The Minnesota Women in Energy series highlights influential women who are part of our state’s energy efficiency and renewable energy industries. CERTs is highlighting these leaders during the month of March in 2017, which is Women’s History Month.
As part of the series we interviewed Julia Frost Nerbonne, Executive Director of Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light, to learn more about her work, what inspires her, and how other women can get involved in the industry. Read on to learn more!
Can you tell us a little bit about what you do in the energy world in Minnesota?
I am the Executive Director of Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light where I have the opportunity to shape a career around bringing people together to build a powerful interfaith climate movement. A big part of my work has been carrying out a vision of a renewable energy future that mitigates carbon while increasing equity by reducing the economic and racial disparities of our state. I do this through convening partners in a group called the Just Solar Coalition. Together we work to create projects on the ground that live out our values of access and inclusion to renewable energy for all. Check out our Just Community Solar Coalition video. We are also building a systemic movement for change by focusing on driving policy that promotes both carbon mitigation and equity. Lastly I work to grow partnerships and promote a sense of identity and ownership around energy justice. One wonderful collaboration we have is with Just B Solar. Together we inspire youth to dream about their role in the solar revolution by offering solar camps to youth all over the state. Learn more in a recent MPR News story. If you are curious about how you can join the movement, jump on the train. We are actively seeking out new communities to join our Movement Builder Program.
How did you get into this work?
I got involved in this movement because the production of energy through fossil fuel consumption is threatening all that I hold dear. As a trained conservation biologist, and a student of human culture I can see how the fossil fuel industry has shaped the world we live in, and what will happen if we continue with business as usual. Just this week my daughter cried herself to sleep after it finally dawned on her that she might not always be able to experience winter in the same way. As a mother, I want to be able to tell my kids I did everything I could to protect our mother earth.
What is a typical day like for you?
The wonderful thing about MNIPL is that every day is different. I get to connect with volunteer leaders, plan coalition meetings, analyze policy, develop leadership development workshops, plan summer camps, and help my staff of eight figure out how to powerfully show up.
What are the best and worst parts of your job?
The best part of my job is working to develop a vision of partnership and grassroots leadership in the movement. We have an incredible “Movement Development Team” at MNIPL where we talk about how to empower others to step up and lead. I love spending time hearing people’s stories, and helping to connect them to the movement. Especially when it brings me into worlds that are new to me. Traveling to Standing Rock, for example, took me out of my comfort zone. But listening and learning and praying together with people from all over the world has led to many new relationships and shared projects. I have also really enjoyed working on bringing a social justice lens to the emerging solar industry in MN. Focusing on making sure that everyone has access and that the solar industry plays a role in helping to close the employment gap has been an eye-opening adventure.
Not surprisingly the most challenging part of my job is making sure all the spreadsheets are balanced and that everyone is getting paid. I don’t mind working on budgets, but it keeps me up and night wondering about how we are going to support all the innovative projects that we have embarked on.
What about your job inspires you?
The incredible people I work with inspire me! In the course I my day I might have the chance to meet with a leaders from an area mosque and hear about stories from the Koran that have motivated them to take environmental action in their congregation. Or I might participate in a coalition meeting with people from dozens of different organizations. Or I might have the chance to sit down with an organizer from Native Lives Matter to plan an event where youth tell their stories. It’s always interesting!
What advice do you have for women who are thinking about working in energy?
Much of the business world is built on the old story of hierarchy and domination by a few. This is a man’s story. Women have something unique to add, especially in this rapidly changing industry. We can be the source of a new story that promotes wealth building for all and care for children and the earth. To do this we must build authentic alliances and partnerships. There are many concurrently good ways to build this movement. Take the time to learn about the perspectives of others, and rather than viewing them as potential competitors, ask yourself how we can build a better world together. It takes very little time to recognize and lift up the work of those around you. Get to know them and take the time to include them in your work. Being a connector can be the most important part of your legacy.
Julia Frost Nerbonne
Julia is the Executive Director of Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light. She has an undergraduate degree in Religion from Vassar College and a Ph.D. in Conservation Biology with a minor in Conflict Management from the University of Minnesota. She also serves as an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Conservation Biology Graduate Program at the University of Minnesota. Her research focuses on how to create powerful social movements. Between 2011 and 2014, she was the founding Director of MN350. She has also spent over 18 years teaching ethics and sustainability studies to college students at the Higher Education Consortium for Urban Affairs and at the University of Minnesota. She is a member of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in St. Paul. When she is not working, Julia enjoys playing the fiddle and reading about history. She doesn’t always enjoy large crowds, but when there is a message to deliver, you’ll probably find her out on the streets with her kids in tow. You can reach Julia at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The Minnesota Women in Energy series highlights influential women who are part of our state’s energy efficiency and renewable energy industries during Women’s History Month.