Michelle Clements (left) and Yolanda Cieters (right)
As we begin Earth Month 2021, our alumni community is diving deeper into climate action. We spoke with Yolanda Cieters, sustainability manager in the Center for Environmental Justice and Sustainability (CEJS), and Michelle Clements, ‘15, vice president of Human Resources—two individuals committed to making Seattle U sustainable. As members of the President’s Committee for Sustainability, Cieters and Clements are helping to drive award-winning change university-wide, creating a more socially, fiscally and environmentally just Seattle U.
Finding Inspiration at Seattle University
As an avid runner, hiker, and an outdoor enthusiast, Michelle Clements has always had a passion for the role nature plays in inspiring, rejuvenating, and healing the human spirit and for preserving natural spaces. She began the Albers Leadership Executive MBA program while working as the senior vice president for human resources at REI, and it was at Seattle U that she found new ways to engage with and expand on her passion for environmental justice.
“What’s different about SU’s Executive MBA program is the focus on leadership,” says Clements. “You are not just getting your MBA, there is an intense emphasis on your personal leadership, which is then woven into everything we do, preparing us to use our vision and skills to make a profound impact in our companies and communities. In this program, we looked at a deep definition of social justice, at the center of Seattle University’s mission. Each cohort is responsible for delivering a social justice project with sustainability components which extend beyond our time with the program—our objective in this program is to develop a community-based project focused on social justice and built to last. This requires a deep engagement with the community we were serving to ensure the project will be sustained over time.
“I think about sustainability in terms of socially-responsible practices. By engaging in programs such as charitable fundraising, creating safe & healthy workplace conditions, encouraging volunteerism, and addressing the way in which resources are used and redeployed we can be better positioned to address climate change and mitigate its disproportionate impacts. If we empower people and engage our communities, we can carry this work forward to make real change happen.”
Clements has worked to carry this responsibility into her role as vice president of human resources at Seattle U. She had served on the President’s Committee for Sustainability (PCS) for the past four years, where she has collaborated with the PCS team to effect socially and environmentally conscious change at Seattle U. This has included implementing sustainable waste management, procuring grants for electric car charging stations and more.
“Our opportunity with the PCS is to jumpstart progress across campus, by engaging our full campus community in identifying important actions we can take toward real and sustained progress.”
Celebrating Earth Month 2021
April is Earth Month—Seattle U’s month-long celebration of climate action taking place in the weeks leading up to the internationally-recognized Earth Day (April 22nd). Alums looking to start their sustainability journey—and those looking to augment their expertise—have a wide variety of opportunities to look forward to.
Yolanda Cieters is helping to make this year’s Earth Month a success. “Earth Month is a reminder to folks how important it is to participate in action and initiatives that really focus on that urgent need for environmental justice, climate solutions and sustainability,” says Cieters.
“The one word that comes to mind when I think sustainability is wellbeing. It’s about achieving and attaining wellbeing of people and of our planet. It’s about working towards ensuring that we have social, environmental and economic wellbeing. That we can meet the needs of today, while being mindful of the next generation.”
Cieters has worked to create wellbeing across the globe—from her work with the Regional Integration Center of Brussels to Seattle’s World Affairs Council, Pacific Village Institute and Longhouse Media. She was drawn to Seattle U’s intersection of mission and education—its values of justice, diversity and care for the common good coupled with its commitment to educating future leaders.
“To achieve sustainability, we have to treat the social, environmental and economic climate as a tightly interconnected system, and all of these areas affect each other,” says Cieters. “As an institution, it’s important that we consider all of these areas simultaneously, and that we ensure that all the decisions we make will lead to positive, just and equitable impacts.”
At Seattle U, Cieters has been a campus leader in multilateral sustainability—including on the PCS, where she has been a key figure in progressing the committee’s goals. She was awarded the 2018 Seattle University Lee Thurber Outstanding Staff Award for distinguished service. “Yolanda is a true champion, committed to engaging others to take action and achieve results,” says Clements. “She received the award in 2018, yet, continues to bring her deep dedication and commitment to this work every year. She’s one of our top champions for sustained environmental responsibility on SUs campus.”
During Earth Month 2021, participants can look forward to Earth Talks—a virtual extravaganza of short, 5-minute presentations by SU faculty, students, staff, and community partners. The event is keynoted by Jamie Margolin, co-founder of the international youth climate justice movement Zero Hour, and Donna Moodie, executive director of the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict and executive vice president of community development at Community Roots Housing.
Alumni are also encouraged to attend the latest Reading Redhawks, a book club-style session on Climate Justice in the Biden Administration. Join the Environmental Studies Program for this panel discussion featuring professors Tanya Hayes, PhD, Heidi Liere, PhD and John Armstrong, PhD.
Further Your Eco Impact
Alumni looking to further their sustainability commitment have a myriad of initiatives, programs and groups to explore at Seattle U.
Alumni with interest or expertise in climate change and social justice can volunteer as mentors for current students, supporting the next generation of ethical leaders and changemakers. “This generation of students is deeply committed to addressing climate change—to really taking the action,” says Clements. “Seattle U is about involving our students in the critically important work of environmental justice—the hope is that students can use what they’re learning here and take action in our local, national and global communities.”
Clements is a current Sustaining Supporter—Seattle U’s first paperless giving society—for which she gifts a portion of her monthly salary towards advancing SU’s mission. Alumni who are able to give monetarily can make a monthly contribution to CEJS to further the department’s initiatives.
Alumni can also join the Alumni Sustainability Coalition to educate, engage and empower the SU community. “The commitment is there across our alumni community to really make sure we infuse sustainability across what we do,” says Cieters. “Together, we will continue to develop that commitment. I’m very hopeful about that.”
“Today, we have a committee with a passion to making an impact,” says Clements. “Five years from now, I’d like to see a large group of champions across our campus engaged in making a meaningful and sustained impact. A community effort, rather than a small committee, looking to make a meaningful and sustained impact in our local community and beyond.”