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Meet Monica Meagher, Group Sustainability Manager at BART. Monica and her team manage specific projects that range from electricity procurement for the entire system to annual sustainability reporting to LED retrofits.
Take us through a typical workday. What are a few of your ongoing responsibilities?
Part of what I love about working in sustainability is the range of topics. Sustainability encompasses everything. It makes each day different so there is no typical workday.
Our daily focus is to move these projects forward. Currently, my main focus is electric vehicles and station lighting retrofits. I also support our work on waste and reporting. The electric vehicles focus includes charging for buses operated by our transit agency partners, charging for our employees and passengers, and electrifying our non-revenue vehicle fleet. My daily work depends on what stage the project is in.
We also act as internal sustainability “consultants” at BART. We’re always happy to provide our expertise as needed. As capital projects move forward, we review plan sets and provide information about LEED credits. We provide input on project scopes for other teams. We help our grants team capture appropriate language about sustainability at BART. We support various marketing efforts.
As a public agency, we’re excited to respond to any customer or community member’s questions about sustainability at BART. These can be as simple and tactical as how to use the EV chargers at our parking facilities or bigger, strategic questions about our electricity procurement plans.
What are some of the biggest challenges your company/organization will be tackling in 2023 and beyond?
One of BART’s biggest challenges is how to support the Bay Area with new ridership trends that impact our revenue. Fortunately, sustainability has always been core to what BART does serving as a reliable alternative to personal vehicles. Choosing BART has a direct benefit to the reduction of congestion and vehicle emissions throughout the Bay Area. BART continues to undertake initiatives to provide safe, reliable, clean, quality transit service as riders return to the system. Increasing ridership is the best way BART can help reduce transportation-related emissions in the Bay Area.
Sustainability is also a core tenant of how BART operates, which further benefits BART’s contribution to the decarbonization of California’s transportation sector. Over the past few years, we’ve made major progress with our GHG emission reductions – primarily through shifting our sources of electricity to wind, solar, and hydroelectric. In 2021, we achieved an electricity supply that is 100% greenhouse-gas-free for the second consecutive year and we’re on track to maintain that performance in 2022. In fact, because of BART’s transition to clean energy, taking BART to work every day for a month emits less carbon dioxide than driving just once.
At the direction of BART’s Board, our Sustainability group is funded through the sale of our Low Carbon Fuel Standard credits which were minimally impacted by ridership reduction. We will continue to make progress toward our sustainability goals despite ridership impacts. Even though we have a secure budget, we need to advocate for our work internally, so that everyone continues to contribute to sustainability as much as possible.
What was a successful project or implementation you worked on at your company that you can share?
I elevated the adoption of EV charging in an equitable and affordable way. I authored and received unanimous Board approval for BART’s Electric Vehicle Charging Policy. It covers 47,000 customer parking spaces, a non-revenue vehicle fleet, and employee charging. Stakeholder input was the most important part of the policy. I used internal and external stakeholder input to craft a draft and iterated with further feedback until getting to the final policy. The policy informs actual implementation, which is under development. For EV chargers at BART parking facilities, riders will use them during the day and community members will use them on nights and weekends. These communities are often underserved and residents may not have access to home charging. It is imperative that the cost of charging at BART is comparable to at-home charging costs so people who cannot charge at home are not financially penalized.
Stakeholder engagement is paramount in any project. This is even more so in the realm of sustainability. Because sustainability covers so much, I will never be the top expert on a given subject. It is necessary to learn from others and leverage their expertise.
How did you get started in sustainability? What advice do you have for other people trying to get into the field?
I always knew I wanted to work in sustainability – the climate crisis felt like the most pressing issue to solve. My career choices always answered the question of how I could make the most positive impact. I studied mechanical engineering at UC Berkeley, thinking we could engineer our way into a solution. Since electricity generation was the highest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in California at the time, I took a job in solar. I became fascinated by the technology and politics built into the electrical infrastructure. Even though the solar company had a sustainable product, our company was not always run in the most sustainable way. As an engineer, I didn’t have the vocabulary to fix that. With rapid company growth, I moved into management, but the startup did not have training. To address both these concerns, I enrolled in Presidio Graduate School and received an MBA in Sustainable Management.
Halfway through my MBA program, I wanted to apply the corporate sustainability work I was learning about to my day-to-day job. I championed a Sustainability Department at the solar company and was able to lead that work for two years. We published our first sustainability report complete with carbon accounting. From there I worked at a couple of energy-focused startups before moving into transportation. Transportation had become the largest contributor to GHG emissions in the state.
What we do at BART extends beyond our organization as many other transit agencies across the state and even the world look to us as an example. It creates a multiplying effect on the work we do. For those looking to get into sustainability, as I mentioned above, it is a vast field. Think about the closest way sustainability touches an area you’re already skilled in. For example, if you have construction experience – what would it look like to become a LEED AP? A lot of people can contribute to sustainability within their current organization.
Connect with Monica and the rest of the team at BART
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