Aimee Christensen ’91, founder and CEO of green-consulting firm Christensen Global Strategies, came to campus in October to give a lecture that urged students to heed causes for environmental alarm, celebrate reasons for environmental hope, assume accountability for their own decisions, and seek opportunities to make a difference.
Christensen spoke to Senior Research Associate Paul Wetzel’s ENV 100 class, “Environment and Sustainability: Notes from the Field,” in McConnell Hall. Her lecture, “What Do We Value and What It Means for Our Economy and for Each of Us,” was part of an ongoing series that features talks by distinguished alumnae and other speakers.
Christensen told the students how she came to care about environmental protection as a child, thanks in large part to her mother, Ann Lindenberger Christensen ’56, a nature educator who took her daughter on her first Sierra Club hiking trip in a Gerry backpack baby carrier at the age of 8 months.
After majoring in Latin American studies and anthropology at Smith, Christensen went on to become (among other things) a policymaker, lawyer, and campaign director. She crafted Latin American energy policy at the US Department of Energy during the Clinton administration, practiced law with major multinational corporations that wanted to take the lead on climate change, ran a national political campaign aimed at making Americans care enough about the environment to vote on it, and even convinced Google to go carbon neutral as the tech giant’s “climate maven.”
Since launching her consulting firm, Christensen has been focused on giving strategic climate-change advice to big-name clients in the public, private, and governmental sectors. Asked by Wetzel to describe some of her major accomplishments, she cited two: working with the CEOs of Coca-Cola, the Dow Chemical Company, and Duke Energy to demand action on climate change at the 2010 UN climate conference in Cancun, Mexico; and helping Virgin Group owner Sir Richard Branson build the Carbon War Room, a multimillion-dollar nonprofit focused on the large-scale reduction of climate-change pollution from greenhouse-gas emissions.
But it was a question from a student that elicited Christensen’s most passionate response. Christensen, who raised $2 million for Obama as a national co-chair of a group called Cleantech and Green Business for Obama, was asked how she would evaluate the president’s stance on the environment in the last couple of years. “The president has an incredible ability to educate and inspire people,” she said, “and we haven’t heard him on this issue.”
Christensen continued, “Who are we as Americans? What do we stand for? Can we make America great again? Can we make America lead the world again? This would make us the most efficient, competitive country in the world if we really invested in energy efficiency. It would reduce our costs [and] make us more cost competitive throughout the economy because we use energy in everything that we sell, in everything that we do. We could make America great again by leading on renewable energy—not just because these are new industries that are growing globally, incredibly quickly, and we want to sell those technologies to the world, but also because it would show that America cares about making a better environment, and we could be a moral leader again.”
Christina Barber-Just is a writer in western Massachusetts and is a frequent contributor to the SAQ and the AASC website.