By Steve Dwyer
This is a narrative about a professional career with countless contributions to her industry as a regulator with the NJDEP, an industry expert at GEI Consultants, and a manager providing steadfast and effective service to not-for-profit brownfield entities.
Susan Boyle is retiring, doing it “cold turkey-style,” resting comfortably that “all the pieces are in place” for her successors. Sue is also pleased to know she can now consume a cup of hot coffee before it becomes iced coffee.
Sue, first and foremost, is retiring from her “day job” as an Senior Environmental Practice Leader at GEI Consultants Inc. But that retirement has a domino effect, as she’s also stepping aside from her dual roles as contracted executive director of both BCONE and the New York City Brownfield Partnership. Both not-for-profit duties over time became part of her“day job” too.
These affiliations lasted longer than Sue had originally anticipated. Sue spent 27 years on the public side of the environmental remediation sector with the New Jersey Hazardous Waste Facilities Siting Commission and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), where she advanced all the way to Assistant Commissioner. Sue then entered the private sector in 2008 when she joined GEI Consultants.
Summing up the career ride, Sue told me that she is tinged with a “bittersweet sentiment because I love running organizations. But there are other things in life,” that Sue can’t wait to start pursuing.
“I plan to go ‘cold turkey’ and totally step away for at least six months. I can’t wait to not have to set an alarm clock—and I’m thrilled about the idea of drinking a cup of coffee before it gets cold!”
Read ahead for a recent conversation with Sue on the past, present and future.
Q: Take us back to the beginning and your recollection of joining BCONE?
SB: I helped shape the BCONE mission, bylaws, policies and procedures—I had a voice in all that from the outset. This was different than the Partnership, which had already established them. Similar to the Partnership, the group needed an executive director and, knowing how busy everyone was, I approached them about becoming ED, under contract with GEI.
Looking back, BCONE grew out of the National Brownfield Association [the “other” NBA]; NBA had established unique, autonomous chapters. Three chapters on the East Coast banned together to create the Tri- State Brownfields Conference for a number of years, where someone from each of the three states [New York, New Jersey and Connecticut] broached the front-burner brownfield issues for their respective states that needed to be addressed—maybe it was environmental liability or insurance challenges. Pennsylvania was brought in, too, making it a four-state conference. Over time it was clear that the separate chapters were not beneficial to the members who worked in multiple states, especially those in real estate regions that crossed state borders (think Metro NY). So eventually BCONE established an operating structure that would be more holistic and seamless.
Over time, I was proud of helping with several evolving organizational polices, including having board term limits established, so new professionals would have a seat at the table, bringing new voices and new perspectives.
Q: While at GEI, how did BCONE involvement go over and be accepted?
SB: It was a non-issue since BCONE was a GEI client at the outset of the group’s charter, so GEI participants agreed, whether as Board members or regular members, with the BCONE agenda.
Q: What was the early reception of non-for-profit brownfields organizations among those professionals in the Tri-State area and, by extension, the Northeast region?
SB: I think it was well received, and the missions and bylaws of both organizations were very clear and stated. With both non-profits, the language was specific about the overall composition of the board and the overall membership. We wanted a blending of both public and private professionals and also wanted to establish an eclectic balance across all professional capacities, such as environmental consultants, attorneys, environmental insurance professionals, lenders, architects, and others. It’s been an ongoing mission—and challenge—to engage with and bring in some of these professional capacities to a greater degree outside of the core environmental consultant world. But both the Partnership and BCONE have made great strides in effecting that.
Q: At the outset of your affiliations with BCONE, and even into 2023, what are some areas you’d like to see improved upon?
SB: One of the frustrations I’ve always cite is that BCONE offers excellent pro bono services to both public and private sectors—it was very frustrating that more organizations didn’t take advantage of those services. It was a question of, how do we reach them in the first place?
What has also been challenging is getting information out—spreading the word—about successful brownfield projects that go live in the BCONE geography. We have so many environmental consultants who are involved on the front end of a project cycle, but unfortunately many gone by the time development projects go live. We want to shine a light on so many of the success stories, but need a better mechanism to do so. At the Partnership, the Big Apple Brownfield Awards serve as a great vehicle to help shine a light on ‘success stories.’ I think the annual NSCW event can serve as that vehicle for shining a brighter light on more of these winning projects; over the past few years, a project of the year has been recognized at NSCW.
Also within BCONE one vital stride that needs to be made is growing the membership rolls—I think it’s experienced slower growth than we had anticipated. BCONE has such a large geographic footprint, so the question is ’how can we offer more compelling services to states from Maine to Maryland?' The organization has long been environmental consultant-heavy in representation, and we’ve always strived to branch out and be more inclusive.
Q: What is one evolving initiative at BCONE that you have seen build and grow over time?
SB: The BCONE scholarship program has evolved more and more each year to where we now recognize student projects in a way that it really helps prepare them for their professional futures. We’ve had affiliations with professors from UCONN, CCNY, Lafayette, Stevens and more. I’m proud of the way they award the scholarships. The NSCW, and its predecessor Tri-State Conference, have been huge successes. Both groups are building stronger alliances with universities and getting involved as guest lecturers. And, it was amazing that both BCONE and Partnership had excellent response to online events during Covid, and this remains a strength. With BCONE, this is a game-changer because of the wide geography, and with it, the logistical challenges.
Q: What are some personal and professional aspects about new BCONE executive director Anne Lazo that allows you to step way confident about the future—and also as it relates to new Partnership executive director Laura Senkevitch?
SB: They both know their respective organizations very well. Anne Lazo has been BCONE’s webmaster for quite a while, and has literally read every word about BCONE—she’s probably the only person besides me who has. Anne knows the organization so well, and I know she’s eager to balance live and virtual events, including Regulatory Roundtables and Hot Topic events. With NSCW, Anne is also eager to establish a more diversified geographic balance of cities and states that have the potential and desire to host events like NSCW.
Laura knows so much about taking non-profits forward, having held leadership roles in both fundraising and program development at Human Rights First and Fortune Society. She has significant experience across such areas as donor cultivation, program development, strategic partnership management, non-profit board governance, and more. She’ll work extremely well with the Partnership leadership team.
I’m also very heartened that both BCONE and the Partnership have hired administrative assistants in Michele Hurley [BCONE] and Marianne Leone [Partnership]. I think we have grown the professional services area to where you have the right mix of staff—and that all the piece are in place. Finally, the two organizations collaborate often on events of interest to both memberships—the Women in Environmental Professions webinar series and the Back to the Burbs? Back to the Office? webinar series we did during Covid to name a few.
Q: As you step aside from the day-to-day grind, what kind of inroads will you be most eager to see accomplished at BCONE?
SB: I’m super excited about the inroads made in Upstate New York. Both Nancy [board member and VP Struzenski Farrell] and [board member] Linda [Shaw] are looking to grow membership there...it’s an important geographic area. Selfishly, I’m happy about this development because I spent a lot of my life in Upstate New York, it’s close to me. Plus, the expansion occurring in Massachusetts and Connecticut have been very encouraging, in the context of hosting the first full-day NSCW Conference to take place outside of New Jersey or New York City.
Posted May 9, 2023