How a Shy Grad Student Started a Movement

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How a Shy Grad Student Started a Movement

This is a follow up from last week’s interview with Joyce LaValle of Interface.  After grad school, her daughter, Melissa Gildersleeve, spent 20 years as an environmental regulator.  I recently interviewed her…  It took several tries… but we finally managed to connect.  Listen to her incredible story here.


Early Exposure
To Paul Hawken

[audio:] If you don’t have the Audio plug-in, you can listen to the MP3 (4 min) by clicking Melissa Gildersleeve_Liberal Arts Beginning

  • Melissa has been an environmental regulator with the Washington (state) Department of Ecology’s Water Quality Program for over 20 years
  • She describes how she was introduced to Paul Hawken’s work while getting her liberal arts degree in Swannanoa, North Carolina
  • At Warren Wilson College, she worked with two female environmental leaders: Laura Temple Haney and Hunter Lovins
  • At the time Ecology of Commerce (1993) was published, the concept of sustainable business was brand new
  • The idea that planted a seed in her mind was… If more businesses across the country understood their environmental footprint, there might not be a need for environmental regulators… Her job might be unnecessary!


Simply Recommending

A Book to Her Mother

[audio:] If you don’t have the Audio plug-in, you can listen to the MP3 (4 min) by clicking Melissa Gildersleeve_Recommending a Book

  • Melissa talks about how graduate school waste studies helped her understand how carpet (her mother’s industry) played a major role in the landfill
  • She tells us exactly where she was when she shared the book with her mom
  • Notice HOW she approached the conversation… sharing her stories from work, the power of business, a new way to be successful, and tying environmentalism to progressive social issues
  • How might her approach be different than most, and have led to her success?
  • Melissa shares why following up the book recommendation by helping create supportive relationships was so important
  • As changes began to happen at her mom’s company, she still asked questions using what she knew to help them critically think about the issues


One of Her Best Decisions
In 20 Years of Regulation

[audio:] If you don’t have the Audio plug-in, you can listen to the MP3 (4 min) by clicking Melissa Gildersleeve_After 20 Years of Regulation

  • Melissa says, “I am a big tree-hugging environmentalist, and to me Ray Anderson was the top environmental person in my life in terms of really getting it and making something happen.”
  • She explains why having an unconventional model for others was so powerful… a very successful, Southern, corporate leader talking about giving back
  • What people in your life could be that model… if you could reach them?
  • Melissa is a self-proclaimed cynic… can you relate?
  • She says that although there was no “master plan”… giving that book to her mom (in 20 years as an environmental regulator) was one of the biggest key things that she did to have a measurable change in the world
  • She describes the work of her mother’s organization, Women’s Network for a Sustainable Future
  • She shares how happy she is that her mom moved to the Pacific Northwest to be closer to her, and continued her work in sustainability


Proud of Her Mother

[audio:] If you don’t have the Audio plug-in, you can listen to the MP3 (4 min) by clicking Melissa Gildersleeve_Proud of Her Mother

  • Melissa shares how Joyce’s work continues to impress her… training new business leaders who will continue this vision at Bainbridge Graduate Institute
  • She says, “The whole story makes me teary-eyed… it’s just a great story.”
  • What difference do you think it makes if you give all the credit to those you’re trying to influence?  Versus doing it in hopes of being recognized yourself?
  • Melissa confirms that she’s shy, not a people person, likes to spend her energy at work, and take trips far away from the hustle and bustle
  • Surprise!  I find out Melissa did the whole interview while on a canoe trip with two friend on the Puget Sound 🙂

If you have questions or your own story of influence… email or comment below, and we’ll share it with the world.  These are the types of stories that inspire change.



Stress-Free SustainabilityAdam Hammes is a sustainability author, motivational speaker, and consultant advocating for sustainable communities. He specializes in helping change agents avoid burnout and master the art of persuasion.

Check out Adam's book on Amazon, Audible and Kindle: "Stress-Free Sustainability."

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