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Organizational Change
Obama Appoints REI CEO Sally Jewell as Next Secretary of the Interior

Yesterday President Obama announced his nomination of business executive and nature enthusiast Sally Jewell to join his cabinet as the next Secretary of the Interior.

Yesterday President Obama announced his nomination of business executive and nature enthusiast Sally Jewell to join his cabinet as the next Secretary of the Interior.

If confirmed by the Senate, Jewell would step down as CEO of REI to manage more than half a billion acres of public land and more than a billion acres offshore while overseeing energy, mining operations and recreation. She would also be the government liaison to the country’s 566 federally recognized Native American tribes.

Traditionally, Interior Secretaries have either leaned towards favoring business or protecting the environment — but many hope Jewell will be the first to unite the two. Although hardly an environmental activist — she spent time working for the Mobil oil company and some 20 years in the banking sector — Jewell’s history as head honcho of one the country’s leading outdoor recreation companies suggests she will add another sustainability-conscious element to Obama’s cabinet.

“She knows the link between conservation and good jobs,” Obama said during Thursday's press conference. “She knows that there’s no contradiction between being good stewards of the land and our economic progress — that, in fact, those two things need to go hand and hand.”

Since taking over in 2005, REI’s revenues have increased to nearly $2 billion under Jewell’s leadership. The company has also donated nearly $4 million to protect trails and parks, and 20 percent of the electricity used in its retail stores comes from sustainable sources.

Jewell has received a number of recognitions for her environmental leadership, including the 2009 Green Globe Environmental Catalyst Award from her home state of Washington and the 2009 Rachel Carson Award for environmental conservation.

“In Jewell, President Obama chose a leader with a demonstrated commitment to preserving the higher purposes public lands hold for all Americans — recreation, adventure and enjoyment,” said Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club.

The president’s cabinet selections are mounting evidence that he is serious about tackling climate change and pushing a sustainability agenda during his second term, which he called for in his Second Inaugural Address last month. His growing “green brain trust” includes several green-minded business leaders and environmental lobbyists, starting with his chief of staff, Denis McDonough, who has spoken for years about making global warming a priority.

In 2009, Obama issued Executive Order 13514, which set sustainability goals for federal agencies to make improvements in their environmental, energy and economic performance requiring them to set greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets achievable by 2020. He also launched several programs aimed at the private sector such as the Better Buildings Initiative, which catalyzed business investment in commercial and industrial building energy upgrades.

@mikehower is a freelance writer and communications consultant interested in telling the stories of companies and organizations engaged in sustainability, clean technology and social entrepreneurship. He also blogs about sustainable business and politics at SustySavvy.com.

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