By Meryl Sands–12/16/2020
Hillary, in your own words, what do you do for The Energy Co-op?
I was hired to be our office manager, but given the circumstances surrounding COVID-19, I am managing our remote office, which really entails operations management. So, I make sure that our daily operations run smoothly. I assist with Member Services and I help with creating structures and processes to help all staff be as successful in their roles as possible. That’s the way I think of it.
What is the best part of working here so far?
I mean, how could I not say my co-workers, right? How else do you answer that question? Clearly it’s my coworkers. I am in awe of how talented they all are at their respective functions and I’m just amazed at how brilliant and informed everyone is. Though I have an academic background in Environmental Studies, I was amazed at how little I knew after joining the staff here, relative to my colleagues. But that motivates me, because I know I have a team of wonderful people I can learn from.
That’s amazing. Could you share more about your journey and your background that lead you here? And what that path was like?
Yes, it’s definitely been very non-linear.
I went to the University of Michigan for Environmental Studies, which was a pretty general field. I was able to specialize that degree, and I specifically chose to concentrate in Behavior Change Communication and Education. At the time, I was really interested in environmental education and I held some internships in that field. After graduating, I started working in education, and served a couple of AmeriCorps terms working with literacy nonprofits, with makerspace and arts organizations, and in charter schools.
After spending a lot of time working with young ones, I was ready to step away from a more public facing role, and move into a behind-the-scenes, operational function. I moved to New York City and I ended up at a tech startup, which was a really different experience. Working in operations suited my skillset, but I wanted to pivot back to working in nonprofits.
Fortunately, the Office Manager position at The Energy Co-op combined my educational background, nonprofit background, and operational experience really well. In a way, it was kind of the perfect union of all those things.
How do you practice sustainability in your own life?
The biggest thing that I have tried to pinpoint is my personal consumerism. I noticed my spending habits begin to change with the onset of the pandemic, so I’ve been trying to focus on those habits and figure out ways to be more sustainable in how I shop.
Specifically, I know how wasteful the fashion industry is, and I love to express myself with what I wear, so I try to purchase secondhand as much as I can. I also try to mend and tailor my own clothes, rather than giving them away. If I do buy something new, I try to make informed decisions about what I’m purchasing: where it comes from, whether the company’s manufacturing practices are ethical and sustainable, and how the materials are sourced and packaged.
What is your favorite snow day activity?
I really like going for walks in the snow. While I enjoy going on wintery walks, I also really enjoy coming back inside and staying inside, under a warm blanket, winter-themed beverage in hand.
I would like to become someone who goes cross-country skiing more when it snows, because I think that’s really fun. But that’s aspirational.
When it’s not snowing, do you have any other favorite outdoor activities?
Yes, I love hiking. I am the kind of person who loves to be outdoors, but I don’t consider myself sporty or adventurous, so I like to be in the outdoors for a prescribed period of time. I grew up close to Valley Forge National Historical Park, so for a relatively short hike, I love to go there. But, otherwise, as a new resident of Philadelphia, I’ve enjoyed exploring the different trails at the Wissahickon this fall.
Do you have any goals or resolutions for 2021?
I am really trying to dedicate more time to establishing an art practice as an extracurricular project. Especially with the pandemic shuttering us inside our homes, I’m trying to diversify how I use my time. I’d like to use part of my home space as a printmaking studio, and devote more time to making art.
That’s so exciting! Any sneak peeks that you can share about your upcoming printmaking studio or what kind of prints you make?
I carve linoleum blocks and make prints from those. I started this several years ago and came back to it a little more recently. In the fall, I decided to try my hand to make some prints specifically for social causes and I received an unexpectedly positive response from that. So, I’ve been thinking about trying to make more art to sell, with either a portion or all of the proceeds benefitting different social causes.