Published: Feb. 21, 2020

Eli Lieberman is applying his political science degree as sustainable energy coordinator for the state of Washington

To hear Eli Lieberman (PolSci‘11) tell it, you’d think he spent more time outside than inside growing up in western Massachusetts. And maybe he did. 

Eli Lieberman

Eli Lieberman

He readily admits he was smitten by all nature had to offer there. As he talks, it’s easy to picture the lush greenery and the sounds of a rippling river below a snaky hiking trail. All of it left an indelible mark on his young mind. 

“Life there, for the most part, was just going outside and being in the outdoors,” Lieberman says. “My mom and I would go hiking all the time. My dad and I would go skiing.” 

He says he’s always felt a natural connection to being outside. “It’s where I felt most myself, felt the most comfortable. And when I’d go back to society, I felt refreshed.” 

But as he got older and discovered the range of environmental problems plaguing the world and threatening the future, he grew concerned. “I worried about future generations not being able to enjoy nature the way I did—and of course I still do.”   

He certainly does—it’s part of his job. As the senior sustainable energy coordinator for the State of Washington and its Housing Finance Commission, he’s become a force for nature. Today, Lieberman has a hand in several efforts to improve the environment, including energy efficiency, renewable energy and low-income housing tax credit policies. 

He also manages the Washington State Housing Finance Commission's $15 million sustainable energy trust to make older affordable housing more energy efficient.

His choice to study political science made sense. And he’s never regretted the decision.

“Low income residents are burdened by their utilities—their homes are usually a bit older—and making those homes more efficient saves them money, makes the air quality in their homes better and it helps the environment,” Lieberman says. 

“Washington is very climate minded. Our governor is all in on climate change.” 

He says the state, through the commission’s work, has improved hundreds of buildings and helped 385,000 people find homes since 1983.

Lieberman is doing his part, too. He says his most gratifying achievement to date came last summer when he and his intern helped install solar panels with a capacity of hundreds of kilowatts for new affordable housing. Without their intervention, the solar installation would not have happened. The result: lower utility bills for tenants and fewer greenhouse gas emissions attributable to the housing. 

“We were able to harness the market and steer the players in the right direction. A lot of policy work is just talking, but with this we actually did something,” he says. “It’s satisfying going to a job every day doing what you like to do, but also knowing that you’re impacting lives for the better.”   

The roots of his desire to improve the environment rest not only in Massachusetts, but also Colorado. Lieberman says he chose CU Boulder because of its reputation as an environmental leader and its emphasis on public service. “I knew I wanted to work in the public sector.” 

So, his choice to study political science made sense. And he’s never regretted the decision.

“It gave me a breadth of knowledge along with reasoning and logic to make convincing arguments through writing,” he says. “It also made me explore options when looking at problems. Now I ask, ‘Is this the only way to do this? Are there better ways to do this? Do we have to reinvent the wheel?’ I think more critically in problem solving now.”  

And he sharpened those critical thinking skills writing his senior thesis while studying a semester in Edinburgh, Scotland. In the thesis, Lieberman examined how Europe was tackling climate change. One finding that surfaced: smaller European regions were doing more to fight climate change than their larger counterparts. 

Today Lieberman sees a parallel in the United States: “The fight against climate change has been left to the states; they have to lead the way because nationally right now it’s a nonstarter.”  

Lieberman adds that his degree remains relevant. “It’s important and it helps me address issues now, and I know it will in the future. It’s given me the skills to work face-to-face with others and to be a better person.” 

Up next for Lieberman? He wouldn’t mind a post in the World Bank or the United Nations. “I do know I want to continue working in sustainable finance and on policies that steer investments toward a better environment.”