Carolyn Ulstad: Holland’s sustainability rockstar protects environment, attracts new residents

Carolyn Ulstad: Holland’s sustainability rockstar protects environment, attracts new residents

Carolyn Ulstad is different and she knows it, embraces it, and flat-out owns it.

She grew up in Holland, but isn’t from Holland. Her parents are from Chicago and she isn’t Dutch and she is absolutely cool with that.

Call it a transplant edge.

sunset

Don’t get her wrong, though, she has a love affair with West Michigan. After graduating college, she stayed here. Got married. Bought a house. And, yes, she posts photos of Lake Michigan sunsets on Instagram.

Yet instead of simply talking about her crush, Ulstad acted on it.

Her sweet spot? The environment.

Her strategy? Firsthand involvement.

She sacrifices Saturday afternoons to pick up trash in the Macatawa River. She persuades government officials to follow sound environmental practices. She writes columns for the newspaper to educate the general public.

Not bad for a Millennial, you know, the generation that always gets criticized.

The best part is Ulstad, program assistant for the Macatawa Area Coordinating Council (MACC), carries herself in a classy, sincere manner, never looking down on you, but always looking to inspire you and teach you and encourage you.

In other words, she’s hooked on positive, everybody-wins projects in the community. Simple as that. Thankfully, unlike many areas in the country, most people along the Lakeshore are too.

“I think that our area collaborates so well for the reason that in general those that live here tend to share the same value of being a good neighbor,” Ulstad said. “I think our current leaders in the community recognize that West Michigan has had a long standing tradition of collaboration and I think they strive to maintain that same spirit.”

And sustainability projects in particular are gaining traction, thanks in part to Ulstad, also a member of the Holland Community Sustainability Committee. In her view, when the environment is improved, more money, less problems.

“In general, it makes me incredibly happy to see movement on the sustainability front,” Ulstad said. “Not only is it better for the health of the planet and ourselves, but it can improve the pocketbook by opening up the door to new technologies, businesses. It can also increase ‘livability’ which draws talented young professionals as well as those who may want to retire here.”

Improving Holland one project at a time

unnamed (1)

Which brings us to meetings.

I have been known to skip a meeting or two, unless catered food is involved, but Ulstad, she thrives in meetings, wouldn’t miss them for the world.

“I love meetings,” she said.

I shoot her a surprised look. She can explain.

“I love things that happen in them,” Ulstad said. “I love the input. I think it’s great. You collaborate. You come up with something you didn’t have before.”

Like bike lanes, she is stoked bike lanes are happening in Holland, her face literally lights up at the thought of those lines separating cars from bikes.

Or take Project Clarity, a sustainability project she is crazy proud to be involved with.

The $12 million community effort, which has already raised more than $10 million, has a goal of restoring the water quality of Lake Macatawa and the Macatawa Watershed. The lake and surrounding rivers have struggled with high levels of phosphorus for years. Which impacts water quality and recreation and commerce.

Project Clarity’s multi-phased approach is supported by plenty of local heavy hitters – the MACC, the Outdoor Discovery Center Macatawa Greenway, Hope College and Grand Valley State University to name a few.

“Clean water is something that everyone can get behind,” Ulstad said. “This project has been inspiring to me since its success comes from so many passionate individuals and organizations, government partners, businesses and higher education working together.”

Catching a theme?

Then there’s the Holland Sustainability Framework, a new template for the city of Holland to use when planning projects. In 2013, the city council asked Ulstad’s committee to start developing the checklist, which covers quality of life, environmental awareness/action, economics, transportation, smart energy, community & neighborhood, and community knowledge.

“Is it possible to add sustainable pieces to the project?” Ulstad said. “You can’t expect someone to think of all these things all the time.”

unnamed (3)

And finally light pollution in Holland.

Which I know nothing about. Enlighten me, I said.

She acknowledges the pun with a smile, then explains.

Light pollution, basically excessive artificial light, affects the way we observe the night sky, can impact plant health, even animal health. New technology and designs are helping reduce the impact, Ulstad said, but those must be balanced with the public’s perception of bright street lights equaling safer streets.

One simple method to fight light pollution is Earth Hour, a global grassroots movement encouraging residents and business to turn off their lights for one hour. It celebrates energy conservation, showcases the night sky and highlights our impact on the environment.

Ulstad loved the idea, dreamed about bringing it to Holland, shared it with the Holland Community Sustainability Committee, and eventually helped organize a local event on March 25.

“I love Earth Hour because it’s completely customizable,” Ulstad wrote in a March 19 blog post for Hope College. “If your concerns are about bees and pollinators, make it about that. If you care about light pollution or wildlife habitat, make those the focus.”

Yeah, she blogs too.

Ultimately, Ulstad is a sustainability rockstar. She cares about the area. And she’s glad she’s protecting it for future generations.

“At the end of the day I’m so incredibly happy that my parents moved here 30 years ago,” Ulstad said. “West Michigan is such a beautiful place, with less traffic, a wonderful downtown and people who wave and say hello. I always wonder how different a person I may be if I didn’t grow up here fully immersed in the lake, the dunes and the forest. Michigan has a natural beauty that isn’t easily found elsewhere.”

Mic drop.

Read Me

Inside Leadership: Abbey Johnston & Greg Mutch focus on inner game for next-level results

Inside Leadership: Abbey Johnston & Greg Mutch focus on inner game for next-level results

Story By JEREMY GONSIOR/Photos by JOEL RODEHEAVER at Union Ave Creative.

It was cold, cloudy, and rainy outside, but inside the restaurant it was warm, vibrant and full of laughter because Abbey Johnston and Greg Mutch were there.

The leadership experts, both based in West Michigan, are executing an ambitious project: Inside Leadership, a transformative program featuring group learning sessions, individualized coaching, and a sweet Leadership 360 tool.

Yet they don’t seem tense or worried or afraid.

gregmutch

Greg Mutch

One minute they are deep in discussion about the latest opinions in leadership development. Then, when you least expect it, they crack a joke that is so hilarious you stop writing or stop eating or almost spit out your water.

Halfway through the conversation, to those around us, it looks like old friends are having a reunion over spring break. But I have never met Mutch and only briefly talked with Johnston a few times.

Even crazier? Mutch and Johnston met only 18 months earlier.

That’s how in-sync they are, how much chemistry they have, and how motivated they are about making leadership training significantly better.

And that energy spills over to those around them, providing a group synergy that makes time fly by. I can only imagine what multiple hours would be like with them.

Abbey - 17

Abbey Johnston

How did this happen, how did this perfect match occur?

“Work Tinder,” Mutch says with a straight face.

A moment passes and we all laugh. No, seriously, how?

Envision a movie montage with The Chainsmokers latest hit playing in the background. Then images of mutual friends. Introductions. Conversations. Johnston letting Mutch say a few words during one of her trainings. Soon mutual respect. Then a refreshing connection.

Mix that all together, shake, and add a joint passion around a unique leadership viewpoint and you have a dynamic partnership.

“I think what we found out when we started ‘work dating’ was we connected on the leadership development philosophy we take,” Johnston said. “This was pretty thrilling because, quite frankly, our philosophy isn’t necessarily mainstream. It’s transformative and revolutionary – but not mainstream.”

Disrupting the typical leadership training model

Enter the “Inner Game” philosophy.

Most leadership programs focus on the “Outer Game,” how to build external competencies – team building, collaboration, vision, etc.  Therefore, around the country every week, leaders attend a conference that appears will finally address one of these problematic areas in their life, Johnston said.

“They return from the conference – with energy – and a lot of information…and we see a difference.  We see them trying,” she said. “Then a week or two later our leaders behavior returns to the problematic patterns we were experiencing before the conference. This is a common scenario.”

And Inside Leadership has a name for it: limiting assumptions.
“It might be easier for people to understand them as blind spots,” Mutch said. “When our operating system runs with those blind spots ‘unexamined’ then they slow us down, hold us back, and create collateral damage to reduces our overall leadership effectiveness (and business results).”
insidelogo
To combat this broken system, Inside Leadership reverse engineers the typical leadership development philosophy. They learn who the leader is on the inside, what is causing their ineffective attempts at these competencies, to spark action on the outside. In other words, the stronger the “Inner Game,” the stronger the impact.
“Performance is an outcome of an inner game. Performance is driven by our ‘internal operating system’: our beliefs, story, values, passions, strengths and weaknesses,” Johnston said. “We can be consistently hitting the target as leaders – making great strides – but not quite be hitting the bullseye. We can’t fully live into our leadership potential if we haven’t grasped what our potential is.”

They also believe leadership is not positional, rather leadership is influence and showing up and impact.

“In that way everyone has the opportunity to be a leader,” Mutch said.

What Inside Leadership looks like

The cutting-edge program began where many interesting projects do: a college campus.

They started offering a version of Inside Leadership at Grand Valley State University (GVSU). After successful cohorts, word got out and they decided to expand beyond the campus setting.

“We had such remarkable results from the specific program we launched at GVSU. There was a lot of energy around it,” Johnston said. “We’ve been doing other variations of leadership development with other groups and companies.  However, what we launched with GVSU had a specific format that we knew we could effectively deliver for others.”

Inside Leadership, a 4-month program already underway this spring, moves beyond the typical workshop-driven leadership training to offer a more experience-based training. Plus, there’s a community of 10 – 12 individuals formed around it.

Let’s not forget out-of-this-world PowerPoint slides.

Oh, and as we touched on earlier, drumroll please, fun.

“While we dig deep in our sessions we also have a ton of fun. Greg and I love to get ‘real’ but we also love to have a ‘real’ good laugh,” Johnston said. “I think we have done a good job with balancing intensity with a little bit of banter.  One of Greg’s values is irreverence – need I say more?”

Team - 2

The fall cohort, which is open for registration now, kicks off with a 1-day retreat on Sept. 6, followed by individual coaching sessions to debrief your personal Leadership Circle Profile 360 results. Then group engagements, coaching sessions, and finally a half-day retreat. At the end, participants receive a Leadership Circle Profile 360 and StrengthsFinder assessment.

Plus they are more awake. Understand how they can grow their potential. Effectively aim their influence.

If the momentum continues, Mutch hopes Inside Leadership could expand stateside first and then even globally.

“We are exploring some additional cohorts regionally (Traverse City and Detroit), but the experience could be adapted and delivered anywhere (Ireland is on that list),” he said.

Back to lunch. Mutch jokingly brainstorms how to better market testimonials on the Web site. What if they add the signature “Mom,” after their testimonials? They don’t currently list names, it’s anonymous, so why not? Johnston cracks up, can’t stop laughing.

As we wrap up, it’s clear: Inside Leadership is blowing up. Get your autographs while you can.

“I love what I do,” Johnston said later. “I am honored and privileged every time I engage in this space. Our participants are brave and offer us endless amounts of insight and inspiration. #blessed.”

Read Me