By Hernan Gallo-Cornejo
SEI is spotlighting the incredible and inspiring sustainability leaders who serve on our board through a series of interviews. We are kicking off the board spotlight series with Debbie Raphael, Director of the San Francisco Department of the Environment.
Why do you serve on SEI’s board?
I believe in the mission of SEI – to build the capacity of our youth and young professionals to work in the environmental field and to create the solutions needed to heal this planet. I serve on the Board because I believe in the importance of “paying it forward”. I believe it is my responsibility, as an environmental professional, to support organizations like SEI to be the best they can be.
What about SEI inspires you the most?
The staff and interns/fellows at SEI inspire me every day. Their dedication to service, to bringing their “A game” to work each day, to lifting each other up – it all inspires me and brings me hope that we can tackle the tremendous challenges ahead of us.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
As the Director of San Francisco’s Department of the Environment, every day is an adventure, every day brings me into contact with someone new or something interesting to learn. The ability to continually grow and learn is by far, my favorite part of the job. I have learned that curiosity can be a driving force behind innovation. Feeding that curiosity by always asking, “What more do I need to know?” enables me to identify opportunities to craft groundbreaking policies and to find partners in all corners of society who will help make them real.
What do you think is the most important quality in a sustainability or environmental leader?
The most important qualities are really a combination of skills: humility, willingness to listen, and personal initiative. None of us have all the answers – no matter how long we’ve been in our positions. Everyone brings value to a conversation – especially those who aren’t usually at the table. No one is going to tell you what you need to do next to make things happen – it’s up to you to discover what is truly possible.
What advice do you have for anyone interested in entering the climate workforce?
Don’t be afraid to try something new. Raise your hand, volunteer to participate or to lead. You never know what you are capable of until you put yourself out there.
How can youth get more involved in climate action?
I believe that the world is run by those who show up. There are many ways to “show up”. Here are some ideas:
What does a resilient world look like to you?
In a resilient world, the air and water are clean, nature’s cycles are in balance, the earth supports and nurtures all living things. In a resilient world, access to health care, to a safe place to live, to meaningful work and pay, to healthy food and a good education are all fundamental rights that are reflected in the design of our cities and in our systems.
If you were a sustainable technology or item, which one would you be and why?
I would be a green bin. One of the simplest, most elegant climate solutions is food and green waste composting. Spreading that compost onto rangeland or agricultural fields avoids methane emissions from landfills, improves water-holding capacity and fertility, and transforms soil to store or sequester carbon dioxide. What a perfectly wonderful example of supporting the cycle of life.
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The SEI Team
Environmental education and workforce development experts share stories from the field