Sustainabiliy coordinator helps slash excess costs
When Salem native Elin Shepard visited France as an exchange student during her junior year at Oregon State University, she discovered a world far beyond Oregon and began to appreciate its complexities, complexities that led her to think globally, but act locally.
“Living in France is what first made me interested in this career, I started realizing there is a whole world out there,” Shepard said.
After meandering through a variety of jobs with the state, Shepard now serves as the sustainability coordinator of the Statewide Property Management Program for the State of Oregon Department of Administrative Services (DAS). She has held related jobs with DAS as the state’s recycling manager and in the post-Enron era when California was experiencing blackouts and Oregon started looking for ways to make sure the lights stayed on, Shepard focused on resource (energy) conservation. “I was always drawn to state government,” Shepard said, “I thought doing something to help taxpayers save money was interesting.”
In her role as resource conservation manager, Shepard trimmed state utility bills (electricity, natural gas, water, and trash) by an estimated $1.6 million over three years by finding billing errors and uncovering excessive energy use.
Prior to her current position, Shepard worked for three years in an administrative position, but by the end of that time, she was eager to get back to sustainability focused work.
“I just wanted to get back to where I could make a difference,” Shepard recalled.
Having her first child also influenced her desire to contribute to the state’s eco-friendly efforts.
“Once I had a baby, I had a completely different perspective; I wanted to make the world a better place for him,” Shepard explained.
When Shepard took the position as sustainability coordinator she was thrilled to discover that more people had the environment on their minds compared to the last time her job focused on such issues.
“It’s exciting to see people taking this [sustainability] into account when they didn’t before,” Shepard said.
Now, with the state facing serious budget cuts, Shepard recognizes that it is a good time to show how sustainability can not only help the environment but also save the state money.
“Energy conservation saves money,” Shepard maintains.
Still, Shepard is mindful of the costs of sustainability measures versus the benefits as well as the need to avoid environmental liabilities (sometimes costly ones) down the road.
“I would like people to see what their tax dollars are going towards and feel good about it,” Shepard said.
Influencing the culture of state government is also part of Shepard’s efforts. Currently, she is working on developing training modules for state agencies, which involves sustainability training employees can take on their computers. She also sends out a weekly e-mail to DAS employees and other state employees called “One-Thing Thursday.” Each message offers one easy sustainable measure employees can take in the workplace or at home. The goal is to educate people that small actions can add up to make a big difference and to big savings.
“What I feel best about is that I’ve connected people with the program,” she said.
These connections include not only other state employees but also leveraging other sustainability resources, incentives, and third-party arrangements that don’t cost taxpayers. Shepard says she does her best to figure out how the state can get things done with no money.
“People volunteer their time and we are finding new ways to do things; we’re getting there and it’s exciting,” she said.