Innovation

Being sustainable means staying local

A conversation with SEEDS’ new executive director, Olga Trushina

By OWEN WALSH
Posted 7/29/20

Earlier this year, local environmental group Sustainable Energy Education & Development System (SEEDS) welcomed its new executive director, Olga Trushina, aboard the team. The River Reporter …

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Innovation

Being sustainable means staying local

A conversation with SEEDS’ new executive director, Olga Trushina

Posted

Earlier this year, local environmental group Sustainable Energy Education & Development System (SEEDS) welcomed its new executive director, Olga Trushina, aboard the team. The River Reporter talked with Trushina to learn more about her personal background, the difficulties involved with leading a team through the current COVID-19 pandemic and what current and future projects she’s most excited about. Some of her responses have been edited for length.

WALSH: What’s your connection to the Wayne County area? Have you always lived here?

TRUSHINA: No. I moved here about, I think, seven years ago. I lived in Washington D.C. prior to this, and when I had my second daughter, we decided to move to this area because my mom had a house here. And I just figured that I’m going to need some help with the kids, and just to take some time off for maternity leave to be able to spend time with my daughters and be in a setting that is not fast moving.

WALSH: You got a Bachelor’s in Public Accounting and a Master’s in Renewable Energy and Sustainability Policy; at what point in your life did you know that you wanted to pursue sustainability as a career?

TRUSHINA: It’s definitely something I’ve been interested in since I can remember. [My family] lived as immigrants; when we first came to America, my parents were under pressure to make sure their kids did something with their lives—something meaningful. So—not that I was prevented—but I wouldn’t have been allowed to become an artist or something very liberal like that, because it would just be too risky for the family. So, my mom—who’s also an accountant—was trying to push me and convince me that: “Whatever you’re interested in, you can do it on the side, but you need to focus on something that is more practical and that will always give you a job.”

So I ended up going into accounting, I was good at it. I’m pretty good with numbers, and it wasn’t difficult for me, but it definitely wasn’t satisfying. My passion of sustainability, environmental activism, all of these things, I wasn’t even able to spend time on them, because there was just not enough time during the day. I was working 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and then coming home, my first daughter was born, so I just didn’t have enough time to focus on these things.

So when my second daughter was born, we decided that I just wanted to take a break, spend time with my family. And then, after about a year or two living here in Wayne County, I thought this would be the perfect time to get my Master’s in what I actually want to do. So that’s how I ended up getting my Master’s Degree from Penn State.

WALSH: Prior to this, you’ve worked as an energy consultant and as an auditor. If you were auditing or consulting Wayne County, are there any particular aspects of our daily lives that you think we could be doing more sustainably?

TRUSHINA: Looking at it in general, I definitely think it’s much easier to change something in a small community because you—first of all—don’t have like a million rules that exist. As you get at the federal level, there’s a ton of layers of bureaucracy, paperwork... in a small community, it’s almost nonexistent compared to the federal level. So it’s definitely easier to make changes in general.

Looking at specific things, I think the biggest problem in our community is making sure we’re motivating people to make connections and investments that take place inside the community.

SEEDS right now: We’re looking at hiring a web designer to create our new website. Of course, we can go online, find someone in California who’s an expert and all that. But by investing in someone in the community, it covers a lot the things that sustainability is trying to cover: environmental issues, economic issues and social issues—those are the three pillars of sustainability.

Investing in someone or something inside the community makes people feel responsible for what happens here. For example, if we invest in a web designer in Wayne County, he’s going to try to make sure he makes a good website, that it’s functional, because we’re going to see him everywhere, right? Then, he’s going to be living here and spending money in our community, in our stores, maybe in the farmers’ markets. So it continues the process that is much easier to achieve than on a federal, global level.

I have a lot of hopes and dreams for our community here, and I feel like it’s definitely achievable.

WALSH: Nearly every story we do at the River Reporter has to be put through this lens now: Has the COVID-19 pandemic been challenging for SEEDS?

TRUSHINA: Oh, definitely. I actually started working about a month—even less than a month—before the pandemic closings started. So it was a very big shock, because—first of all—I never had a position like this before, as an executive director, sort of the face of the organization. So you know, it was difficult to even meet people to introduce myself, to tell them what I’m trying to do, what are my goals, what direction is SEEDS going to be going, because we were all isolated.

As an organization, SEEDS is a very social organization, they make events, they do things physically, they install solar panels. You can never do stuff like this online. So it was difficult to find some sort of educational content to continue our mission in educating our local community and making it more sustainable in a virtual way. We started going through our past forums and classes that we did, and looking if we could make those recordings into real, professional-looking webinars that people can watch and maybe be inspired to make changes or just know more.

Basically, in a short sentence, what we’re trying to do is just move our educational format from the physical world to the virtual, where we can post online, create things on YouTube, live webinars where people can ask questions. So it’s a lot, we’re moving, we’re learning, we had to learn how to use Adobe Premiere to edit videos, we had to learn how to use Streamyard to do live videos. It’s a lot of work in a very short amount of time, but it feels very rewarding. What would’ve taken like a year to learn before because it wasn’t urgent, takes you a couple weeks.

WALSH: Does SEEDS have any upcoming initiatives or projects that you’re excited about?

TRUSHINA: We’re trying to create collaborations with other organizations so that we don’t have to do all the editing, all the streaming, everything. Because in our organization, I’m the only employee. We don’t have tech-savvy types of volunteers that are able to do this regularly. So we need to make sure that we use the power of each other, help each other as organizations, to get our points across. One of the collaborations SEEDS is going to be participating in is the Pike/Wayne virtual conservation camp for kids, which was originally planned to be physical. Now we’re going to be making a video that is going to be presented to kids who signed up for the camp. We’re probably going to do the topic of assessing the solar resource in a specific location.

Also, we’re going to be doing a webinar for the virtual Audubon Art and Craft Festival, where we will provide content about installing solar—from beginning to end—how do you plan a solar installation. Find it on Instagram @nepa_audubon.

We have so many cool businesses, farms, creative people that live in our area. Wouldn’t it be cool to achieve sustainability, promote sustainability by promoting our local businesses? And this goes back to what I was telling you, that it’s much easier to do this on a local level.

So we decided to do these small, very socially distanced meetings with business owners and farms where we do a tour, found out what this person offers, what is their vision. The goal of making this type of online content is to show people inside our community who grows our food, who makes different types of supplies in our community, who’s available. So we can continue investing back into our community, making us more prosperous, and that allows us to spend more money, and time and power into cleaning up our environment, creating other processes that allow things to move more efficiently here, that minimize waste.

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