May 12, 2022

Introducing Megan Kalsman

Policy Researcher, Carbon Leadership Forum

by Megan Kalsman

I have always been drawn to and fascinated by cities. How we work, play, and move about them impacts our overall quality of life and the natural environment. So many contributing factors require strategic thinking and bold action to address underlying issues. For example, walkability and access to public transit, sharing music, art, and culture in public spaces, who feels safe walking at night, and preserving and enhancing open and green spaces.

My passion and curiosity led me to pursue an undergraduate degree in Environmental Studies at San Francisco State University with a minor in Urban Planning and the Built Environment. The program provided an initial exposure to the world of green building and how local and state policies can effect significant change. This experience inspired me to pursue work in the local government sector.

Working for the City & County of San Francisco Department of the Environment, I had the opportunity to help pass first-in-the-nation environmental policies and programs. In this work, I explored how toxic chemicals are prevalent in our everyday lives and how they disproportionately affect specific populations like low-income communities and communities of color. For example, I worked with the nail salon community to help reduce harmful chemicals in the workplace and researched how ventilation systems can drastically increase indoor air quality in salons. Other programs I worked on with local government agencies were hazardous waste reduction programs and coastal pollution prevention in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“We can’t save the planet without uplifting the voices of its people, especially those most often unheard,” stated Leah Thomas in her book The Intersectional Environmentalist. I strive to frame my environmental and policy analysis work with an intersectional lens each day. Working with businesses on toxic chemical reduction, I experienced first-hand how commercial enterprises often want to do the right thing but must balance economics with social and environmental imperatives. Governments are empowered to legislate change and establish standards; however, companies must implement and abide by them.

I have seen how public-private partnerships can improve outcomes by understanding needs, identifying resources, and creating a shared vision. For instance, working with the nail salon community, we heard directly from stakeholders, business owners, and workers. As a result, we worked together to advocate for less-toxic chemicals in products, supported small businesses with a microloan program, and passed policies to translate product information sheets into multiple languages. I believe that inclusivity, equity, and diversity are the keys to solving complex problems sustainably.

My love of travel, exploration, and learning led me to live abroad in Sweden. I completed my Master of Science degree in Environmental Policy and Management at Lund University with the International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics. As a result, I gained an in-depth perspective of EU environmental policies, as well as a love for Swedish pastries like the cardamom bun and semla. For my thesis project, I studied the intersection of gender equality with environmental issues like climate change, biodiversity, and chemicals on an international policy scale. This process deepened my environmental and social justice understanding and passion.

My graduate work highlighted the many advantages of systems thinking, or a holistic approach as a framework for developing equitable climate programs and policies. One example which inspired me to pursue work in the building sector on embodied carbon is the city of Kalundborg, Denmark – the birthplace of industrial symbiosis. In 1972, the municipality cultivated public-private partnerships to minimize industrial waste and significantly decrease carbon emissions. One company’s waste was used as a resource for another. In the natural environment, there is no waste. How can we apply systems thinking and industrial symbiosis to our built environment, contributing to substantial carbon reductions?

The Carbon Leadership Forum is asking these questions. It has created a decentralized, empowered network of passionate people worldwide to do this work. I am so excited to bring my government and research experience to the Policy team at CLF to assist stakeholders in developing embodied carbon legislation. It is clear that the CLF is a driving force for accelerating change by leveraging strong stakeholder partnerships, producing innovative research, and cultivating active community networks. I am confident that I will learn so much from the amazingly skilled and talented CLF team and look forward to becoming a collaborative partner in the field.

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Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park, California

Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park, California

Megan Kalsman is a Policy Researcher with the Carbon Leadership Forum at the University of Washington. She specializes in advancing the procurement of low-carbon materials and informs the development and implementation of cross-sectoral climate policies targeting embodied carbon. Before joining the CLF, Megan completed her Master of Science degree at Lund University in Sweden in Environmental Management and Policy. She has experience managing environmental programs in local governments, businesses, and non-profit organizations, with an emphasis on climate justice and stakeholder engagement.

 

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