This past week, I was invited to spend a week shadowing with a VP at Eastern Research Group. ERG is a consulting firm founded in 1984 specializing in environmental services. They offer a variety of services ranging from air quality to drinking water to strategic communications. Here’s what happened.
7am: Got up earlier than I had in months because I had to dress up super fancy, take the subway, transfer to a bus, and then walk a mile through snow in dress shoes. I’m late for my train so I end up running and get a foot cramp. So far, so good. Hop on the bus. I hate buses, I never know when my stop is coming up and I panic. But this time I prepared and know which stop it is and the previous stops leading up to it.
I miss my stop. The bus pulls into MIT Lincoln Labs and people start filing off. I figure it’s best to just walk from here so I get off with them. Security guard asks for my badge. Obviously I don’t have one. I tell him I’m lost. He laughs and then I have to walk an extra .3 miles because I’m dumb. It’s not even 9 yet.
9am: I walk alongside a highway because the sidewalk is covered in snow. Get to the office and meet the VP who put this whole week together for me. Tufts alum, previously with MassDEP, super cool lady. She introduces me to several people working on projects like the Green Power Partnership and work for the Dept. of Labor on the Davis Bacon Act. Then she asks me if I know about the Pineapple Express. My mind goes to the movie. I say yes, not sure where this is leading. Apparently she’s talking about a meteorological phenomenon. I maintain my composure.
12pm: Been on client calls all morning, talking to scientists about the Pineapple Express. I am also introduced to the weirdness of conference calls. There are a lot more awkward silences when you can’t see somebody’s face. Introduced to another VP who takes me out for lunch. He’s a drinking water and hydrology expert, and does extensive work with the American Water Works Association. I did not know anything about drinking water utilities and now I think I’m an expert after 2 hours with this man.
3pm: Strange man dressed for a long distance hike with beanie, glasses, and scarf pops his head into the office of the VP I’m with and asks if I’m a new employee. VP explains I’m a shadow, and hiker dude laughs, welcomes me and leaves. Apparently it was the CEO. I don’t think that was the first impression I wanted with him.
4pm: More client calls, more awkward silences, but the actual topics are very cool. I would share but I’m not allowed to dive too deep into them. But if you want to see some of their previous work, click here!
My first day was honestly better than I could have expected. I thought I would just shake some hands, ask the usual informational interview questions, then sit on the phone all day. But people were very open to talking about their work and the projects, and these people have built tools used by the EPA, government agencies, public and private utilities, and companies around the nation looking to be more sustainable. It was strange to see how government work is done after being in the world of startups and VCs. Of course, a big question I asked every person I met was: What’s going to happen with this new administration?
“We have to actively seek out new opportunities. That means aiming for contracts with states and foundations, expanding our client base and being flexible.”
“We have to change the language of environmentalism. Instead of clean energy, it’s energy independence. Instead of pollution, it’s air quality. We have to figure out how to make our work valuable in an economic and financial sense.”
“A lot of government agencies and climate change groups are preemptively changing their stances and websites and pamphlets, so that they can continue the work that we’re doing. We have to be smart about it.”
And scariest answer of all: “I don’t know.”
I think it was scary because everyone, even those who answered the question with confidence, technical knowledge, and years of industry experience, said this at one point during their answer.
“This is something we’ve never seen before, and I’m just not sure what’s going to happen.”
This is part one of three. Stay tuned for more on my week with ERG!