Her days are never consistent and it’s easy to see that she thrives on it. Clutching the large mug that sits nearby, she mentions that she hasn’t had enough coffee today, fighting back yawns. It is her passion and excitement for the work that she does that keeps her productive. Her work days are limited because of her part-time status but that doesn’t limit her impact.
“It is rewarding whenever you see the light bulb click with someone,” Michelle Gibbs said.
Gibbs is the director of the Holland-Hope College Sustainability Institute. Her job allows her to work with companies, the people of the Holland community as well as faculty, staff and students of Hope College helping to educate people on what sustainability is. She is the first person to have this position and, in November, will be celebrating her third year in this role.
Gibbs graduated from Michigan State University with a zoology and environmental studies double major. She began working for Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality her sophomore year of college and continued to work with them until her summer after graduation. Her jobs after the DEQ ranged from environmental research and private consulting to educating middle school and high school students about environmental science. She credits her varying job experience for her current position.
Gibbs values time spent with family and in the outdoors. This is how she grew up and continues as she raises her two children. Her summers living in Michigan were spent sailing and on camping trips with her father. Now, she and her husband make it a priority to visit family and friends and continue to be outside doing different seasonal activities. She laughed when I asked her about her free time noting that, when she isn’t at work, she is a mother of two both under 5 years old, keeping her on her toes. She loves seeing her children pick up an environmental consciousness at such a young age, recalling a time when her five-year- old son had the car turn around so he could turn off his bedroom lights that had been left on.
She has seen tremendous progress in her three years. Hope College has put sustainability on the forefront of their goals. The campus has continued to expand their square-footage but prioritizes decreasing their carbon footprint through strategic building and management practices with the help of Hope College’s Physical Plant. In her short time here, the Leader in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating for the college has gone from bronze certification in 2010 to silver in the last report. She hopes to see it reach a gold certification.
“I think Holland is making lots of strides of what their goals are for the community energy plan,” Gibbs said.
The city has a new and more efficient power plant as well as the adjoining Holland Energy Park, which Gibbs reported earned an Envision Platinum award. Gibbs is currently working on a new greenhouse gas assessment for the city which will further reveal the progress the city has made.
In the near future, her goals consist of completing her masters in sustainable management, seeing continued growth in sustainable education and continued progress being made in the city and the college. When I asked about her plans for a very distant retirement she was sure that she would stay busy notably through volunteer work. An article from Hope College’s Public Affairs and Marketing team noted that Gibbs was awarded the 2014 Volunteer of the Year for her work with the Macatawa Area Coordinating Council’s Watershed Project.
Her passion for sustainability focuses on the future and integrating her Christian faith. She believes that sustainability is important as we should be leaving things better than we found it. An influencing concept behind Gibb’s definition of sustainability is considering the seventh generation, people who we will never meet, and taking care of the earth as well as its inhabitants for them but presently taking care of your neighbor.
“I think it really is more than just the energy, or the environment, but I think way too often that the social aspect gets overlooked,” Gibbs said.
Presently, Gibbs states that her position is her “dream job.” Gibbs remembers when she was young she would tell people her dream job and many of the responses she would receive were confused looks. There was no name or position like the one she has now. She plans on keeping this position for many years to come.
One of the many aspects that Gibbs enjoys about her job is the wide range of people she gets to work with; people of different age groups, backgrounds and knowledge levels about sustainability. This helps her play a vital role for the community and the college.
“She’s sort of a bridge between the Hope community and Holland community,” Abigail Jeavons said, a senior at Hope College and co-president of the Hope Advocates for Sustainability.
Gibbs helps get the word out to community members when there are sustainable events happening on campus that are open to the public and vice versa.
Jeavons, as well as senior, Kyle Funk, have both had opportunities to work with Gibbs. Both of the students spoke to Gibb’s work ethic and passion for her career.
“She’s really clear on directives and has a really clear vision on where she wants to go with things,” Funk said, an environmental studies major. “She is very open to [student’s] ideas and sees how we can move those forward.”
Gibb’s office is located on the second floor of the A. Paul Schaap Science center allowing her to be close to both the students and downtown Holland. She has a wealth of knowledge (and brochures) and her warm smile encourages conversation. She is excited to see sustainability become more engrained in the organizations she is working with and looks forward to continuing her dream job.