Developing Resilience

BY ALEC MASELLA – SEPTEMBER 24, 2018

Two recent alumni of the Executive Master of Natural Resources (XMNR) program are serving as skill-based volunteers in the nonprofit sector and are playing active leadership roles in Virginia’s environmental resilience. Ellen Graap Loth and Vestal Tutterow work in environmental consulting at Cardno and as program management at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, respectively, but have recently reconnected as board members in the organization, Resilient Virginia, a group dedicated to the vitality of Virginian communities.

“In October 2017, I decided to join the board,” Graap Loth explains. “Individuals and organizations can become members. One day I was reading about sustainability online, and I came across the name of someone I had attended a few environmental sustainability conferences with. I noticed that Resilient Virginia had roots in green building, and that wasn’t really a sphere I worked in; however, the fact that I would bring a different skill set to the organization was what encouraged me to join. I reached out and found that it needed a diverse group of people to serve as board members.”

As board members, Graap Loth and Tutterow have both had the opportunity to meet with the heads of several state agencies to develop a three-year plan of growth and action for the organization. Some of the agencies included the Departments of Natural Resources, Agriculture and Forestry, and Emergency Management. One of the goals decided on in the strategy meeting was increased university involvement with building resilience in certain communities throughout the Commonwealth.

“When I was in the XMNR program, I learned about the idea of ‘collective impact,’” Tutterow says. “It’s essentially the collaboration of different backgrounds to target sustainability issues. Now that I am active in Resilient Virginia, I get to experience firsthand the importance of collective impact. The organization is a very diverse group. We have state employees, private industry employees, and also volunteers from other nonprofits. I see so much engagement with a wide community of people just by being on the calls and going to the board meetings.”

Alongside strategy development, board members are also responsible for planning events that focus on resilience. Some of these include forums and conferences, which bring together minds from across the Commonwealth and beyond to discuss sustainability practices.

“With Resilient Virginia, we anticipate natural occurrences for all sorts of communities,” Graap Loth says. “These may include natural disasters or economic downturns, and we then discuss strategies on how to combat those events. The forums and conferences help us get a better understanding of the many ways we can prepare communities for them.”

The organization has already hosted two major conferences in 2016 and 2017, and it is set to run another in 2019. Besides these larger events, Resilient Virginia also puts on a number of networking events and forums throughout the year.

“The smaller events are great for meeting people from various backgrounds who can offer a variety of perspectives on resilience issues,” Tutterow explains. “Our next event is taking place this October. It’s a forum that will focus on rural resilience and how we can take measures to ensure access to broadband, emergency communication, and pre-disaster planning for smaller, off-the-grid communities in Virginia.”

Getting to take part in the discussions and decision-making around Virginian resilience has given Graap Loth and Tutterow an outlet for the more collaborative and strategic elements of their XMNR education. While both of their careers require them to develop sustainability solutions to fulfill client and program needs, Resilient Virginia allows them to interact firsthand with stakeholders.

“I now get to see both sides of addressing sustainability issues,” says Graap Loth. “At Cardno, I am quite often doing compliance audits. Clients typically have large, multifaceted sets of operations that need to fit within environmental protocols. And similar to how my company creates teams of people who are best suited to work on specific projects, we at Resilient Virginia collaborate with community members to create initiatives that empower stakeholder communities. This idea of collaboration was something I picked up in the XMNR program, and it has turned out to guide me throughout both my career and now Resilient Virginia.”

Tutterow agrees that the XMNR program has pushed him to pursue such opportunities as participating as a board member for the nonprofit, in addition to managing projects at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

“The program gave me the confidence to take on this role at Resilient Virginia,” he says. “Going through the XMNR, I had a broad exposure to sustainability and how I could work locally to make an impact, which became the biggest motivator for me to be active in the nonprofit. My work with a lab funded by the Department of Energy has many tie-ins to my work with Resilient Virginia, especially with the issue of cogeneration—the resilience technique to procure resources such as electricity from leftover steam in the production of heat.”

Graap Loth and Tutterow have become broader in their understanding of energy and environmental sustainability as they work at the community level. Although they are from different XMNR cohorts, both have come together for a common goal, guided by the confidence and competencies they earned throughout their education.  

“I would have never sent that email to Resilient Virginia if I hadn’t gained confidence from the XMNR program,” Graap Loth says. “I’m glad to know I’m making a statewide impact with my participation in the nonprofit.”

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Executive MNR alumna Ellen Graap Loth is a Senior Project Manager at Cardno, an engineering and consulting firm. She works with clients to improve all aspects of environmental management, including regulatory compliance, stewardship, and the analysis and mitigation of environmental impacts. Ellen is a Certified Professional Environmental Auditor.

Vestal Tutterow, also an XMNR alumnus, has worked as a consultant to commercial and industrial organizations, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, and with organizations in China, Brazil, Egypt, South Africa, and throughout the U.S.  His education background includes a BSE in Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science from Duke University, and an MS in Systems Management from University of Southern California.

The Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability thanks Alan Howell of Star Path Images for permission to use his photographs.