Green Jobs is an occasional series on Sustainable Utah featuring people who currently make their living working on sustainability issues.
By Alicia Wrigley-Gailey, Sustainability Resource Center
If you live in Salt Lake City, there’s a good chance you’re already familiar with Kate Lohnes’ work. Over the past few years, she’s been heavily involved in some of the big eco-friendly initiatives in the city, such as the Clear the Air Challenge and Idle Free Utah. Now, as the communications manager for the city’s Division of Sustainability, she keeps the public informed about the goings-on with SLCGreen programs through social media, blogs, newsletters, and events. She sat down with me to talk about how she got her start working for city government, and why she finds her current job so rewarding.
Q: What kind of education did you get?
KL: My story is probably atypical among those working in the environmental field. While everyone I work with has an energy or environmental-specific background, my background is in communications, as is my previous work experience. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies from the College of St. Catherine, now St. Catherine’s University, in St. Paul, Minnesota. I got my start working for private-public relations agencies and transitioned into government doing media relations with the Salt Lake County Health Department.
Q: How did you get involved in doing sustainability-related work?
KL: I was always passionate in my personal life about a lot of different aspects of reducing my impact and living green, and especially passionate about air quality. That’s how I came to work for Salt Lake City. A few years ago, the city received a very prestigious Climate Showcase Communities grant from the Environmental Protection Agency specific to community outreach programs related to driving less, with the end goal of improving air quality and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. I was brought on to manage the grant and the related outreach programs. Our primary campaign was the Clear the Air Challenge, but I also worked on the idle free ordinance and Idle Free Utah campaign.
As the grant was coming to a close, I made a transition in our office, and now act as communications manager for SLCGreen, the outreach and engagement arm of the Division of Sustainability in Salt Lake City.
Q: What are your favorite aspects of your job?
KL: Social media and web allow me to interact with the people I’m trying to reach. Especially from a government perspective, it’s nice that the internet platforms allow me to show the human side of what we do. It’s a really positive, wonderful way to communicate that.
On a personal level, I get to feel like I’m using my skill set for something that actually matters for our community, something that has value. I’m not selling a product; I’m selling a better future for our community. It’s nice because, for years now, I’ve felt that so much of my life will be spent at work that I always want to feel that what I’m doing is meaningful. Having my work life in line with my values definitely improves my quality of life and overall sense of happiness and wellbeing.
Q: What advice would you give to students who want to end up working in the sustainability field?
KL: When I was getting my degree, the importance of getting real world work experience was really pushed. I took unpaid internships while doing school, which was really difficult sometimes, but was incredibly vital. I’d advise students not to graduate with just a degree on their resumes. There are so many people who have the same degree, so it is recommendations and work experience that are important for getting job interviews. Make sure you take internships and maximize those opportunities. When we hire interns in our office and they do a good job, we’re always excited to vouch for them and help them find their career paths.
Q: What can students do to ensure that they stand out during internships?
KL: The interns that really impress us are the ones that are always willing to grow and try new things, who have the ability to take a project idea and run with it. They ask questions, but are really engaged and when they’re done with something they ask for more work. Show initiative! Any employer who is hiring will want someone who’s engaged and always looking for the next growth activity to help forward the mission of whatever organization they’re working for.
Alicia Wrigley-Gailey is a senior in Communication and Jazz Performance. She is a Sustainability Ambassador with the Office of Sustainability.