In this edition of our Community Spotlight series, we interview Strategic Energy Innovations' Founder and Executive Director, Cyane Dandridge. Cyane has been passionate about climate since a young age, and founded SEI more than 20 years ago. Continue reading to learn more about Cyane and Strategic Energy Innovations.
Tell us a bit about Strategic Energy Innovations.
I founded SEI 22 years ago with the mission of building leaders to drive climate solutions through education, career development and training, and community programs. We aim to build awareness while helping any organization or individual get involved and address their community’s sustainability goals. Through training, education, and innovation, SEI is able to collaborate with schools, colleges, recent graduates, for-profits, non-profits, and anyone looking to drive climate solutions.
How did you initially get involved in climate?
When I was in high school, I built a passive solar house because I was aware of the amount of waste that was going into the waste stream, and I wanted to do something about it. It was in 1983, so there wasn’t such a thing as green building or LEED certification, but I found most of my materials at the dump and looked at how we could optimize sunlight for heating and lighting through the use of solar panels. I continued this work when I was doing my undergrad and pursuing a degree in physics, studying the effects of the sun going through the atmosphere. This was at a time when climate change was really starting to be recognized and a lot of large companies were starting to get involved. I then went to MIT for my graduate degree in energy efficiency, which was a very new field at the time. Following that, I worked for the EPA, where I designed a lot of the energy programs. I saw a lot of workings at the government level, where new technologies were being purchased, but I wasn’t seeing it trickle down to the people who could utilize and install it. In seeing this, I knew that I wanted to bridge the gap between research and implementation and act as the facilitator between technology and people, and I began looking at the leadership necessary to do that. After working for another organization, it became clear that while I was looking at this work being done, the responsiveness of manufacturers, and all of this new technology, there was little being done on the community level, so I started SEI to focus on the work that I found the most important.
What advice do you have for young professionals in your sector?
For young professionals, it is about scanning and looking for opportunities. I think it is so important to take that risk, jump forward, push the envelope, and just go for it. It comes down to trusting yourself and making that leap.
Additionally, having conversations and talking with people is incredibly beneficial. Do not be afraid to reach out, ask questions, and engage with as many people as you can. It can be those conservations and questions that lead to jobs or other opportunities.
What is one of your favorite aspects of your work?
Thinking about how to educate and empower others, understanding what current barriers we are facing in terms of climate change, and coming up with weird, different, innovative approaches is something that I really enjoy doing. Also, I love being able to work with all different kinds of people, especially my incredible team. Just getting to see each of them grow and accomplish so much is really a wonderful thing.
How can individuals combat climate change outside of their careers?
Think about your personal impact. We all know the “Three R’s”— reduce, reuse, recycle, but we should be including rethink. When you’re making purchases just really considering if you need that new phone or if you’re going to a clothing store, ask yourself if you could thrift it instead. It’s important to reflect on your personal impact. Also, no matter where you work, there are probably many others looking to do the same thing you want to do, so start a green team or join one. Building awareness and excitement around climate action is a great thing to be able to do. Whether it be volunteering with organizations or protesting, any kind of advocacy is essential. The biggest change we can make will be at the policy level, so get involved on the local level or national level, just make sure you are out there talking about climate and advocating for change.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Honestly, it would be to it all again the same way. I love where I am in my career. I think I would tell myself just remember to take risks if it feels uncomfortable it is probably right.
Who is someone that inspires you?
Both my undergraduate advisor and my advisor at MIT made me really aware of climate change and allowed me to have so many different opportunities that I was able to learn from. Also, I know it sounds cheesy, but my husband is the one that enables me to be able to do what I do. He believes in me so strongly and has continuously provided me with so much wonderful support.
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