I do in-depth interviews with extraordinary people who are finding and living their purpose at the highest levels. They’ll tell you in their own words how they found their calling, and then what they did to LIVE it. They’ll tell you about the challenges they faced along the way, and how they overcame them.
Aimée Christensen is the founder and CEO of Christensen Global Strategies collaborating with industries, governments, organizations and individuals worldwide to develop solutions for a strong clean global economy, healthy communities and protection of our natural resources. She is known as a thought-leader who also delivers results. Trained as an environmental and energy lawyer with deep experience in energy policy in Washington, D.C., she brings two decades of experience in climate change and sustainability strategy to the corporate, investment, and philanthropic sectors.
Welcome to “What Makes Them Tick?” in-depth interviews with extraordinary people. Get an inside look at what drives them to excel. And get insights on how you can apply what they’ve learned in your own life. In this episode I interview Amy Christiansen, a woman who’s devoted her life to creating a sustainable world both globally and locally.
Hi, my name is Doug Greene. I’m an author and also doing podcasts about people that I find to be extraordinary in the way that they’re living their purpose. These are people that have found what they’re supposed to be doing on the planet. They’re “singing their note,” really. If you follow the work of Michael Meade in his book “Fate and Destiny”. And my friend Amy Christiansen is one of those people that’s doing that.
I’ve known Amy I think for over 20 years, 25 years. I first met her in Sun Valley, Idaho actually through her father who was also a dear friend and was on the first river trip that I went on, which actually changed my life.
But Amy is … she’s the Executive Director of the Sun Valley Institute for Resilience with the mission of protecting local quality of life and to serve as a model and resource to communities everywhere. I’m just giving you some background so you can see what she’s accomplished here. She’s also the CEO of Christian global strategies, which he founded in 2005 and advises corporations, investors, governments, organizations. She’s …. her clients have included the Clinton global initiative, Microsoft, Ogilvy, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, United Nations, Virgin. She has over two decades experience in policy, law, investment, philanthropy, including the U.S. Department of Energy, World Bank, and Google, where she guided the company’s first climate change initiatives, including a commitment to carbon neutrality and successfully lobbying for passage of California’s climate change legislation.
In 2012 she was a special adviser to the UN Secretary General’s high level group on sustainable energy. She was on the World Climate Summit. ` mean I could go on and on here. Um, and as far as a background, she studied, let me see if I’ve got this right. She got a bachelor of arts from Smith College and then she went on to Stanford law school and she was on the 2011 Hillary Laureate. It just goes on and on.
Amy, thanks for joining us.
Thanks for the intro.
Yeah, I know that on the unit we talked about the Enneagram just briefly. It’s a personality typing system. Um, there is a type number three, which is the achiever and I can tell just based on this resume and actually knowing you too, that you’re probably a three. You are, you truly are. It’s innate for you to succeed. You can’t not succeed.
What I’m wanting to explore is that inner world that drives you and it would be great to do that by example, like showing me what you did and also what’s going on in your inner world. How no, it’s, there’s something that compels you and there may be, I’m guessing too – knowing your father and your mom – that there was probably a lot of support for you and being able to do that too. So, and that’s an important piece of this. Those people that are supported in their dreams and given the confidence to pursue it tend to do a lot better than those that don’t. Um, but let’s go back to the beginning. So you, you grew up basically in Sun Valley, Idaho, right?
Well, we moved to Sun Valley when I was 13, so starting out in Marin County, California, um, really beautiful part of the country, um, on Mount Tamalpais, a very special place. And was from eight months old in my mom’s Gerry pack on nature hikes and she was a docent at a local nature sanctuary in Bolinas.
And just really from the very, very beginning, I was learning about nature and finding it to be incredibly credible and miraculous and intelligent. And um, I love nature thanks to mom and dad getting us out on Sierra Club trips. And my dad was a builder developer who totally self-made and just was, it was a “get things done” person who also was always fighting for justice and what was right in the world. And, and I just remember knowing that there was right and there is wrong and there was social justice and that was really important. And so I think I learned to love nature and want to fight for it, um, between my mom and my dad. And so it was definitely from that upbringing and the experiences that I had.
Do you remember a, um, a key moment though when there may have been like a light bulb that went on and went, “wow, this is especially important to me”? I mean, you’ve had a lot of things that were probably going well for you and had your interest in that. But you know, there’s a, there’s a point at which you sort of choose a path or at least you get that spark of like, “wow, I think I’m going to go this way. “You know, the fork branches and it’s like, you need to choose one. And I’m wondering if you had one of those moments?
Um, I don’t think I had one specific moment. I think there was a time when in 1992 I was at the Earth Summit in Rio as a little volunteer and I just saw this global negotiation of these fundamental global treaties on biodiversity, on climate change and on sustainable development. And I just saw everything for me coming together, but also not understanding why there was this struggle in this fight over these treaties.
To me, of course we should be protecting nature. Nature underpins all of our quality of life and it’s, um, it’s our economy. It’s, it’s everything. And so to me, I, I was frustrated by the fact that there was this apparent, uh, disconnect between our economy and this need for development and to protect the environment. And this separation I was very frustrated by, because for me, I felt like, um, that protecting nature benefited local communities, uh, benefited all of our quality of life, the air, the water, the food we depend upon.
And so, um, in seeing this global struggle among governments around these treaty agreements, um, it, it really made it clear to me that I wanted to spend my life helping to share with others what I felt intuitively understood, which is nature is fundamental to everything and therefore it’s fundamental to our economy. So we can do this and that protecting nature and whatever we do will be the right outcome for humans, our economy and otherwise.
And so I was very fortunate cause right after that I ended up moving to Washington DC and joining the Clinton administration and president Clinton understood that we could have economic growth and environmental protection at the same time. And that environmental protection drove deployment of new technologies, which created jobs and improved productivity because you helped your air. And so there was this – in the 90s – that being in Washington DC, the “heart of the beast” on these issues to see that we had leaders who understood that and Vice President Gore, of course. Um, I think I just, I feel like I have been fortunate in that I’ve gravitated to these places where I’ve had the opportunity to be part of an evolution that’s happening, to increasingly recognize that nature is fundamental and nature – what I like to say, and then I’ve heard others say it too – is nature is the best investment. It underpins everything.
So tell me how you, I mean, you’re good with the words part. I wanna understand how you kind of feel this. What do you feel within you that makes this right or drives you? Um, you know what I mean? There’s …
Yeah. Well, I love nature. Go ahead.
Well, part of what I’m wanting to add here is that I think one of the key things, um, we’re really driven by how we feel about something. We’re semantic beings. Um, and I think, I don’t know, I, I just want to explore that part. It’s one thing to get it in your head, but it’s, it’s quite another to get it, uh, where it comes from within. I guess that’s the best way to describe it.
Sure. And for me that’s of course where it all started. I mean it was, it’s this feeling that nature is incredible and the, the animals, the creatures I wanted protect them all the time. I always wanted to protect animals and the creatures and the plants and the animals. And I just, I’ve always wanted that. And yet I was operating within an economic system that saw nature as an opponent to the capitalism. So it was separate.
And so for me, I’ve, I’ve always felt that I want to fight for nature, but I also really quickly – because I’m a sponge when it comes to information and understanding where I operate – that I wanted to very quickly be able to then make that case for nature within the existing capitalism paradigm. And so, so the feeling I had of wanting to fight for and protect nature, of course I was doing that. But I really, I’ve always also understood how do I connect and share that in a way that people can hear it.
So the government policy makers, you have the scientists who understand the need to protect nature if you haven’t endangered species. But the more you can connect it to economic opportunity and jobs, the more that we were going to have policy support to protect nature. That’s just the reality of the system in which we operate. Capitalism is the driver. And so I speak from what I believe is right, but I also understand how it has to be heard in the, in the places where I live and work. Does that make sense?
It does. Um, I want to explore another little piece here. Um, and this is again, going back to that personality system I like. There’s another whole section in here where there’s three different ways that people tend to see the world sort of filter it or where they lean towards. So you go to a party, okay, I’m going to put it in this context and there’s, there’s three options on this choice. You go to this party there, 60, 70 people there. You don’t know any of them. What’s the first thing do you do? Do you go to the food and just kind of take care of like this need to take care of your own comfort first? Do you scan the room for that one person that you might have a deep connection with? Or do you kind of scan the whole room and get a feeling for “who’s who”, who the players are and what they’re doing. And um, you know, who’s got the power, who the movers and shakers are, who the supporters are and sort of get a feeling for the social fabric or texture of how these people are linked up together?
You know, it’s interesting cause I feel like I do, um, the scanning. But it’s more of a scanning for that person who smiles and who connects to me. So I’ll do the scanning to see who, what’s happening in the room. But I’m always looking for that connection to someone because actually I’m kind of shy, believe it or not. And so I think I naturally go to that one person. That personal connection is where I want to be. That’s where I’m most comfortable is a personal connection. And then to go from the conversation to the next conversation, the next conversation where I have those individual connections. And so, um, when I’m in a big setting like that, that tends to be what I do is, so I’ll let one first connection then naturally lead to the others.
So you don’t, you’re not just looking for one person to connect with. You’re looking to make multiple connections.
So within that system, I think you would come out as social. There’s the social, one-on-one and self preservation. And based on what you’re doing and the bigger picture, right – you’re really serving legislation that’s helping a whole country and helping multiples of people and things – I see you being driven socially. And that’s how you’re, that achievement side of you is expressing itself is in helping lots of people on you do that through the work that you do. Okay. That was, that was interesting.
It’s the relationships. Um, I mean for me, the, the network of relationships that have been a network based upon people with whom I fought the battles, we’ve collaborated on projects, we’ve had that deeper connection of work together of making impact together. And those, those relationships stand you in forever and they stand the test of time. And these are the people who are, yes, it’s a wide network, but I feel like it’s also deep – based upon real connection.
So, um, let’s, as you were, let’s say you’ve just, uh, come out of Wood River … did you go to Wood River High?
Community School? That goes all the way through 12th. Okay. So you came out of there and you went to, uh, Smith. And what did you study there?
Latin American studies and anthropology. Uh, we had, um, started when I was 10 years old, started to spend time in Mexico in the Mayan region, an hour South of kin Coon on that Caribbean coast. And I fell in love with the Mayan culture and um, went to all the ruins. My senior year of high school, my project was on the Mayan culture and I compared that civilization that they had a thousand years ago to the present culture and what they’ve kept and why and the connection, um, there.
And I, so I always knew I wanted to work on environment and development and human rights. My senior college thesis was on Amazonian development policy. And, um, really the misguided World Bank development projects, building roads into the Amazon to develop, uh, for industrial activities and farming and nothing that that ecosystem could sustain because the soils aren’t made for farming. Um, they’re made for rain forest.
It’s all in the, in the plant matter. And so I was the environment development and human rights was my focus. Um, but you know, a deep dive economics degree didn’t feel right to me. Um, what felt right to me was to have that interdisciplinary understanding of a region and a culture and a politics and society to understand how decisions are being made. And so I, I ended up being very fortunate because after college doing human rights work in Guatemala, going to the Rio earth summit, I moved to D C and I about six months later, um, or so ended up having the chance to work on Latin American energy policy. So I feel like I was very fortunate because I was able to, my first real job, um, be placed to tap into my background of languages and knowledge of region.
So, so the saving part … what does that feel like inside of you? Where, where do you .. what drives that? Where do you sense it inside of you?
My heart. Oh yeah. It’s definitely a heart … It’s about standing up for what’s right and um, those who need the truth that needs to get out … is what I feel like. I see that the people, the beauty, the creatures, the ecosystems, um, they need to be protected and that we need to have a system that does that. And so I’ve always, I did human rights work in Guatemala, um, in 1991, and that on the ground work was so rewarding to, to interview the people and to get the truth out about what was happening there. But then to go into the system, to work, to change the policies that are undermining environmental protection, that are hurting civilizations, communities around the world, to have a better policy framework that then gets to that ground level, but on a much bigger scale, is where I’ve decided to spend my life is to make those system changes by making the case for business and for society.
So how did you, okay, so now let’s go to the systems part of this, okay? You, you identify a problem, you feel it. And I’m guessing that because you know, your dad was pretty successful in what he did, and probably some of that, I’m guessing he taught you things about systems or stuff that just rubbed off on you? Where did you, I guess I’m asking where did the “systems thing” come into place and how did you put these pieces together to know that that was your path to accomplish what you saw as unjustice and unfairness in the world – both for people and for nature?
So, um, because my parents were very involved at the civic level, locally and in politics at the national level, they just really believed that who you elected to office made a big difference in our life and in our society. And so I always understood that our political structure and our policy making structure was a very, played a very important role and that influencing that mattered. And because I had the education and opportunity to work in that system, I believe that’s where I should spend my time, and get my law degree. I worked for seven years in Washington DC and I went back for my law degree so I could come back and make even more of an impact.
You went back for your law degree. Okay, so you came out of Smith. And then you were in DC and you were in that environment. I’m sure you could just feel like “Okay, here’s the problem and here’s the solution and it looks like the solution is, I’m going to have to go up my game or at least up my knowledge base” ?
Yeah. Well I, I had a lot of attorneys with whom I worked throughout policymaking and government and I remember we were doing something very cutting edge. We were negotiating and drafting the first ever bilateral agreement on climate change between the United States and Costa Rica. And there was, was a policy process where I was drafting this and running it by people at the State Department and the US Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy where I was working. But it was really when it got to the lawyers at the State Department. One attorney in particular who is highly respected, was turned to to say, “what does this mean for us legally to do this? What are the implications?” And it was a broader conversation than just law. It was, you know, what are the risks? And trusting that attorney to provide that guidance of what are the risks here and really turning to her as that resource to make that decision.
And then once she gave the go ahead, it was “all systems go”. And I, and I worked with a lot of attorneys, the secretaries of energy for whom I worked, Hazel O’Leary, Federico Pena, both attorneys. And when, and they both said to me separately, they didn’t think I needed to do law school. They actually said, um, uh, Secretary O’Leary thought I should do business school because you have to make the business case to get to clean energy. If you’re gonna make that switch, it’s economically driven. And for Federico Pena, he felt like I was already in that mix. I was already having success and there was no need to go out and come back. Um, but I really felt like it right for me. And I’d always, since I was nine years old, I’d felt like a law degree was right for me to fight for nature and protecting it was an attorney’s role, an advocate’s role. And I wanted it to have that understanding and that, that degree to empower me to come back and make a bigger difference. And it, and I, I am so glad I did it. It led to so many opportunities I never would have had without it.
Okay. Here’s another piece I’m curious about. Um, lawyers are often considered to be contentious, um, you know, antagonistic and a lot of, and not known for being collaborative necessarily – except in fighting for their case, which is against an adversary. I’m sensing in this, I mean, you have adversaries for sure, and in fighting for the environment. Obviously you’ve got big oil and you’ve got companies whose best interest is in not doing global climate change and they’ll fight tooth and nail. How do you navigate that? How do you know? I mean, do you even go to an adversarial relationship sometimes? How do you … I’m just trying to get inside your head and when you’re going through these things, how you bring it all together to achieve the results you want.
I know, it’s interesting. I, there are definitely the adversaries out there that people who I just think are operating against humanity and are about the bottom line and they’re hurting communities and they’re hurting people and those companies, and those leaders of those companies … you know, there’s a point at which you just know you can’t work with them. That’s not, it’s just not gonna work. I always, but I do, I do like to think that I can bring around almost anybody to see a piece of my picture to see a piece of division. Um, and it’s become easier and easier over the years because, for instance, the solutions to climate change have become cost effective. So solar is now cheaper almost everywhere in the world than coal or oil or natural gas.
This is the most exciting moment because here I’ve been advocating for clean energy for 25 years and now all I have to say, I spoke at Michael Milkens annual conference in Los Angeles last year. Michael Miller – it’s Milken Global, an amazing gathering of industry and investor leaders, government leaders – and I said, the dollars are doing the talking. The big investors are moving to invest in solar. You just look at the numbers. We’ve now invested more in renewable energy than we have in fossil fuels and nuclear energy combined in the last several years. So it’s just a shift. And so when that’s happening, I’ve won – `because the system take over. Now there’s still barriers where.
I want to go back to this. The system will take over …
The system that we have in place. Capitalism, it puts “primacy of capitalism is the price”. The primacy of capitalism is job creation, pricing, what’s most cost effective and that will be … that’s the default. And so over the years I’ve had to bring a moral overlay, a marketing overlay, a brand benefit, employee retention for your company. If you’re a good environmental leader, it might have a longer payback than you’re normally comfortable with. It might not be as cost effective as that cheap sourcing solution of something that’s damaging the environment. But if you can walk that walk, you’ll get better employees, you’ll retain them, you’ll have higher productivity, you’ll have better shareholders, more loyalty, your brand will benefit which benefits your bottom line.
So I’ve had to use those add-ons in my career to make the case for environmental protection because solar maybe was more expensive or the environmentally sound wood-sourcing option was slightly more expensive than the one that led to rapid deforestation. Using coconut oil or another alternative to Palm oil, which is devastating Malaysia and Indonesia and the communities and the, and the orangutans and the, and the animals that those ecosystems. Palm oil is cheap, cheap fat, and yet little bit more expensive coconut oil. And you can be a responsible actor. So there’s still these challenges outside of solar, outside of renewable energy where I have to add principle and marketing and risk of hurting their brand.
Okay. So this brings up another question. And again, it’s into bringing people over to decide. Um, do you attach … a business thinks in numbers, right? They’re all about numbers. So when you’re talking about these more kind of, I don’t know if esoterics there, right? Yeah. Soft, soft qualities, soft benefits. Um, are you able to attach numbers to these that kind of like, “okay, if you spend, um, you could go with a cheaper source oil, but if you go to this little bit more expensive way, here’s a multiplier that will actually, if you look at the whole spreadsheet, bring you out on top kind of thing. And do you get buy in on that?
So the marketing teams in these companies understand the financial value of brand reputation. And so getting the marketing team on board is critical because they’re the ones who know what the point applications can be for their brand, what that financial implication can be for that brand.
So, um, every company with whom I have worked is different and they’ll have a different mix of reasons for leading on this. We have to them get over the economic hurdle because if they’re a publicly held company, their shareholders are going to fight back at anything that’s undermining the bottom line in any way – their board will question it. And so being able to work with the marketing team or the legal team on the risk of environmental lawsuit, um, and of impact on the brand side, those, those are the folks who I’ve had to work with closely to see the whole picture of a decision. So decision isn’t purely economic. There are all these other implications for a decision that a company’s making. And so I have to work with those teams to have those conversations to understand, are you facing risks? What are those? Okay, here’s how I can help solve for that.
So your process in doing this, okay, you, you get a “live one” so to speak, okay. Somebody to work with. Um, how do you and I – I’m both interested in your interior side, what’s going on inside and the external results – but how do you, how do you do this? How do you go to somebody? How do you know which options intuitively to choose for them? Is there some sort of scoping process you do on the front end? Do you do your research of the company to kind of see where there, there may be a deficit? Like they’re perceived as being, you know, globally irresponsible, environmentally irresponsible. They treat their employees in ways that, you know, are not good.
How do you, how do you, how do you find all that? How do you work with that inside of you? And how do you know how to proceed and what sort of your inner guidance on that, on how to move forward and what compels you to keep going? And when you do, well, let’s stop there. But the next question would be, when you do make, you kind of hit a brick wall and you get stopped, what do you do? But let’s go back to that first part. That inner world of, um, I guess I kinda, I get the sense that you really think well in the big picture, you know, you’re really able to see all these different elements together, feel it. I’m not sure how you are grokking it, but it’s some level you are.
So describe that.
So I always, um, do the research first and, um, before I go into the meeting. Uh, so for instance, when Costa Rica, when the president of Costa Rica, he was newly elected, wanted to do a bilateral agreement on climate change. This was 94. So there was no internet to go to. Um, now I use the internet, but then it was LexisNexis files and it was doing searches to understand what was their motivation, what were the risks they were facing from climate change? What were the, um, renewable energy opportunities, the forest opportunities, uh, what was the interest for them as a country, to want to be entering into this agreement, and what can we do together that benefited the investors and the companies, the United States that benefited the broader U S, uh, goal of having strong environmental protection around the world, uh, that we could do together. And so it was really understanding Costa Rica and the fact that they had rivers that were incredibly popular for kayaking and river rafting and generated a lot of tourism dollars.
Um, they had nature that they wanted to protect. And so if you dam those rivers, you lose that tourism benefit, you lose the nature benefit. And so that there were other alternatives and geothermal and wind and also solar that they could turn to and develop. And also hydro creates methane emissions. When you flood a plant, a forested area, the plants die. And then the, and then they, they become combined with water. So you have CO2 and H2O, you get ch four, which is methane. So I’m adding in the walkie thing. But my point is that I looked, whenever I do my research, I, I see the pictures. I guess I connect the dots to say, okay, I’m seeing risk here for you, but I’m also seeing opportunity and here’s therefore what we should do together.
And so, but then I go to a meeting and I start and I listen to them. I ask, I’m an anthropologist. So it’s always asked the biggest question, you know, what’s the greatest challenge facing the company? What’s, what do you think your opportunities are? And let them take me down a road because they’re the ones who know what is the most important issue they’re dealing with. And the way that I can get them to want to act on climate change or on the environment is to contextualize it into their biggest challenge or their biggest opportunity and where they’re taking the company.
Would you say that you see this, feel this or hear this? How do you, you know, people, some people
feel it and I definitely feel it and I hear it. I mean, emotional intelligence is everything to be able to hear what I’m hearing and seeing the body language. Um, when you start to talk about something, whether it’s resonates or whether it’s, you know, it doesn’t, that’s not a fit. Um, so being able to quickly intuit whether there’s a fit there, whether going down the right road for something that could resonate for them and be a win – a way for them to move on.
Intuit. Let’s talk about that word you just used intuit. How do you know when you’ve intuited something probably correctly, and what are you, what is your, um, inner world like when you’re intuiting, you know, do you sort of let go? Do you feel into them? How do you feel into them? What are you looking for? What are you sensing? What’s your experience? How do you let go of yourself and your own biases so that you can, you know, get honest information that’s not being filtered by your view of the world?
Oh, I think it’s impossible to not have it filtered in some way given my, um, beliefs which are founded in facts as well as feelings. Um, but I do, I do realize that I don’t know a lot of things that I need to understand and know. And so to be able to hear honestly from them, what’s going on for the company, why their leadership wants to even have a conversation about the environment, what’s driving, what’s driving it, um, that I have to hear it from them or I’m not going to get the right answer. And so for me, I have to hear and feel and see and see the dynamics among the players in the company to understand what’s going to work for them, for the environment. So I, I have to listen and feel in order to get to the right answer. And I feel that in all of my work, I guess I use it as more of a head thing than a heart thing.
But it is a matter of saying, okay, I have to step back. I have to go really, really deep in the substance. But I also have to go deep to understand the culture and the operating environment to come up with the right answer. So, and I think that, I mean, my work at Google taught me so much about not assuming I had the answers because I was a lawyer in a land of engineers. And that coming up with a policy answer that Google was going to lobby for California’s global warming bill. That is a big solution for climate change that Google as a big economic actor in California and an innovator with a great reputation, 2006 2007 we could make a big difference. And we did, but we weren’t just going to be doing policy and weighing it on policy. We were going to be in technology because these guys have amazing, have products like Google Earth that could help people learn and take action and trust the science of climate change.
But they also had engineers who we could put … they organize themselves onto a team to hack cars and make plugin hybrids and track the performance of those cars to show the potential of this technology to reduce emissions. So the, the, the culture, the passion and the culture not to fight it, but to hear, Oh, that also is a way to solve this problem. And that’s consistent with what Google’s going to do to solve the climate challenge. They’re going to do great policy work, they’re going to do great investments. They’re also going to do a bunch of great technology and innovation activities. So,
Okay, so let’s say you’re, yeah, there’s things going on multiple levels. There’s the tactical, strategic, actual doing parts and you know, the systems that do that, I get what I’m sensing is that you’re working on multiple levels here and you’re able to, the same time that you see this system that can help this happen, you’re also taking in this intuitive feeling about how people are feeling about it and you can kind of sense where they’re kind of hitting, you know, in a sense bumping up against themselves or bumping up against a system and you have a way to sort of assuage that or to smooth it out in some way and presented in a way that I don’t know, go ahead.
Well, and to work, I think to work with them. If they’re, if it’s not an either or, um, and to give them a path for how their company, their organization can help solve climate change. There is a really important role that Google can play, that Microsoft can play, that Virgin can play and everyone’s going to be different. But all of it’s important. So it’s not either or, and it’s saying, yeah, yes I want Virgin and Google and Microsoft weigh in on policy to support global action on climate change by governments. And I’ve helped support them and help them write their statements and have those platforms to make those arguments to governments to say, lead, we want you as companies, why don’t you lead? We need those policies. But I also can see how they, through their operations and their technologies can also make a huge difference on climate change. So I don’t want to, it’s not fighting them, it’s working with them to direct their, to help support them.
So when you were a kid, were you a collaborator or were you a lone wolf or were you a fighter or were you, what, what were you like when you were going through community school?
I think I, well, growing up when I was littler, I would say, um, I definitely had achievement succeed success. But I also was really collaborative. I had a ton of friends from all different groups, you know. I wasn’t a member of a single click, which was a thing, you know, in junior high school. I was friends with people across all different groups. And so I definitely had that. I didn’t see it as either or I, didn’t see it as one group, not another. It was I was friends with a lot of people and um, but I also felt a really strong drive to succeed and to win.
Did it. Okay. So when you, win, um, let’s go back when you were young and now, how much recognition do you feel that you need or want as you succeed? And is that part of the drive, you know, is that part of the itch, so to speak, that you want to be seen as being successful, viewed as successful, accepted as being successful?
The reason why success and being seen as being successful is important to me is because it gives me power to impact, to make a difference for nature and to then influence the next company. So if I am successful in my work with helping to support Microsoft leadership on climate change and another company wants to do something similar, they will say, Hey, can you help us do that? And then I can help make them be even more effective and more successful than they would be, hopefully without me.
So to have the platform to help make it having success leads to more success because more people want that help to for they have themselves to be successful. When the CEOs of, um, Duke energy and Mike and, um, Coca-Cola and Dow chemical and FEMSA big, big Latin American company, they wanted to speak out on supportive action on climate change or you’re after Copenhagen, right? For the next talks. Um, the team that brought me in brought me in because I’d had been successful with them and other.
Sure. So that’s breed success.
It does. And it’s important because it drives impact. The more success I have, the more I’m legitimized in my worldview that nature matters and that nature is good for business. And that allows me to have more of an influence.
Okay. So got that part. I do want to study this, um, you know, let’s bring it to you, to your own feelings about being recognized in this. Forget about that. It helps you accomplish more. What does it do for you personally to be recognized as being successful and all of that in your personal life and your day to day interactions? I don’t know. And your relationships and your friends, the circle of friends that you hang out with. Um, all of that. Drop inside. You might have to drop in a little deeper to find the answer to this.
You know what I’m doing now. I’ve chosen to focus on the local community through the Institute and when people thank me and appreciate what I’m doing, it means a lot.
How, how does it mean a lot to you? What is it? Um,
it’s um, uh, the, just the um, thanks and appreciation and the … because this was a big decision to shift from more of a global platform even though I’m continuing to do some global work, but to spend a lot of my time focused on our local community and what we can do here. It’s different. Doug, I mean, I think that the global thing sounds so sexy, and so, you know, working with all these big companies and the UN and Oh, that’s so “you’re so great for doing that.” That’s very ego, right? That’s really …
This local work. Some people don’t get it. Why has she gotten local? What does she, what does that? People who’ve been out in my ego world of working globally on these issues. And so for me, I think it’s been really important for me to let go of that ego reward that I’ve had a lot of. And to have that personal connection and making a difference in a community that’s real and appreciated. And it’s a bit, it’s more grounded and um, it feels truly connected to individuals in the community and the community as a whole. And as people get to know me, you know, I think people can have suspicion that you’re doing something for reward or recognition or power or whatever. And as people get to know me on this local level, I mean, people know me globally, kinda know that too. I’ve never made money off of what I do in the world. I could have taken a number of other paths that would have been far more lucrative. I could’ve stayed at the law firm at Baker and McKenzie. I could’ve stayed at Google. I could have, you know, there are a lot of things I could have done. So people who know me kind of get that anyway, but, um, that I am driven about what I see as needed and trying to be there to help make it happen. Um, and in our local community that’s needed. And so for me, I think that personal connection and appreciation has become more important to me personally and my heart here.
What shifted inside to to, um, you know, after all those years of being out in the grand, in the sexy big world to come in, did some, did something shift inside of you that wanted you to feel more, you know, this heart space you describe and connection one-on-one, the grounding, all of that. Mmm. What shifted inside of you? Was there something that caused that shift relationship that ended, or a, I don’t know what.
I think it was when my dad passed away being here and you know, cause I moved home to be with him and, but it was also such a gift to be able to be here in this beautiful place and to connect with it and to see that I could do things here that really mattered. Um, it allowed me to realize that I could have a quality of life that didn’t depend upon traveling 80% of the time and that, um, was grounded and in place and that I want to create a quality of life that can’t be created when you’re traveling like I was. Does that make sense? So, I think I saw this, um, I just wanted to have a more grounded presence and place to be, to create a community and family, whatever that looks like with my mom and my sister and the, the people here, my friends here where I’m from. Um, and to have a more place-based, uh, career would allow me to have that quality of life, um, and connectivity.
Place-based. I like that. Um, I like the sound of that, the feeling of that. Describe what that means to you place-based. Uh, and describe it from more from your heart place than just, you know…
Um, that I can look out and know that I’ve been part of shaping the quality of life that we have in this community. That I’m part of a community that um, I walk around and see friends and people I adore and to, “Oh, I saw what you’re doing. I, you know, that’s so great. Let’s talk about that. How can we work together on that?” To be able to just be here in this community and have that connection and feel that person to person connection. I mean, when I feel that when I go to the conference circuit and I go to certain events that I will go to every year and I’ll reconnect with my tribe and I love it. I’m so happy. I mean, in Paris the climate talks met seeing all my old friends are reconnecting with new ones. There was one event I went to and uh, Al Gore was keynoting and I swear it was everyone I worked with in the Clinton administration were there.
Plus all these global collaborators who I adore and ah, it was just a old home week. You know, it’s just that feeling of being where you belong, where people get you and what you’re passionate about. And here being able to walk around and, and have building that community, my tribe have a bigger sense of a place of uh, all of us who care about this place and, and care about spending our time on it and making a difference here. It’s just I’m making, I’m creating a building a new tribe, a new set of relationships and um, yeah, it’s just being part of what makes a place what it is.
One uh, question I’m, I’ll throw out to you is the one I mentioned earlier, if you could pass, if you could write a letter back to yourself when you were just coming out, say coming out of community school or maybe Smith, what top three suggestions would you write back to yourself based on what you’ve learned along the way? And the reason I’m asking this is what three tips could you give people out there as far as finding and acknowledging and I don’t know, living, you know, “singing their note” so to speak. What top three tips could you give on that? Cause I think you’ve done it quite successfully. Um, and I’m curious what
Always learning lessons Doug life is not just, you know, that smooth roadway. Still some bumps that teach me some good ones, but,
So tip one would be there’s bumps along the way.
[inaudible] tip one would be, um, even where there are bumps along the way, know, trust yourself. You trust your gut, trust your instincts, trust your beliefs, um, and that you will be right. You know, you may see it sooner than others, but just trust it, be with it. And it relates to my second tip, which is that it’s okay to have enemies. Not everyone will get it and agree. Now I think eventually a lot of them will come around. But the first one of really trusting and knowing, you know, trust that heart. And that intuition and that, that belief of the vision of where I think we need to be going is the right path. And listen and learn along the way of course, but trust and not don’t let opponents or difficulty, you know, make sure just believe.
And I, I feel like I have my whole, I’ve always intuitively, my heart has always known that protecting nature was the right path and that we’d figure it out eventually as humans. That that was really important and that, um, so trust myself and, and um, and then second, I had a great early boss. He’s a little leery who said to me, Amy, we are defined by our enemies. And what she meant to me was that how I took it was it’s okay to have enemies. If the person who’s your enemy stands for something that you abhore and you would never believe in, of course they’ll not be your friend. They’re not going to be your ally. They stand for damaging the environment, polluting at will, you know, uh, undermining communities for the sake of the dollar, whatever it is that your enemies, that, that if you stand for something, you’re going to have enemies. And we’re defined by them because then that sets your place.
And so I remember when I was running environment 2004, which was an environmental political campaign, you know, we had opponents, I went on Fox news and you should have, I had death threats. I had hate mail. I had, it was scary. A lot of intimidation came in I think because in the debate kind of kicked the guy’s butt. So I think it really riled up the audience a bit. So that just remembering that, that they’re going to be people who don’t get what you’re about and don’t, and that’s okay. And they stay the course and trust and it’ll be okay. And so enemies are okay.
And then I think, uh, there’s probably two more actually, but listen and, uh, um, at, I don’t have to do it all myself. So listening and learning and listening. And that’s always, I mean, as an anthropologist I know this, but I have to always remind myself, listen, learn, listen, learn. That’s where the information and watch and take it in – and not do all the talking. Um, but uh,
But then you don’t have to do it all yourself. That’s been one that’s really more recently in the last 10 years, five years even. And I learned it a lot all the time. There are incredible people out there who are playing different roles or who I can work with, who I can hire, who will be even better than I am. Parts of this work, uh, who are better researcher, a better PowerPoint producer, um, will ask different questions – that I can build a team and delegate and collaborate. And each of us take different parts of this. I don’t have to do it all. And that’s, I’m so grateful because when I started this work, I felt like 20 years ago, 25 years ago, there were about five of us working on climate change and renewable energy and energy efficiency, especially globally. And now there are millions and millions of people working on all different aspects of solving our environmental challenges and building a new economic model that works for humans and nature together.
So I’m so grateful because now I’m, I can, I don’t have to do it all. And I think it’s just once again learning that and that you can trust others to, to do a lot of it. So it’s not all on my shoulders, I guess. That’s hard. That’s a hard one cause I constantly feel like I need to be doing more, but yes.
All right. Um, thank you Amy. And uh, if people want to find out more information about you, your projects, where can they go to get more information? ChristensonBlobal.com as my, my advisory firm website and um, and uh, so as my name spelled and then, um, SunValleyInstitute.org is our local work in the Wood River Valley, Blaine County of Idaho, central Idaho, but also being a model and a resource to other communities. I’m super excited about what we’re doing to build new models, new innovative approaches, investments and policies. And so those are my two main places to get to know me.
Great. Amy, it’s been wonderful. Thank you for your time and for opening up about this because these aren’t all the normal business questions. I’m really wanting. I mean, my goal is to find out the insides a story behind the story so to speak.
Yeah, yeah, sure. There’s a lot more, but good. Thank you. Um, I forgot I should give you my Twitter name cause that’s, I do a lot of tweeting. I think that especially when I go to conferences, I really love to tweet. Um, and it’s @AimeeGlobal.
And if people have questions they can just send you they can …
Tweet me there. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Or, um, my email is fine. It’s uh, firstname.lastname@example.org.