by Marena Gibson
Lisa P. Jackson
Lisa P. Jackson currently works as Apple’s vice president of Environment, Policy, and Social Initiatives, where she oversees the efforts to minimize the company’s impact on the environment. One of her most notable achievements is that in 2009, she became the first African-American woman to serve as the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. She was appointed by Obama, and continued her service until 2013.
Jackson pledged to address seven priorities during her time in office:
An important aspect of her mission was to focus on vulnerable groups including children, the elderly, and low-income communities that are particularly susceptible to environmental and health threats.
Since Jackson was a child in New Orleans, she excelled in the STEM field. She began college with the intention of studying chemical engineering during her undergraduate years before moving onto medical school, but ultimately decided to only pursue chemical engineering; she attributes this decision to the Love Canal disaster in the 1970s, which was making national headlines at the time.
“I remember thinking, if an engineer can create the processes that produced all of this pollution, it’s going to be an engineer that figures out how to clean it all up.”
Love Canal was a small neighborhood in New York, where houses were built along the canal. For more than 10 years, a chemical company used part of it as a landfill, but then sealed it up and sold the land to the school board. About 20-30 years later, an enormous amount of the residents of Love Canal were suffering from serious illnesses like epilepsy and asthma, and birth defects/miscarriages became increasingly common.
When the NYS Department of Health conducted an investigation, they found 21,000 different toxins in the waste of the landfill, and chemicals had been leaching into the town’s water system and poisoning the residents. The disaster marked the start of large-scale toxic waste cleanups, some of which Jackson participated in.
Similarly, while she was the acting head of the EPA, the largest marine oil spill occurred when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig experienced an explosion that caused the release of millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
Though NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) took lead in addressing the crisis, the EPA played an important role in responding to the environmental impacts of this catastrophe. Honoring one of Jackson’s first pledges, the EPA monitored the air and water quality of the impacted areas (which they continue to do today).
After Jackson left the EPA, she brought her environmentalism skills to Apple. As VP, she’s been a leader in their new sustainability initiatives:
From participating in small-scale cleanups to becoming a leader for the sustainability efforts of one of the largest companies in the world, Jackson’s environmentalism efforts have always been aimed at addressing issues that affect others around her.
Majora Carter is an environmental leader in all things urban. She has more than 75 awards and honors listed on her website, and has founded several different companies. Born in October of 1966, it’s impressive how much she’s accomplished in her 50 years of life.
Carter grew up in the South Bronx, one of the most polluted, impoverished areas in the US. However, along with the numerous disadvantages of growing up there, she also recognizes one very important aspect of it when it comes to her environmental work:
“I am a child of the South Bronx -- you don't get more local than me.”
Armed with her unique personal knowledge of the area, Carter has been able to successfully use her vast environmental knowledge and innovation to give back to the community. Through urban revitalization techniques, Carter is working to improve the ecological, economic, and even social issues in the South Bronx.
It all started when she was going for a jog through the neighborhood with her dog. In 1998 she was working with the Point Community Development Corporation (Point CDC: a nonprofit arts and youth organization in the South Bronx), and they were in a battle against a company’s proposal for a new municipal waste transfer station to be built along the East River waterfront. It was such an important cause because at the time:
She was contacted by the Parks Department, who offered her a grant to develop waterfront projects, but she didn’t think this was feasible: She’d lived there her whole life, and industrial and commercial facilities prevented all access to the river.
While jogging, her dog smelled something and pulled her into an illegal dump, or so she thought. It turned out that this abandoned lot, though filled with trash, provided access to the river. So she took the $10,000 grant from the Parks Department, and $3 million more in funding to create the Hunts Point Riverside Park. It opened in 2006, and became the South Bronx’s first waterfront park in 60 years. More than 10 years later, it is still thriving. It offers youth programs, kayaking, barbecuing, playgrounds, and more.
Since discovering that lot in 1998 and kickstarting her first major environmental revitalization project, Carter has been unstoppable. She has now moved on to form her own consulting firm, the Majora Carter Group, LLC, but the legacy she’s left behind is very impressive.
In 2001, she founded her own nonprofit, Sustainable South Bronx (SSBx). Their mission is: “to address economic and environmental issues in the South Bronx – and throughout New York City – through a combination of green job training, community greening programs, and social enterprise.” They’ve executed that mission through programs like their BEST Academy.
The Academy was created specifically for low-income NYC residents, to prepare and train them for environmental jobs in the growing “green-collar” industry. It offers training in green construction and technology, energy conservation, lighting efficiency, insulation, and more; it also increases environmental literacy overall.
In 2006, Majora Carter held one of the first six TED Talks ever publicly released, which were included in the website’s launch. During her talk, “Greening the Ghetto”, she discussed her childhood, past and current endeavors, and implored the audience to spread their environmental knowledge, and show the world that sustainability is affordable, practical, and realistic. You can find the ~20 minute long (but so worth the time!) TED talk here.
In 2014, she hosted Water Blues - Green Solutions, an award-winning documentary on green infrastructure in US cities, including the Bronx. It has stories of landscape architecture, the link between water and agriculture, sustainable cities, and green engineering. During the segment about the Bronx, she speaks about the Hunts Point Riverside Park, and the amazing programs, facilities, and events that have been hosted there since. The segment also details SSBx, and the Bronx Greenway at large. Here’s a link for the Bronx Segment. It is located on the documentary’s website, which includes other parts of the film, as well.
Spotlight: The Link Between Women & Sustainability
Ladies, the studies are in: Research has shown that companies with women in high-level positions have improved “corporate sustainability.” In this post I will focus on the environmental aspect of this.
Corporate sustainability is a bit hard to define. The most frequently-cited definition was created by the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED):
“Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
We'll think of corporate sustainability in terms of environmentally sustainable business practices. Lisa Jackson is the VP of Apple’s Environment, Policy, and Social Initiatives; part of her job is help make Apple as sustainable as possible. 93% of their energy used is renewable, and thus, sustainable. The other 7% is nonrenewable; it cannot be used again, and is unsustainable.
What kind of sustainable, environmentally friendly practices do women promote? Here’s a look at the practices companies are more likely to use if they have women on their board of directors:
An important term that keeps popping up is proactive. Instead of waiting to act until necessary, companies with a female presence will also look ahead to prevent issues that relate to sustainability. Compared to male-dominated companies that are more focused on short-term gain, companies with female board directors have more balance between short and long term goals.
Can you see the parallel with Lisa Jackson and Majora Carter? Both women use their environmental leadership to not only improve conditions, but also create programs that will ensure long-term success. Lisa Jackson’s contributions to Apple will provide company stability; if nonrenewable resources start to thin, they won’t need to worry if they reach 100% sustainability. Even though she’s moved on to the Majora Carter Group, Carter’s first sustainability company, Sustainable South Bronx, will live on and continue to keep her hometown environment healthy. These women had, and will continue to have, positive, long-lasting impacts on the environment.
Apple Leadership- Lisa Jackson Biography
Pace Law Honorary Degree Recipients: Lisa P. Jackson, US EPA Administrator
The State University of New York at Geneseo: Love Canal--A Brief History
NOAA Office of Response and Restoration
Majora Carter TED Talk, "Greening the Ghetto." 2006.
Waldman, Amy. The New York Times, Public Lives: "A Dreamer, Working for Beauty in the South Bronx." 2001.
Majora Carter Group
Sustainable South Bronx
The Point CDC
Water Blues - Green Solutions (2014)
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