Published: Aug. 17, 2023 By ,
Kevin Trautman

In this edition of our alum spotlight series, we had the opportunity to interview Kevin Trautman, a recent graduate of the Master's of the Environment (MENV) program in the Urban Resilience and Sustainability (URS) specialization. Kevin currently serves as the Sustainability Coordinator for Jefferson County (JeffCo), Colorado, where he tackles the challenges of promoting sustainability in a local government setting. Through our conversation, Kevin shared valuable insights about his role, the skills he gained from MENV, key challenges he faces, community engagement efforts, policy development initiatives, and personal reflections on his career path.

Despite graduating in December 2020 during COVID-19, Kevin felt that MENV provided him with a holistic view of sustainability, exposing him to diverse areas of study beyond the conventional curriculum. The program's emphasis on real-world application through the Capstone project equipped him with something tangible to discuss in interviews. That experience provided valuable industry knowledge, which was vital for Kevin as a career pivoter from the world of engineering. Additionally, MENV provided essential project management skills and prepared him to tackle various challenges.

Challenges do arise, particularly when working in small-scale government. Kevin shed light on the key challenges he faces. With only two people dedicated to sustainability in a county with a population of roughly 600,000 people, the bandwidth for implementing sustainable initiatives becomes limited. Without a dedicated yearly budget, funding is also a significant hurdle. Part of the job is to stay up to date on emerging funding sources. One silver lining is that these challenges allow their team to identify projects and prioritize efforts strategically.

JeffCo's Sustainability wing operates under Facilities Management, so Kevin came into the position with that specific focus. At first, most of the job was around managing their buildings, from tracking energy performance & usage to monitoring the waste division. However, the focus of the job and department has shifted more to the traditional municipality sustainability department in the past couple of months. For instance, last December 2022, the county published its first-ever Climate Action Plan. Developing this plan has been Kevin's favorite project thus far and was developed in collaboration with the facilities management team. He found satisfaction in communicating sustainability to individuals who may not initially prioritize it, focusing on cost savings and return on investment. It is easier to show the multi-faceted benefits of driving environmentally-focused policy through data-driven analysis. Additionally, Kevin emphasized the importance of adaptability and the joy of engaging in a wide range of tasks within his role.

In transitioning from a facilities-focused role to a more community-facing position, Kevin aims to enhance stakeholder and community involvement in future sustainability initiatives. He shared his involvement in stakeholder engagement while developing the climate action plan. The JeffCo Sustainability Commission, a volunteer advisory board, has historically focused on public-facing engagement. In the future, they hope to collaborate with the commission to make this a dual effort.

As part of a small but mighty team, Kevin plays a significant role in all projects and sustainability efforts at the county level. He discussed his upcoming involvement in the county's two-year plan alignment process. Ideally, this process will be an opportunity to incorporate strategies from the climate action plan into all the major county plans, such as the comprehensive plan, the transportation plan, and the associated building and zoning policies. By leveraging this process, he hopes to positively impact the community and drive sustainable development in JeffCo.

When asked about advice for current MENV students, Kevin stressed the importance of balancing time between academic pursuits and building meaningful relationships within the program. Drawing from his own career journey, he shared the risks he took, quitting a job without a backup plan and the subsequent months of networking that led him to his current position. Kevin expressed gratitude for the support of his MENV peers and the belief in himself that developed through witnessing their success. He emphasized the importance of relying on one's professional network for encouragement and support, highlighting the positive impact of connecting with like-minded individuals and gaining feedback from experienced professionals. Additionally, Kevin highlighted the challenges of staying up to date with emerging sustainability trends while managing the emotional impact of climate anxiety. He attends webinars and reads extensively, although he acknowledged the difficulty of finding time for personal reading while staying informed professionally. Kevin emphasized the importance of finding balance and recognizing personal limitations in driving change. 

Kevin Trautman's journey from an engineer to MENV to his current role as JeffCo's Sustainability Coordinator highlights some of the challenges and joys of working in local government, driving and aspiring to do stakeholder engagement, developing policies, and maintaining personal well-being provide valuable insights for current and aspiring sustainability professionals. By striking a balance between professional and personal life and recognizing the collective effort required for sustainable change, Kevin continues to positively impact his community and inspire others in the field.