Environmentalist: the new Mentalist


“In the early 2000s, it was a challenge for environmentalists to be more than someone that clients really didn’t want to see.”

At least that was the experience of Meredith Hamstead, owner of thinkBright Environmental Innovations in Invermere, BC. We recently had a chance to explore with Meredith how the stereotype of an environmentalist has fallen away – and why environmentalists are the new “mentalists.”

At the beginning of her career as an environmental consultant, her clients were focused primarily on compliance and meeting minimum standards for sustainable practices. Dealing with the environmental issues was something most people did off the sides of their desks, and only to satisfy regulations.

Probably the greatest distinction between the old stereotype and the new “mentalist,” is in how people perceive environmentalists – it used to be that environmentalists were perceived negatively as radical activists. But Meredith’s work, and that of others like her, is more advocacy oriented than activism. Sometimes, of course, she has a position on a certain issue, but even then she is more of a facilitator and translator than anything.

meredithspeaking

She works with clients to help them understand the science and the data that can inform sound decision making in the complex arena of environment. This knowledge becomes the base for proactive policy, action and development that can also, when required, address regulatory or legislative requirements. On any issue from land use to climate change, these new policy frameworks respond to known challenges and provide specific solutions. The solution is not always what she, or the client, expects – but with her expertise and ability to create shared understanding and collaboration, it’s often a good one.

Fifteen years into her career, it’s become a different world. While concern for the environment has been creeping into our everyday lives since the 60s, Meredith has seen a fundamental change in behaviours. She recalls her early work as often being controversial and difficult. Social change is always slow, so she feels she came to her role at the perfect time, and was fortunate to have watched – and participated in – the noticeable shift in perception.

“Environmental Professionals are no longer outliers, perceived as fringe radicals. Now, we have a language to talk about the issues, and what we do. People understand that a skilled workforce is needed to address real-world concerns.

“Most importantly, environmental action by the clients themselves has become much more internally motivated. They want to understand the challenges of our time, and how to build genuine local sustainability.”

meredithhamsteadWe asked Meredith about the top three things that people recognize in her profession as compared to when her career began:
    1. Environmental Professionals are well educated in their field. They bring significant, necessary knowledge to the table that helps all stakeholders to understand and solve issues of our time.
    2. Environmental Professionals are advocates with critical know-how. They’re beyond identifying problems; instead they identify solutions.
    3. Environmental Professionals are analysts that understand the drivers of an issue, and support development of viable responses to that particular issue.

Now, the clients are knocking on her door. She, like her colleagues in this emerging field, is a solution, not a problem. Environmental Professionals are an integral part of doing business in the modern world. Meredith’s almost a mentalist; able to see distant and hidden objects on behalf of her clients, and can help them achieve a positive new reality.

For Meredith, this shift has helped her work go from difficult to creative and inspired. Even with the skeptics.

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