Obama breaks the rules, appoints nature-lover to Interior instead of oil-lover

  • Published on February 6th, 2013

For the first time in memory, President Obama has appointed an environmentalist – REI’s Sally Jewell – to head the Interior REI CEO Sally Jewell - an environmentalist to head the Interior DepartmentDepartment.

For as long as I can remember, whether Democrats or Republicans have been in power, the Department of the Interior has been pretty much owned by the extraction industries it’s supposed to regulate.

With global warming and climate change being the biggest challenges humanity currently faces, Jewell could be a game-changer at Interior.

“She knows the link between conservation and good jobs,” Obama said as he introduced her at the White House. “She knows that there’s no contradiction between being good stewards of the land and our economic progress, that, in fact, those two things need to go hand and hand.”

As the New York Times notes in its glowing profile, Jewell isn’t just an outdoors enthusiast; she’s an award-winning environmentalist:

  •  The 2009 Rachel Carson Award for environmental conservation from the Audubon Society
  • The 2008 Nonprofit Director of the Year award from the National Association of Corporate Directors
  • The Green Globe/Environmental Catalyst Award from King County, Washington
  • 2012 Award for Public Service from the Woodrow Wilson Center

Under her leadership, REI’s outdoor apparel and camping equipment stores also pushed the envelope on corporate responsibility:

  • Their stores were cutting-edge green, breaking new ground in LEED ratings
  • REI  launched an eco-sensitive apparel line featuring renewable and/or recycled organic fibers
  • The company also sourced green power and  FSC-certified paper for catalogs
  • They give 3% of operating profits every year as grants to environmental organizations; that comes to $3 to $4 million.

Jewell was not your typical CEO, because REI isn’t your typical corporation. As Jewell told Grist in a 2007 interview,

There’s also an element of Robin Hood to REI: Because we’re a co-op and because we aren’t having to talk about our quarter-to-quarter profits with shareholders all the time, we can actually take some of what we generate and recycle that back out to organizations that are doing a great job of connecting people to nature, taking care of wild and scenic places, and so on.

But Jewell also has industry ties that will make it hard for the GOP to paint her as an extremist (not that that’s likely to stop them):

  • She’s a mechanical engineer her got her degree from the University of Washington and took her first job in the Oklahoma oil patch, working for Mobil.
  • She then moved to Rainier Bank as their resident petroleum engineer, helping to value oil company assets

As Philip Bump notes in his write-up at Grist,

… Jewell’s background makes her the perfect pick to run the Interior Department…. Jewell’s career reflects the transition the country itself is making, away from raw exploration at all costs, toward sensible stewardship. The environmental accolades Jewell has acquired in her new role — andthe efforts REI has made to reduce its own environmental impact — reinforce that transition.

Jewell’s favorite quote:

“Never underestimate the ability of a small group of people to change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead

Hopefully, in her new perch at Interior, Jewell will be able to make some BIG changes.



About the Author

Jeremy Bloom is the Editor of RedGreenAndBlue. He lives in New York, where he combines his passion for the environment with his passion for film, and is working on making the world a better place.