Meet Leila Monroe, NRDC Ocean Policy Analyst
Mention the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and most any environmentalist's ears are bound to perk up. The organization a Planet Green non-profit partner is world-renowned for using grassroots activism, courtroom clout and scientific expertise to help defend and protect our planet's natural resources?from energy and land, forests and wildlife, water and more. It would take an entirely separate Change Makers column to highlight the 300+ staff, so in the spirit of Blue August, we focused our sea-loving lens on Leila Monroe, one of NRDC's Ocean Policy Analysts.
After working in foreign security and a stint with the U.S. Department of Defense, it wouldn't be long before Leila?the natural born water baby?would find her love for surfing and all-things-marine topping her career priority list. She'd use her Georgetown University law degree to pursue protecting and restoring natural ocean resources as an environmental lawyer, policy analyst and entrepreneur?drawing from her own personal experience. Having gotten sick one too many times after surfing Cali's waves, Leila most recently helped NRDC release it's 19th annual Testing the Waters report which looks at how human and animal waste is causing toxic beach water conditions.
But when Leila's not pounding away on pressing NRDC ocean policy or riding some waves, you'll find her directing her very own non-profit social network on the side called Party Corps?where group members throw parties to raise awareness and money for social and environmental causes. Fun!
How did you get into this line of work?
I've done a lot of hard thinking to find my perfect professional path. There are so global problems to tackle; it's difficult to choose just one. I've always wanted to do international work, so I began my career focusing on one of the greatest sources of suffering for man-kind?armed conflict. I spent a number of years studying and working on international security. The transition to international resource management and conservation was a natural one because so many conflicts are caused by battles to control natural resources. I work on oceans because that is the resource that I have a very strong personal connection to. Protecting and restoring oceans is essential to life as we know it worldwide.
What was your "a-ha" moment?
I've had a few of them—I've grappled with my options and had a number of opportunities to course correct and fine tune my "dream job." For example, after a very serious snowboarding accident, with months recovering from spinal reconstruction surgery, I had the opportunity to deeply contemplate and reject my initial professional foray into security work as the best way to contribute to increased peace and harmony on the planet. Instead, I reflected on my personal love of the ocean?I am a surfer from a family of ocean & water-obsessed people?which led me to what I am doing now
Who is your green hero?
My former boss, Lindy Johnson, an international lawyer at the Natural Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is one of my all-time heroes because she tirelessly applies her brilliance and energy to protect and better manage marine mammals and other ocean resources. She is a wonderful person who has achieved an admirable balance of a high-quality professional and personal life. My other green heroes include my environmental law professors Lisa Heinzerling & Richard Lazarus, my current boss Karen Garrison, and my Grandma Peggy.
What is your ultimate green goal?
To see a global acceptance that protection and sound management of natural resources is a fundamental necessity for preservation of both the planet as we know it and humankind itself.
What is your motivation?
Whenever I feel a lagging of energy or motivation, all I need to do is go surfing and get pounded by awe-inspiring northern California waves. Then, I'm instantly refreshed and inspired to get back to work protecting the creatures and ecosystems which, though they are awe-inspiring, are actually so vulnerable to human impacts including climate change, overfishing and water quality degradation. More generally, I am motivated make a positive contribution to global problems because I have been given so many gifts in my life?education, good health, a supportive family?so I am capable and have to opportunity to do good work.
What is most important to you, ecologically speaking?
I care very deeply about the health of our oceans because of personal and family experiences in the water. On both sides of my family I have a legacy of surfers, fishermen and women, and ocean lovers. Wanton destruction of marine animals or their habitat makes me desperately sad. However, I care very much about all the planet's ecological resources, not just the oceans and marine life. I am so grateful to work in a large organization with staff specializing in just about every natural resource issue. I can focus my energy on oceans and know that my colleagues in the lands, energy, water, and many other programs are dedicating their expertise to the most pressing problems in each of these areas.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
Saying "no" to working on a problem because I don't have enough time or the resources. One of the things that make NRDC so effective and exceptional is that we prioritize production of the most high quality advocacy, science and law. This means that it's really impossible to work on all the issues all the time.
What is the most rewarding?
Every day at NRDC is extremely rewarding?I work with exceptionally intelligent and dedicated colleagues on issues that I care deeply about. I have the opportunity to explore new and emerging ocean issues and to work with colleagues in other programs, such as our energy and urban program, on cross-over issues such as alternative energy development in the marine environment, and marine debris. I feel that we work at the cutting edge of policy to protect and improve our oceans?what could be better?
Of the people you have worked with, who impresses you most?
That's a hard question to answer because I work with hundreds of exceptionally talented and committed people. To highlight one person though, I would say that my boss, Karen Garrison, is among the most impressive. She has been with NRDC for 20 years?her unassuming wisdom and intelligence, balanced management style, and commitment to the oceans are all very inspiring. For example, for the past 11 years she has worked with unflagging persistence to create a network of protected areas in the state of California under the Marine Life Protection Act. These underwater parks will truly be a legacy for our state.
What green thing do you do everyday?
I have the tremendous privilege of living in San Francisco?one of the easiest cities in the country to live "green" every day. I am able to compost and recycle almost all waste I produce. I'm a vegetarian and get my vegetables in a box from my "Community Supported Agriculture" Farm (Eatwell Farm). I ride my bike or walk to work every day. NRDC's SF office is LEED certified Gold and I'm working with 70 green gurus on just about every issue of the environment, which helps to constantly improve my green practices in the office.
What do you wish you could do?
Twice as much of everything I already do. It has also been a life goal to work internationally, so I hope to find opportunities to engage in international field work. I would love to spend a month in Africa to learn about the creation of marine protected areas in the Indian Ocean and share lessons about the process currently underway in California. I also wish I had more time to play music?drums and ukulele—I'd like to be in a band some day, just like my cousin Coburn who is NPR's website photo editor, but also a great drummer.
What is your biggest eco-sin?
I love shopping for clothes and shoes. I was horrified to review the stats on the water footprint of new clothes. I try hard to buy from thrift stores and eco-producers like some of the innovative folks featured here on Change Makers. Carbon footprint related to travel is also a big eco-sin that's difficult to give up. Much of my family lives in Hawaii, so there aren't really alternatives to flying when I go home to visit.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?
I would have governments and businesses worldwide be required toincorporate all economic, environmental, and social impacts into their decision-making. If they were held accountable for the full-cost of their actions, those who stand to profit from the machinery of war or polluting, destructive industry would have their profits offset by the costs to humans and the environment.
What is your best green advice?
Greening one's life is a gradual process?do as much as you can day-to-day, and constantly keep your mind open for new ways to reduce your impact and improve your contribution to your local community and beyond.
Change Makers is a series of interviews with people famous and obscure who are creating a more sustainable world through their work. Meet more Change Makers here.
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