Episode 4 of the Blu Skye Podcast - Rachel Smedley

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(Here is a link to Rachel's resume, and below is a full transcript of our conversation)

RACHEL: It's all about creating the right emotion to appeal to action. You know, I think people are sick and tired of hearing about the doom and gloom of climate change you know, that that leads to feelings of guilt or fear or even paralysis in an action. But I think it's about communicating science in a way that reaches into people's values and connects with them on a positive level and you know motivates them in their own right to think that this is something that I need to be thinking about and acting on too.


ZACH: Welcome to the Blu Skye podcast. I'm Zach Winter. Blu Skye is a strategy consulting firm that operates on the assumption that environmental and social responsibility are the only business opportunities that are truly sustainable. Here at Blu Skye we get many more applications than we have job openings in order to spotlight the talents of those applicants, I called them up, recorded the conversation, and am sharing their stories with you. This week I talked to yet another job seeker about something that has already become a running theme of this still very green podcast. Namely, staying uncomfortable. We also talked about reducing the intangibility of climate change and the painstaking wait that comes with applying for Fullbright Open Research Grant.


RACHEL: Hopefully I can wow you! My name is Rachel Smedley. I am currently a fourth year at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. I'm originally from New York, but I'm here studying systems engineering with a concentration in environmental systems.


ZACH: And so what is attractive to you about that field?


RACHEL: Honestly I don't know why I've been fortunate enough to land with an interest in sustainability. It's actually part of what I'm interested in most. You know what compels people to be interested in sustainability enough to think about it and act on it. When people ask me that question I normally say it was the influence of my pro-environmental grandmother but I honestly have no idea what made me interested in it. Right now what compels me to pursue a profession is I don't see any other option it feels like a calling that's more like a yelling now. I see the... I can't not see the necessity for it.


ZACH: What were you raised to be afraid of?


RACHEL: Besides spiders. I think I have been raised to be afraid of getting too comfortable not just in one place, but you know, with my education. I think coming from my parents and also coming from my friends in the university always looking for what can be done what can be done for yourself and for others and ways to motivate action towards social change and towards making the world a better place or expanding your mind and exposing yourself to new situations and new experiences. So not getting too comfortable with where you are and being open to anything that life throws your way.


ZACH: And I heard you kind of stutter there on the make the world a better place which is something that I feel every time that comes out of my mouth also. like, “what did I just say” right? It sounds so cliche and weird and it doesn't really have a lot of meaning I think anymore. And you know, it's funny that you did that because I literally yesterday was just having that feeling. I think I wrote that in something I was writing and was like “that's so lame.” So what's a better phrase that we could use?


RACHEL: Honestly I actually recently just yesterday watched a TED talk about the title was long lines of what we think about charity is dead wrong. And it was great TED talk and it just spoke about how charity has, since you know, since Puritans settled in America has been known as this thing that we that we give to, to validate making a lot of money in for profit sectors. And I think making the world a better place has always been you know, kind of on the on the sidelines of people's endeavors especially recent graduates. I feel like a lot of people are given the mutually exclusive option - you either create a great life for yourself or a great life for yourself and your family or you can pursue a profession of making the world a better place. And I think of a better for, I think something that the future generation is coming up to is incorporating making the world a better place and social entrepreneurship and incorporating that phrase not just as a CSR kind of thing but really melding it into everyday life, everyday actions, every day, you know, initiatives.




ZACH: Yeah. It's a good answer. I'm still struggling with it and I don't I don't have answers either. I'm going to keep thinking about it to you to let me know if you can.


RACHEL: Me too. Let know...


ZACH: When I solve that one? I'm curious and I don't quite know what the question is that I want to ask you but you're an engineer. Right? Yer background and yer passion at least right now is focused on the science. How does that manifest itself and do you think science is the answer to our, you know, sustainable conundrum that we're in right now.


RACHEL: I believe it's a big part of it. I think the science has done its job in proving the reality of climate change. I believe even as an engineer the problem hasn't become one of the science. It's become one of the communication of the science. Which is interesting for me because I have no idea what that looks like. I'm not a psychologist or a sociologist. But I do believe that you know, this amorphous challenge of climate change that we know is happening. How do we communicate the correct emotion to the people to the non-scientists, to the non-believers, even how do we reduce this intangibility, the intangible nature of climate change, you know we can't see the impact day to day. So that probably leads in the low levels of concern among people that don't think about it every day, but it's all about creating the right emotion to appeal to action. You know I think people are sick and tired of hearing about the doom and gloom of climate change you know that that leads to feelings of guilt or fear or even paralysis in an action. But I think it's about communicating this science in a way that reaches into people's values and connects with them on a positive level and you know, motivates them in their own right to think that this is something that I need to be thinking about and acting on too.


ZACH: Yeah I think you're right. I think that you know, that's what psychologists would say. I mean, my background I have a... I just recently got a master's degree in organization development which is, a lot of it is focused on psychology and a lot of what I was taught is that you can't tell people things essentially. Things have to be self-discovered and that applies for organizations as much as it does humans. Often, like, I'm obsessed with podcasts, that's that's come out in previous episodes that I've released recently. I listen to a ton of them. And when I'm listening to the best ones I often stop and pause it and write something down when it when it strikes me. When was last time you had a similar experience to that and what was it? It could have been reading a book or watching a movie or anything else. Something that struck you.


RACHEL: Wow that's. A tough question. Honestly I regrettably I haven't been exposing myself to a leisurely reading or movie watching or podcast listening as I would have liked to being back at school. But I think the last time that happened to me was this past summer. I was doing a ton of research on climate communication, which fits right into our conversation and I was reading a blog actually, from a professor in Australia and he was much like what you're doing here, It was just for you know personal endeavor and he quoted Richard Slaughter from the book That the greatest awakening - or the world's biggest awakening -  the biggest wake up call in man's history, and it described the issue of climate change and sustainability pretty eloquently, and it stuck with me and I wrote it down. It describes it as not just don't quote me... This isn't exactly what it said but it was describing It's not merely an economic or financial or environmental issue it's a systemic one that is simultaneously global or reaching into the greatest recesses of our lives. So, that resonated with me because it is you know global warming, climate change the planetary aspect to it but then it also it has to do with our habits and our values. And the greatest recesses of our individual day to day practices. So that stuck with me enough to bring it up now.


ZACH: What questions would draw you to this podcast if you were not on it right now. Right? What what would you want to hear from people that are in similar position as you?


RACHEL: An almost graduate?


ZACH: Yeah.


RACHEL: Honestly, I would be drawn to this podcast to hear from people that have been working in the sustainability industry before. You know I'm at this crossroads, I don't know where exactly my degree will take me. I don't know all the options that are out there for someone that's passionate about making a difference when it comes to the environment. I was drawn to Blu Skye because I had heard great things about a sustainability consulting firm and as I was just exploring different options for someone like myself that really doesn't know where I'm going to land. But I do know that if I follow this passion, or deep concern for the environment and for sustainability I know that I'll be happy and interested in that. So I think learning about the different walks of life that people have taken to pursue that passion. So as a student I would be interested in hearing other students how they became interested in sustainability just because that is something that will lend itself to greater answers about how to, you know, promote action and motivate other people. But I think generally looking at how I can incorporate it into my professional world after graduation.


ZACH: Do you have any other projects that you're working on or things that you're excited about or anything else you want to share. Before we hang up.


RACHEL: Well I actually I mentioned at the beginning of this call that I'm pursuing climate research I actually, two days ago I submitted an application for a Fulbright open research grant to study back in Australia. And, I'm very excited about that. It's been a long process to produce the application. Being in contact with professionals in Australia and working with my mentors here in the States it's been a very eye opening experience and so I guess if the Fulbright Commission if you listen to this, I hope you understand how excited I am about it and I hope I hope it works out.


ZACH: That's great. I think it will.


RACHEL: Well I'll keep my fingers crossed. I find out in January.


ZACH: Oh that's so like, that’ a painful amount of time to wait.


RACHEL: Oh my god it is. But it's ok.


ZACH: I think I didn't ask you this question which is one of my favorite questions so before we actually hang up you know that there isn't a job opening At Blu Skye. What made you agree to do this interview in spite of that.


RACHEL: Well I've never done a podcast before. So it seemed like a pretty cool new opportunity and I do greatly enjoy talking with people about sustainability and especially with professionals that have worked in the industry for so long. And I was honored that you asked. So I figured, why not.


ZACH: All right. Any other questions for me before I go?


RACHEL: No. no questions for you. Like I said I was honored that you asked andI hope by I hope I delivered. And I hope many more people decide to participate with the podcast.


ZACH: Awesome. Well, Rachel, thank you so much. It's been a pleasure talking to you.


RACHEL: You too, thank you Mr. Winter.


ZACH: She totally called me Mr. Winter. She obviously does not know that that is my father but I'll forgive her. If you want to get in contact Rachel head to the Blu Skye website. That's B-L-U-S-K-Y-E dot com. There you will find a full transcript of the interview as well as a link to her resume. Thanks for listening to the Blu Skye podcast. If you enjoyed this or any episode, please leave a review on iTunes. See you next time.


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