Carmen followed her lifelong passion to make a contribution to the earth with a career at Greenpeace. The campaign manager talks about the perks of being paid to save the world.
If you include the time that I was a volunteer, I've worked for Greenpeace for about 13 years.
I manage all of the campaign teams in the New Zealand Greenpeace office, including the political advisers, communications staff, campaign strategists and people who organise the logistics coordinating. I manage a team of about 15 people and I oversee the programs of what campaigns we're going to do and how we're going to do them. I also do a lot of networking with other non-government organisations (NGOs), political staff and companies.
I was at uni when I came to volunteer at Greenpeace. I did all sorts of things, including stuffing envelopes and some campaign research, but I mostly got involved in the action side of things, so I learnt to drive inflatable boats and climb things. It was fun lots of time practising outside and not much time at the computer, and now it's quite the opposite!
We have an online form that people can send in and then we will work with them to find out what they want to get out of volunteering and to ensure that they have skills or time to help with our work. Many volunteers go though a bit of a journey where they start with more mundane tasks and then they end up getting a lot more involved as time goes by. Other times, if a volunteer has particular skills that we require, like lawyers or scientists, we'll sometimes start working with them straight away. We really try to accommodate volunteers in terms of what work we give out and where it's done but also by giving them a rewarding experience, either by using their skills or making them feel like they've contributed to making the world a better place.
No – that's how I started, but there are people working here that have come straight from other corporate roles. Generally people come because they have professional skills that we need. For example, a communications officer with a background in journalism or public relations has the professional skills required for the role but before they start with Greenpeace, they come in and learn about campaigning. Other times people come from different NGOs where they know about campaigning and we teach them more about the other skills. Ideally they have both.
I have a lot of on-the-job experience rather than tertiary education. I actually didn't finish my environmental science degree because I took a job with Greenpeace that came up at the time. Industry experience is important and I have had campaign experience here in New Zealand, in Australia, in Europe and other places in the Pacific.
That depends on which sphere you choose to reference it with. Generally people here are paid less than people with the same skills in the corporate sector, but we still pay reasonably well within the NGO sector. So it sort of balances out. The wage gives you enough to get by and have a family, and those sorts of things.
It does now, but I've got a little bit more control of it. Greenpeace can be very all-consuming, and I'm sure it's the same for a lot of people in other advocacy groups where you're there not because you're trying to make money, but because you have a cause. It's easy to become overcommitted. The birth of my daughter has really helped me to make sure that I balance Greenpeace and family life, which is really good.
I think it's kind of hard to tell. I grew up at a beach so I've always had an appreciation for the environment, but the activism side of my environmentalism was probably triggered while I was still at school. I was only about 11 when a company wanted to mine sand from the beach where I lived and the community really got involved. My neighbours were on the news and they successfully stopped the company from carrying out their project. That was a moment where I realised that very normal people actually can change things and make things better, and that we actually can care for the environment and actively protect it.
It's really important to care greatly about what you're doing and to have a desire to make things better, but also to be able to balance that with pragmatic skills to make things happen.
I think it strengthens over time. People usually join Greenpeace on the basis of their passion for the environment and it's possible for them to push themselves too far and burn out. It's longevity and pragmatism that will make them able to campaign in the long term. You just learn over time about how to transfer your concern into change. It can be hard to hire the right people because it's hard to tell who's going to be able to do that, who's going to be able to manage their enthusiasm and passion in the right way.
Greenpeace definitely encompasses a mixed bag of people who are all driven and have very strong opinions. In our office, we put a lot of energy in at management level in order to create the right culture of respect and non-judgmental attitudes.
Our priority campaign here, and throughout the world, is climate change and that manifests itself in different countries in different ways. However, all of us have made it a priority because it's such a big issue and it has the potential to affect so many people around the world.
One of my favourite campaigns was working in India. We went to a sewerage treatment plant in a very industrial town where all of this really awful pollution that comes from the factories gets pumped into the river. That pollution then went downstream to where people were trying to farm and fish, causing all sorts of problems. I went with a group of local people and protested we turned off the valves that allowed the pollution to run into the river. It was great and had such a community feel to it, with all the local people getting involved. In developed countries we often think of the environment as separate from us and separate from social issues, but in places like India, a clean environment is all about social justice because people there actually see themselves as a part of the environment much more. They can't survive unless the fish survive.
There's a lot of them! In New Zealand, people think that we're a political party, or that we're funded by the government, but Greenpeace is completely funded by individual donations rather than any government or business. Another misconception is that everyone who works for Greenpeace is unemployed and smokes a lot of pot. When we're out protesting, there's always someone yelling 'Go get a real job!' We're all employed and we're not sitting around the offices smoking pot!
Definitely climate change. The ramifications of climate change are so far reaching. It will take all of us acting together to beat it. The theme for world environment day is 'kicking the carbon habit' which is a good theme for people to think about how they can reduce their own emissions. Little things like turning the lights and appliances off or taking the bus or train are all positive. It's unfortunate that the New Zealand Government's supporting the theme for world environment day but isn't actually doing enough itself about kicking the carbon habit, but that's another story altogether!