Interview with Elayne Elliott, Sustainability Coordinator

Photo courtesy of Elayne Elliott

Meet Elayne Elliott, the Zilkha Center’s brand new Sustainability Coordinator! A graduate of Emory University, Elayne joined the Zilkha Center following experiences with the National Wildlife Federation (Atlanta), Sierra Club (Detroit), the City of Atlanta Mayor’s Office of Sustainability and Emory’s Office of Sustainability Initiatives. I caught up with Elayne to chat with her about her first month on the job:

What drew you to the Sustainability Coordinator position?

I researched some of the sustainability efforts here [at Williams], and I was really impressed by their ambitious goal to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2020 and the Living Building Challenge building where the Zilkha Center is housed. I was intrigued by the office’s commitment to exploring the intersection of social justice, identity and sustainability, because in a lot of sustainability offices you don’t see that emphasis.

How did your interests in environmentalism and social justice develop for you?

In high school my aunt forced me to attend the inaugural meeting for Young Educators Alliance (YEA), a youth group sponsored by East Michigan Environmental Action Council. I expected them to talk about saving the trees and the polar bears – things that felt very foreign juxtaposed to my urban upbringing. But when I went to the meeting, we didn’t talk about that; we talked about the relationship between the environment and human health, and the ways in which the place where you live can determine how healthy (or unhealthy) you are. I left that meeting feeling obligated to figure out how I could make a difference.

Beyond what you learned from YEA, did you experience anything else growing up that helped to shape your interest in sustainability on a personal level?

I mean I think all of it, in a way, is personal. My grandparents had their house built in what is now considered one of the most polluted zip codes in Michigan, 48217. There are articles published that correlate air pollution and toxins to dementia, and my grandmother had dementia. Despite growing up in a different part of the city, I have asthma; most people I know have asthma. So I think that all of that kind of brought it full circle, and made it very personal to me.

What are some of your goals for this position?

As I prepare to go into the school year, I’m thinking about additional programming opportunities – outside of Eco-Advisors and our intern programs – that will allow us to collaborate with other departments in the College. I’m hoping we can make sustainability more visible in all parts of the College, not just here in the Zilkha Center.

I’m guessing that Williamstown is a lot more rural than the places you’ve lived in before. So how has the transition been moving to the Berkshires?

So far so good, I would say! I think I’m surprised by the number of things there are to do, despite it being so small. The quality of some of the cultural experiences available here are amazing – there’s so much art!

And how about the New England Weather?

I lived in Atlanta before I moved here, so I’m excited to experience seasons again. I heard that New England winters are a bit different from winters in the Midwest, where I grew up, but I’m eager for the challenge.

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If you see Elayne on campus, make sure to say hi! Feel free to email her to set up a meeting.

Sarah Ritzmann ’17 is a Sustainable Writing Intern for the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives.