
Juan Martinez, from Children and Nature Network. I recently heard him speak on his work and why it’s important to empower communities to bridge the gap between people and the great outdoors. It struck me that he similarly noted that one of the most important things to do is to LISTEN to the communities you’re trying to serve.
In the same event, I also heard from Michelle Moore of Groundswell: “Groundswell organizes community power to bring economic equity to the energy sector.” It was incredible to hear about her organization’s work and it struck me when she talked about how “expensive it is to be poor.” I found that comment to be touching and true.