April 22, 2020
During Women’s History Month, students were asked to interview alumna to learn more about their time at Walker’s as well as their professional careers. Lauren Cleaver ’20 had the privilege of interviewing Frances Beinecke ’67, former president of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Frances Beinecke ’67 was the president of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) from 2006-2015. During her tenure as president, the NRDC focused on finding solutions to some of the biggest environmental challenges such as “establishing a clean energy future that curbs climate change, reviving the world’s oceans, defending wildlife and wild places, protecting our health by preventing pollution, fostering sustainable communities, and ensuring safe and sufficient water.” (NRDC.org) Prior to her role as NRDC president, Beinecke was the organization’s executive director for eight years.
While listening to her speak about her time at Walker’s, Beinecke, a Dial, told a story that seems to have sparked the start of her career journey. It was a Sunday chapel in the springtime of her senior year and they oftentimes had guest speakers come and talk to the school community, similar to what we have today during weekly assemblies. On that day, there was a minister that talked about social justice and according to Frances, “It was a powerful presentation.” Inspired by his talk, she began to work on community projects over the summer that he helped run. Urban Studies seemed to be what she wanted to study at the time but it wasn’t until college that she found her interest was in environmental studies. Beinecke emphasized how she received a great education at Walker’s and how she was taught to be independent thinker which she found valuable. She also noted the beauty of the Walker’s campus and how beneficial it was to be exposed to so much nature.
After graduating from Walker’s, Beinecke was a member of the first class of women admitted to Yale University. After college, she got more involved with environmental studies. During grad school, she got an internship with the NRDC. When she started at the NRDC there were about 35 employees and now there are over 700. When she started working, Beinecke believes that there were not a lot of avenues open for her although she believes she was at the right place at the right time. Today, she is on the advisory board of the MIT Energy Initiative, as well as the boards of the NRDC Action Fund, ClientEarth, Climate Central and the World Resources Institute.
As we discussed her career, Beinecke talked about how environmental equality is not a problem to be solved, but rather “It is an ongoing challenge that is about how we as humans manage our relationship to nature, which we depend on for our wellbeing, our food, air, water and inspiration.” I asked for her advice to younger generations. She shared, “Working in our own communities and allowing people to get involved all over is a great step towards bettering our environment. Young people have powerful voices. It is good for us to find our passion, and within that look at the smaller details.” It is these smaller details that can help you discover what you might want to study or pursue as a career.
With Earth Day coming up, I learned that in 1970 on the first Earth Day, there were 20 million people who came out to support improving the environment. Today, the numbers have continued to grow. It is said that about 500 million people now participate in Earth Day worldwide. This increase in participation shows some of the progress that has been made throughout the years and how throughout her career, Beinecke played an important part in this movement. She sees change right now as “hopeful.”
Frances Beinecke ’67 holds a Bachelor’s degree from Yale College and a Master’s degree from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. She co-chaired the Leadership Council of the Yale School of Forestry and is a former member of the Yale School of Management’s Advisory Board and the Yale Corporation. Beinecke received the Yale Medal from Yale University along with numerous other awards and honors. She was awarded an honorary degree from Lehman College, Doctor of Humane Letters, and an honorary degree from Vermont Law School, Doctor of Laws.