Janelle Heslop is a 27 year-old PPS Senior Associate at Veolia, where she helps optimize water utilities like the New York City Department of Environmental Protection.
Greenbiz recently honored Janelle as one of its “30 under 30” – a recognition of the country’s top young environmental and sustainability professionals. Janelle is a trained consultant and engineer who finds the people aspect of her job fascinating, and we asked if she’d share her perspective.
So what’s it like to be recognized as one of Greenbiz’ 30 under 30?
It’s an incredible honor and very humbling. Having dedicated myself to natural resource environmental protection and community development for more than a decade, it’s been really rewarding to be recognized alongside so many talented people.
I studied engineering, worked as a consultant and now work in the water industry. Most people can’t relate to what that means or how a company like Veolia applies that knowledge to help cities. Being named by Greenbiz created an opportunity for me to talk about why the water sector is so important.
Have you met anyone else from the list?
I will soon. After the article appeared, we connected over LinkedIn and organized a meeting in NYC to meet each other.
What’s your role at Veolia?
I’m a senior associate in Veolia’s Peer Performance Solutions group (PPS) and the deputy program manager for our New York project. I've recently been working with the DEP's organizational development team and the New York Department of ENvironmental Protection (NYDEP) to ensure NYDEP's talented workforce stays cutting-edge to meet the coming water challenges of the 21st century.
"Being named by Greenbiz created an opportunity for me to talk about why the water industry is so important."
As an engineer, one of our roles is helping the NYDEP solve technical problems like reducing energy and chemical usage. But for me, the most interesting part of the job has been the “people part.” We’re helping NYDEP develop its highly-skilled workforce.
Considering that you trained as an engineer, why do you think the “people side” appeals so strongly to you?
Because I’ve learned that the biggest part of getting things done is changing mindsets. That means making sure that people understand the reasons why they’re asked to make changes. With Veolia and the NYDEP, I get to work with really smart people. Some of the workforce has worked in the industry longer than I’ve been alive, and we of course take that into consideration when driving change through a huge organization.
Although the DEP’s technical work is very interesting, the people part is really fascinating, because it’s the biggest and hardest problem to solve. When it comes to larger questions like operational efficiency, anyone can say: “Turn down a blower to save energy.” But how do you motivate people to do that? Getting things done is more than just knowing the technology. It’s about setting a vision so that everyone on a team knows where to go.
How did you get into this field?
When I was twelve years old, I started volunteering at the Hudson River Museum in New York, where I taught visitors about rivers and wetlands. After working there for six years I realized that I really cared about water issues.
"the people part is really fascinating, because it’s the biggest and hardest problem to solve."
Over time, I learned how water access connects to prosperity and justice, and how relationships with our water supply affect communities. My early exposure turned into a real passion for the field. Then I started thinking – how do I make a career out of this?
What did you do next?
I studied engineering at Columbia and became involved with sustainability groups on campus. I traveled to Uganda with Engineers without Borders, and then to East Africa, giving me exposure to community development and the intersection between community development and environmental and natural resources access.
After graduating, I ended up at a sustainability strategy and management consulting firm, but always wanted to get back into the water industry, where I could combine technical skills with soft skills. That’s how I ended up at Veolia.
I’ve heard that Lisa Jackson, the former EPA Administrator, is your role model. Why?
The cool thing about Lisa Jackson’s story is that she’s a lifelong public servant who studied engineering and established an environmental career.
She dedicated herself to the protection of natural resources and the environment, working her way up to be the EPA Administrator as well as the first African-American in the role. Now she’s taken her public sector knowledge and brought it to the private sector, at Apple.
I have a lot of respect for her. When I think of my own career, I’d like to have a similar impact.
What makes PPS so exciting?
Traditionally, the water utility industry doesn’t innovate as fast as other industries. It’s a new frontier, an area ripe for innovation, and the PPS model is a great example of that innovation. It’s very different than the traditional interactions between the private and public sectors. The coolest thing about PPS is that we’re paid to get things done.
There is so much potential to make a large, positive impact in the water industry. Our partnership with New York City has been significant. And it’s been a tremendously positive experience to work with such smart people to help transform the city and increase its sustainability and resilience.