It’s sad to be saying goodbye to the Dane County Office of Energy and Climate Change. Over the last five months, I’ve had the opportunity to be part of incredible projects and meet really amazing people. And yet, at the same time, I’m excited to be going on to my next adventure and taking with me all that I’ve learned and experienced throughout this internship.
One of the biggest projects I worked on during this internship was the Climate Champions program. The initial challenge was to make organizations aware of the program and invite them to apply. With dozens of companies already recognized over the previous two years of the program, including many of the obvious contenders, no one - least of all myself - had any idea how many organizations across the county might be both qualified and interested in applying this year.
I should have had more faith in Dane County! Once I started researching organizations who might be candidates for the program, I started realizing just how many businesses, nonprofits, schools, and local governments are taking incredible strides in becoming more sustainable. It’s one of the most inspiring projects I’ve ever worked on - discovering all the ways in which so many people are incorporating sustainable and climate-friendly practices into everything they do. It was also incredibly gratifying to get so many positive responses to the Champions program, and see so much excitement over the chance to be recognized for those sustainable actions.
Even once the application window was closed, I got to be involved in a lot of different ways - drafting the press release, collecting mailing addresses for Champion decals, and even helping organize the celebration for all three years of Champions. All the color-coded spreadsheets keeping track of everything were a lot of fun, but even better was the chance to meet people at the Champion Celebration and congratulate them in person for all the work they’ve been doing.
I can’t wait to see how many organizations will be recognized next year - between new organizations who are just starting to make changes, and all the Champions who have already been recognized for one or two categories, but are now expanding their efforts into new aspects of sustainability, there are no doubt going to be even more Climate Champion candidates next year
The Champion program wasn’t the only project I worked on. Writing blog posts and success stories was a great opportunity to have in-depth discussions with people about specific projects, whether Legacy Solar Co-op’s work financing solar for Willy Street Co-op, a partnership to exchange inefficient light bulbs for LEDs in Middleton, the green teams advocating for change in their faith communities, and even more. The passion as people shared about what they were doing was absolutely infectious. (It’s also been fun ever since, as I’ve talked to people in my community about climate action: “Oh, you’re wondering what efforts are being made locally to weatherize low-income homes? I can tell you because I wrote an article about that!”)
There were other research projects as well, such as updating the Clean Energy Map by finding information and pictures about clean energy installations across the county, and then adding them to the map. I also researched school districts in Dane County, and all the various ways they’re incorporating clean energy and sustainability efforts into their schools.
The internship was also both impetus and opportunity to go to events, conferences, webinars, and all sorts of other programs around the county and even beyond it. I got to be a part of Climate Fast Forward, volunteer at the Midwest Renewable Energy Association’s Energy Fair, and take a tour of the Friends Meetinghouse. I learned about the City of Madison’s Building Energy Savings program, toured the Dane County Landfill’s renewable natural gas system, and read through the entire Wisconsin Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure Plan. Climate action is a field that’s changing incredibly rapidly, and even more so with the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act; information from just a year ago is already far out of date. So I loved getting to throw myself into understanding what’s happening right now with other people who were equally enthusiastic about these efforts.
There is a lot of climate doom and gloom in the news these days, but while it’s important to recognize how far we have to go, it’s equally important to recognize how far we’ve come and how much action is already being taken. Who has time to give into despair, when you’re far too busy making a difference? Seeing the passion and commitment of everyone at OECC, as well as so many other people across the entire county, fills me with so much hope for the future.
I came into this internship passionate about climate action, and incredibly excited to support the efforts of the OECC, but not really sure what direction I wanted my future to go. I’m leaving with new knowledge, skills, and connections, along with a much more comprehensive idea of all the different ways people have turned their passion for climate action into a career, and a desire to do the same myself. I know that this field of sustainability and climate action is where I want to stay.
Heather is passionate about protecting our climate and inspiring communities to take action for a sustainable future. As the Climate Action Intern, Heather is focused on outreach for the Climate Champions program and sharing climate action successes through blog posts, the Clean Energy Map, and stories of the county’s new Climate Champions. Heather has a background in education and library work, including teaching English in the Philippines and China, where she’s seen first-hand the challenges of a changing climate. Heather has a Master’s of Library and Information Studies from the University of Wisconsin - Madison and a Bachelor’s Degree in political science from the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire. In her free time, Heather enjoys reading, playing handbells, painting, baking, and playing with her cat.
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