When Sustainable Pittsburgh learned its executive director would be leaving for another position, it began a national search for a replacement. Last week it announced it had found its new executive director—right here in Pittsburgh at the Carnegie Museum: Associate Director of Science and Research, Joylette Portlock.
Though she earned her PhD in genetics at Stanford after studying biology and anthropology at MIT, her area of expertise is climate change—more specifically, communicating its potential perils and strategies to combat them—which, coincidentally, was the impetus for forming Sustainable Pittsburgh in the first place 20 years ago.
In addition to creating the climate change communication nonprofit Communitopia, and the series of videos, “Don’t just sit there—do something,” Portlock also worked for Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project. She also served as Western Pennsylvania Outreach Coordinator with PennFuture, a statewide environmental advocacy group where she worked with the organization’s members, elected officials, and the public on energy, air, water, mining, and transportation issues.
“This work will be similar in that the subject matter and approaches to presenting it are similar. Sustainable Pittsburgh has always been a convener of groups to coming together around these issues of equity environment and economy,” she told the New Pittsburgh Courier. “It will be different for me in that, because it is a trusted resource, there’s an opportunity to do things on a larger scale.”
What those things might be, Portlock isn’t ready to say just yet—she doesn’t start on the job until December and is still working the smooth transition away from her post at the museum.
“At this point I’m still in fact-finding mode, so I’ll be relying on staff and the board to figure out the shape of what’s possible,” she said. “I’m honored and grateful to have been chosen at the end of the search process, and I think it’s a good fit because I am not an unknown in the landscape of Pittsburgh’s environmental organizations.”
What does sustainable mean to her?
“That’s a good question because it gets bandied about a lot for different reasons. To me, at its most basic, it means something you can keep doing,” she said. “I like it because it’s a foil—because a lot of what we are doing isn’t.”
Sustainable Pittsburgh is about equity, environment and energy—a future with opportunity for all.
“The reason that I’m doing this work is to do it with communities and with consumers, and that’s what my job will be. Everyone has a stake—so we need to get as many stakeholders involved as possible,” she said. “The opportunities need to be built into the system, not as an afterthought.”
Portlock is keenly aware that some communities, often communities of color, have been restricted to areas where clean air and water were not available.
“It comes down to making sure there’s opportunity for everyone. Underrepresented people continue to be underrepresented in the energy and environmental sectors,” she said.
She is also keenly aware that her position as an African American female scientist leading an environmental nonprofit is unique.
“It’s come to my attention that, in recent years, I have been looked at as a role model by young girls, and that’s flattering. It’s true that representation matters. It’s important that people who look like me are in leadership–even more so in the environmental world,” she said.
“It’s important that people see we all have a stake in this, and we all have a role to play. I’ve been in the environmental world for some time, and in the sciences for a long time before that—so I’m comfortable with being ‘the only one in the room’—and I’m honored and happy to be in this particular role.”
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