2014 Fall Internship: The Sustainable Living Center

Evan Trebesch Heberlein, a senior ES/Biology major (and Politics minor) here at Whitman, is currently interning for the Sustainable Living Center. The SLC is a local non-profit dedicated to improving the public availability of information about sustainable construction and workplace practices such as energy conservation, waste reduction, green building, etc. This goal is achieved through the organization’s five current programs, which range from certifying contractors who perform energy-efficiency-improving retrofits on existing homes ($mart Business Partners Program) to an EPA-sponsored food waste recycling program.

Throughout his internship Evan worked closely with local small businesses and helped them improve their overall energy efficiency –which is the goal of the $mart Business Partners Program. But that was just one of his responsibilities. He writes, “I am responsible for finding a wide variety of facts for Sandra [Evan’s supervisor] based on the needs of certain businesses (anything from energy efficient freezers to driving mileage to waterproofing materials in upholstery). This experience has given me a wide range of knowledge related to environmentally friendly business practices, as well as techniques for tracking down hard to find information. I have also begun calling businesses not involved in the program to try setting up appointments to bring in more program members. This has been the most challenging part of the internship, as most business owners are less than enthused about unsolicited invitations when they are hearing about the program for the first time. My professional speaking skills have improved substantially, especially things like improvisation and understanding the needs of the person I’m talking to. My third set of responsibilities is participating in meetings with new and ongoing program partners. From watching Sandra in these meetings, I have learned so much about how to conduct myself professionally and tailor my agenda to the needs of a particular business. This skill is universally valuable during any type of negotiation or consultation position. I would say my professional demeanor in the context of promoting environmentally friendly practices has improved the most during this position out of all my skills.”

It was important for Evan to find an internship that aligned well with his academic and future career goals and would teach him how to apply his knowledge in a real-life setting. The internship at SLC offered all of the above. “This internship has taught me a lot about materials science, energy, and business economics, and how these factors contribute to the decisions business owners make every day (in addition to the relative environmental costs of these decisions). My time working with Sandra has been a literal microcosm of my future career goals: to apply my scientific and environmental knowledge to the political and economic realms, to make progress on larger scale environmental issues. It also has given me significant exposure to the inner workings of an environmental nonprofit, through working on a grant and representing the program at community events. This internship has come closer to my career interests than any class I’ve taken at Whitman.”

Even Heberlein_Sustainable Living CenterEvan presents the $mart Business Program award to this year’s winner.

As a result of his work, Evan now has a very good vision for his future career and feels that his internship opened his eyes to what he can do once he graduates next summer. He says, “I have gotten to see firsthand how rewarding it is to help businesses improve their environmental consciousness and achieve their goals based on their improvement. Sandra has been a complete inspiration to me by demonstrating how well environmental priorities can be incorporated into a successful business strategy. The $mart Business Partners program has also greatly improved my appreciation for grassroots local environmental work. If this program existed in every town in the U.S., we would be immensely better off. This experience has thus reduced the scale of my ambitions somewhat, as I have seen how big of a difference one person can make on the local level (as opposed to the immense struggle of environmental work at the national and international levels).”

The most rewarding part of his internship, however, was getting out of the Whitman bubble and helping the Walla Walla community. Evan states, “One thing I did not anticipate from this position was the feeling of community investment and improved local understanding which I got from this internship. In my meetings with businesses, I have gained a newfound appreciation for the people of Walla Walla. I have come to know the town so much better in my weekly travels to different businesses with Sandra, and I feel much more a part of the community at large than I ever have before. It feels great to be forced out of the Whitman bubble every week!”

Finally, he adds that the success of his internship is in large part due to his invested and supportive supervisor, Sandra Cannon. Here is how Evan describes their working relationship, “I have spent 3 hours with Sandra every Thursday afternoon since beginning the internship, and we are in contact nearly every day about different projects for the week. She has been at every $mart Business Partners meeting with a new business, and I have gradually been taking over more and more control of these meetings as I become more confident in my professional skills. After each meeting we go over my performance, and she gives me suggestions to take into account in the next meeting. She has also coached me closely on making calls to unfamiliar businesses and how to handle rejection. I have really enjoyed working with such a small organization (we are the only people working on the $BP program, and the entire Sustainable Living Center only has 4 paid employees), since I get Sandra’s undivided attention and expertise. I have had every opportunity to learn as much as possible from her.”

 

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