Finding Harmony in Collaboration: Jennifer MacKellar's Journey Toward Sustainable Solutions

Posted By: Jenny MacKellar In the News,

Growing up in Colorado, much of my early life was influenced by the natural world around me. Water rights were an everyday discussion for our community, often putting ranchers at odds with the ski industry and our nature enthusiasts. The booming growth of our community resulted in vast shifts in demographics, as the local working community was forced to move further and further down-valley to find affordable housing for their families, while the massive homes that were built closest to the prized ski resort-adjacent properties sat empty for all but a few weeks out of the year. And the lasting impacts of our mining history were a constant reminder of what happens when we value personal gain over environmental protection. My middle school was located next to a tailings pond. We were not allowed outside on windy days for fear of toxic dust being spread across the playground, and fishing was no longer possible in the river nearest our school.

Within our community, I saw various stakeholders vying for their perspectives to be heard and their needs to be met. Ranchers needed proper irrigation for their fields and livestock. The ski industry, which was the primary employer and economic driver in our valley, needed water to make snow. The nature enthusiasts were concerned about preserving our natural environment, which was so critical to personal enjoyment and bringing tourists during the summer months.

What I learned from this is that not one of these needs was more important or valid than another. Just as we see in nature, we need to find ways to work in harmony and balance for our systems to work properly. We cannot value economic growth at the expense of the people and environment and expect a sustainable and lasting community. We are inextricably interconnected, and only by working together can we find meaningful and sustainable solutions.

As I reflect on working with the Change Chemistry community over the past two years, the importance of collaboration is at the forefront of what I love most about being here. This dedicated community of champions, working to tackle tough sustainability challenges, inspires and motivates me. And what I see time and time again is that collaboration is key.

Collaboration allows us to leverage our diverse talents and perspectives to define challenges and design solutions. When we have defined common goals and clearly articulated our needs, we can efficiently and effectively move towards innovations that support our goals without compromising our values or our commitment to the safety and sustainability of our planet and people.

While being central to much of our success, collaboration is hard. There were many fraught and tough discussions among our mountain community as we sought to find workable solutions. The same has been true of the diverse Change Chemistry community that is made up of other NGOs, governments, finance communities, and industry. At times, it seems as if our goals are at odds. Yet where we have focused on areas of shared vision, we have seen the greatest success. A lot of this success has come from the early champions in the sustainable chemistry movement. They have worked for years to build the foundational trust that is critical to successful collaboration. To build trust, we need to listen with curiosity and with the goal of creating shared understanding.

As my favorite systems thinker, Donna Meadows, said:

“We can't impose our will on a system. We can listen to what the system tells us, and discover how its properties and our values can work together to bring forth something much better than could ever be produced by our will alone.”

What I love about this quote is the importance placed on listening. So often we barrel into conversations rushing toward a solution, when we often need to start by spending more time understanding other perspectives first. Listening to previously discounted voices will be critical, especially when we start to think about a Just Transition. Only then can we find equitable, safe, and sustainable solutions.

Collaboration also requires a willingness to be vulnerable. Working towards something better can mean acknowledging what we have done historically didn’t have a positive outcome. However, one of my favorite things about the ethos of Change Chemistry has been the effort to call everyone into the conversation. This creates a mentality of shared learning where front runners and newcomers are sharing challenges and learnings in the process towards a better future. No one of us can do this on our own.

Clear communication is also critical. We need to communicate regularly, simply, and transparently in order to reach our shared vision of a safe and sustainable planet for all. Change Chemistry works to build collaborative relationships across the value chain and foster transparent communication. In every project, we work to create a shared understanding and drive towards common goals while building trust through active listening and curiosity.

Reach out! I’d love to connect and find ways to get you more engaged. Together we can Change Chemistry!