Canary Media’s Charging Up column chronicles gender diversity in the climatetech sector. Part one is a short Q&A with an industry role model about their career path. Part two features updates on career transitions, plus data points on workplace trends and diversity. Please send feedback and tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jessie Feller: A true connector
Jessie Feller is director of business development at UrbanFootprint. This interview has been edited and condensed for brevity.
How did you end up on this career path?
I grew up with politically active parents and was deeply involved in community service as a child. This kindled my passion for environmental sustainability. My father worked at the U.N. and collaborated with the World Bank. Both my parents were involved in numerous campaigns. I was fortunate to grow up with role models who emphasized positive change.
I was privileged to attend Vassar College in New York, where I majored in urban and Hispanic studies. I had the opportunity to study abroad in Buenos Aires, delving into sustainable development in Latin America — an area of great interest to me. My first job post-undergrad was with an urban planning, architecture and design firm that prioritized green building and sustainable neighborhood design. Later, I got a master’s degree in environment and development studies from the London School of Economics.
I went on to work for a consulting firm as a sustainability fellow for the city of Portland, Oregon, which gave me some great insights into public-sector work. Subsequently, I joined the Regional Plan Association, a nonprofit think tank in New York, where I initiated their Energy Policy Program. I later led a nonprofit named Meeting of the Minds, which brings together leaders from various sectors to discuss sustainable, resilient and equitable cities and communities. Each experience built on the previous one, culminating in my current role at UrbanFootprint.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
To stay inquisitive and curious, and to ask questions. We are seeing the impacts of climate change, and the strategies to address them keep evolving, so it’s important to keep up. We have to be familiar with the ecosystem of solutions and players in the space, to talk to other people who are working on interesting things in order to do better work. I start my day catching up on resources like The New York Times’ climate section and Canary Media, which are invaluable for staying informed.
Another piece of advice I received early on is to go after what you want in your career. You are your best advocate when it comes to salaries and compensation plans, but also on the roles you want to have and the work you want to do. So be tenacious when it comes to advocating for what you want.
What is a barrier you faced, and how did you overcome it?
At 26, I took over a nonprofit, which was pretty young. It was hard to earn serious recognition from funders and collaborators. My name, Jessie, often led people to assume I was a man, resulting in surprises during calls, particularly with men, when they realized I was a young woman. Facing ageism and sexism as a young female leader was a common hurdle.
I also found a lot of amazing women who did take me seriously. So whether they’re in your own organization or in your network, just finding those people who have dealt with the same stuff and can relate and give you advice is so important.
What do you think are some interesting, overlooked career opportunities in climatetech?
In the past year, I’ve noticed new roles emerging, especially around physical climate risk. Organizations, including finance and engineering firms, and governments, which previously didn’t have such roles, are now creating them. Physical climate risk is really interesting because it focuses on how severe climate events impact infrastructure, which is something we work on at UrbanFootprint with our data insights.
Given recent extreme climate occurrences worldwide, especially extreme heat this summer, there’s a pressing need to bolster the resilience of our cities, communities and infrastructure. Urban planners, policymakers and effective communicators, both quantitative and qualitative, are essential in this realm. Physical climate risk presents a promising career avenue not just in startups but also in government, philanthropy and the private sector, both large and small. It’s a space I’m keenly observing.
What is your superpower?
I’ve been told that I am a networking node — like a convening point in a network. I’ve been in the space for a long time, I ran a nonprofit that convened leaders across sectors for 12 years, and I am innately curious about people’s work, so I have been able to build ties with a lot of people. Now I can help connect people to others who can help them with their work. A big part of that superpower is actually liking people, which I really do.
Earlier this year, Judith Judson was appointed CEO of Fortescue WAE. The unit, created via a merger of WAE Technologies and Fortescue’s Green Industry team, supplies zero-emissions batteries and hydrogen fuel-cell power systems to heavy industry, mobility and other sectors.
Dana Dohse joined EnergyHub as VP of marketing. Dohse previously served as VP of marketing and sustainability at climatetech company Cleartrace. Laura Dobrzynski joined EnergyHub as VP of product. Sophie Malik is EnergyHub’s new head of people. Malik was previously with U.K. energy tech platform Limejump. EnergyHub, a supplier of distributed energy resources management systems, is an independent subsidiary of Alarm.com.
Check it out
In case you missed it, Canary Media spent last week covering cement, steel and chemicals — the most widely produced materials in the world, and also among the most polluting. Maria Gallucci wrote an in-depth feature about green steel, Julian Spector covered the state of the green hydrogen market, and Jeff St. John took on decarbonizing cement. You can catch up on the whole series here, complete with some fun videos and visuals.