June 26, 2017

Change coming at top of state environmental group

Environmental League of Massachusetts
After 10 years leading the Environmental League of Massachusetts, George Bachrach is stepping down.

A few years into his job as president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, George Bachrach helped organize the first of what has become an annual summer retreat of civic leaders in greater Boston to discuss the big issues of the day.

The first "Commonwealth Summit" was held in 2010. But as the years went by, some of the younger attendees - those in their late 40s and 50s - began to notice a certain amount of homogeneity creeping in. So about two years ago Bachrach and others started to overhaul the guest list, most importantly inviting a new crop of younger leaders.

Now Bachrach is cycling himself off the invitee list.

After 10 years at the helm of ELM, the 65-year-old former state senator is stepping down from the leading environmental advocacy group to give way to a 34-year-old West Virginia native with dual graduate degrees from Yale and contacts across the region's next generation of environmentally conscious corporate leaders.

"In my younger political days, I didn't believe in term limits. I do now. I think people ought to know when it's time to go. I'd like to take Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell with me if I could. I extend an open invitation to both," Bachrach said in an interview last week in his Beacon Street office overlooking the Granary Burying Ground.

Elizabeth Turnbull Henry will take over as ELM president on July 10 after spending the past six years as the head of energy and climate programs for Adidas.

Henry said she sees ELM's relatively new political action committee as "loaded with potential" to advance the group's mission, which she wants to make more relatable to a younger generation as she also pushes back on "attacks" from Washington and builds on ELM's corporate council started by Bachrach.

But perhaps above all else, Henry and Bachrach see potential to unite the business and environmental advocacy movements in ways they have not been before.

"I come to this from a pretty collaborative place and I love making the business case for progressive environmental sustainability and action. I guess I believe the economy and the environment are codependent. They're sisters," Henry said.

She added, "It is odd, frankly, that they often find themselves on opposite sides of the table when we know that most people in Massachusetts want clean air, clean water. They don't want their kids to have asthma. They don't want to find out they have cancer because of the chemicals that are in their products. They want to know that if they build a building in the seaport it's going to be there in 50 years."

Bachrach said it's not enough for environmentalists to believe they're right on the issues. They also need a political strategy to achieve their goals. That's where the inclusion of corporate voices can make a difference, he said.

"We at ELM increasingly believe that the old paradigm needs to progress. It can't be environmentalists speaking for the environment. You got to bring corporate voices and translate this into jobs," Bachrach said.

Bachrach plans to help Henry with the leadership transition through the fall, and then take a "gap year" while he remains on the ELM board until he figures out his next move, if there is one.

Henry grew up in West Virginia as part of a family whose finances were tied to the coal industry. "I understand how hard it is to transition from fossil fuels, but I also understand how imperative it is," she said.

While at Adidas, she sought company in the corporate world by reaching out to executives in other businesses who were focused on green building and sustainability and organized an informal dinner series that routinely draws 20 to 40 attendees from a guest list of more than 200.

It's that network that attracted Bachrach, in part, to Henry as a possible successor, and from which Henry plans to draw to advance ELM's mission on Beacon Hill and beyond, she said.

In 2015, ELM set up a super PAC and vowed to become a more aggressive player in state politics. Their first target was helping Sen. Mike Brady defeat Rep. Geoff Diehl in a special election for an open Senate seat based in Brockton, and the group began publishing an annual list of the "Dirty Dozen" lawmakers with the worst environmental records.

Last cycle, Bachrach said the action fund raised a quarter of a million dollars and supported candidates in 53 races, going five for five in primaries and seeing 47 of their preferred candidates win their general election. This year, for the first time, it is getting involved in a municipal race supporting Sen. Thomas McGee's bid for mayor of Lynn.

"The purpose was to send a message that transcended those districts, that if you were with us, we've got your back, and if you're not with us, we're coming after you," Bachrach said.

While it's hard to discern the effect of ELM's electoral influence, Bachrach said that message has been received by some at the State House, particularly on the Senate side of the building. "Our phone calls are getting returned a lot faster," he said.

Bachrach counts among his accomplishments helping to push for passage of the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act, the promotion of offshore wind power and ELM's fight against new gas pipelines and a Trump review of national monuments that could remove the designation from Atlantic seamounts and ocean canyons off the Massachusetts coast.

As ELM thinks about improving its influence over the state political agenda, Bachrach took particular aim at another group - Associated Industries of Massachusetts - that wields significant clout in the Legislature, particularly with House leadership.

"AIM has been the dominant voice on Beacon Hill representing businesses. AIM, I think, is an extraordinary leader for the 20th century. The problem is we're in the 21st century. And they're living in the wrong century. You can't have it both ways. You can't talk about leading the innovation economy if you can't innovate, and they don't," Bachrach said.

Henry's job now, both Bachrach and Henry say, will be to unite the interests represented by AIM and those championed by ELM around a common goal: more jobs.

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