Getting out in nature and protecting wildlife have been passions for Mary Ciesinski since she was a child. A few years ago, she realized she could do these things for a living.
She landed the job of executive director for ECOSLO, where she’s expanded beach clean-up efforts, lobbied against oil and gas drilling and strengthened the network of environmentally minded organizations across SLO County.
We caught up with her recently to talk teleportation, dance music and “Law and Order.”
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
President of the United States. My platform was to create world peace and save animals.
What fictional character do you most relate to?
The fictional character I have watched and been a fan for the longest stretch of time is Olivia Benson from Law & Order SVU. She’s very inspiring to me — a strong woman who stands up for what is right, even when her job involves true ugliness, terror and hopelessness every day.
What superpower would you like to have?
I wish I could teleport from SLO to the east coast at anytime! Many of my close friends and family live there.
What’s your pet peeve?
Meetings that don’t end on time.
What something people are surprised to learn about you?
I really love EDM – electronic dance music.
You began your career in marketing and technology — how did you end up in environmental advocacy?
I have always had a passion for nature and animals — I adore the beach, have been camping since I was a little kid and chose a vegetarian lifestyle when I was 14 years old. Through college courses I found I had a knack for marketing and business. I started off in tech because I just kind of fell into it. I struggled with finding purpose there, so I eventually transitioned to the nonprofit sector, though I resisted. Environmental nonprofit work is something I felt called to in 2015. I’m really inspired by businesses that are truly thinking about people, planet and profit — all three, not just profit.
Your LinkedIn profile touts “bringing sustainable business techniques to the nonprofit sector.” What does that mean to you?
One of the aspects of nonprofits that drives me absolutely nuts is the lack of procedures to create efficiencies as well as operational sustainability. This sector is typically very stressed, operating with a lack of resources — it’s just inherently this way and it’s really frustrating to be in this position as a leader who is trying to make a positive difference in this world.
That being said, I’m an operations fanatic, so I realize this sector is going to need to operate as efficiently as possible. If I’m trying to create environmental sustainability through ECOSLO, from an operations side I should be working to make ECOSLO the organization as sustainable as possible, too. That’s my belief, at least.
ECOSLO has a long and storied history, from starting recycling in SLO County to opposing offshore oil. What’s the organization’s focus for the coming year?
ECOSLO’s programs are currently focused around education, advocacy and action in support of protecting the natural beauty of SLO County. We offer a lot of hands-on opportunities such as tree plantings, trail projects and beach cleanups with an educational component.
Our focus in 2019 is to strengthen the “advocacy” arm of our organization — we want to more effectively empower people to get involved to ensure that the natural environment and the wildlife we share it with are being thought of. I also want to grow the collaboration of what we call the “Eco-Network,” a list of 70+ environmental organizations all doing various levels of environmental protection work in SLO County.
What’s the one most important thing this community can do to sustain our natural environment and people’s place in and around it?
There’s a poster that I have on my office wall, which shares a dark but true reminder – it’s an underwater ocean scene with marine life and plastics, and the message reads: “We (human beings) are just one of thousands of species on planet Earth, and we are the only ones destroying it.”
While this is a sad image, and a dark reminder, it’s really important that we as human beings keep this in mind. That we are just one species, and whether we are intentionally or unintentionally causing harm to the natural beauty of our community, we have to realize we can do better, and at this point in time we must do better. It’s in our every day actions, it’s in our businesses and organizations, with our family and friends. So, I think it’s really important to keep this in mind and then find ways that we can be better stewards of our community and this amazing planet Earth.