Damian Breen is an environmental professional who has been making a significant contribution to the field for over two decades. His passion for air quality management and environmental protection is evident in his work, which has been characterized by numerous groundbreaking regulations and innovative initiatives. As the founder of Environmental Communication Strategies, he has developed a reputation as a distinguished expert in his field. But his previous role as the Deputy Executive Officer of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) is where Damian Breen really made his mark. For over 24 years, he led the charge on a multitude of projects including financing, grants, engineering, and software development. Damian Breen is undoubtedly an accomplished professional whose work has had a profound impact on air quality management and environmental protection.
Damian Breen has become a well-known name in the fields of crisis management and environmental communication. His expertise in effectively communicating complex environmental issues to various stakeholders, from industry leaders to elected officials, has earned him great acclaim. Damian’s in-depth knowledge of national, international, and California regulations is equally impressive. As the founder of Environmental Communication Strategies, Damian and his team are committed to creating harmony between the environment, people, business, and future technology. They strive for optimal outcomes that benefit both humankind and every living organism. With a strong belief that transformation can be achieved through dialogue, empathy, and equity, Damian’s team actively assists clients in navigating the complex interactions between government, industry, communities and politics, ensuring collaborations that result in successful outcomes. Damian’s hard work and dedication have made him a true expert in navigating today’s challenging environmental landscape.
In this interview, Damian provides information about the environment and technology space and how his company helps to make thing happen.
What are the crucial things happening in the Environment and technology space right now?
There are three crucial trends that are currently intersecting in the environmental space, a focus on hyperlocal air quality in the USA, a reckoning regarding our use of plastics globally, and the switch away from fossil fuels globally.
On hyperlocal air quality issues, changes to environmental policies in New Jersey and California, are causing air regulators, businesses, and city and state planners to change how facilities are located and made safe for communities. This in part goes some way to addressing historical racial inequities caused by policies such as redlining; and to addressing problem facilities and operations in communities. In some cases, these new policies mandate stricter permitting regulations, rule enforcement, planning requirements and investments to bring down pollution impacts on those most vulnerable to it, low-income and communities of color. This represents a sea change in air quality regulation which has many institutions scrambling.
On plastics, there are alarming trends on what is getting into our oceans, food supplies and bodies because of failures in the recycling chain and failures in the management, disposal, and sequestration of plastics. Governments, communities, and scientists are working on multiple solutions in this space, and we are likely to see big shifts in the types of plastics and packaging that will be allowed across the globe in the coming decade.
On the switch away from fossil fuels, the USA is on the leading edge of this wave based on the huge investments into alternative fuels by the Biden Administration and California, but other countries and regions, like China, Japan and Europe are also working hard on geothermal, wind, and solar power; and on hydrogen and battery electric technology. This is an exciting foot race and one that stands to benefit the winners and global climate immensely.
These three trends intersect at the community level, where many of the industries and much of the infrastructure that needs to change is collocated with our population.
How does Environmental Communications Strategies fit in that picture?
Environmental Communications Strategies bridges the gaps between communities, governments, industry and technology using our expertise to facilitate the dialogue, engagement, education and exploration that leads to change. We help individuals and organization understand the science around issues; prompt them with the technology, policy, engagement and communication answers; and lead them to the solutions that have the most benefit for everyone and every living thing.
You’re a scientist, why is the communications and people part of the business so important?
A lot of times we see people, governments, industries, and communities talking past each other – and inevitably failing to recognize areas of common interest. This leads to missed opportunities for comprise and trust building – the starting blocks of any successful relationship!
By focusing on common interests and working to make progress on issues where there is agreement, we develop trust and communication structures that can then be used to tackle bigger issues. In our work, taking the time to really understand and develop the communications and people component of the process is “the” key ingredient for success.
What is something unusual you tell your clients?
I love Neil deGrasse Tyson. He once said the following in a TV interview:
“Once science has been established, once a scientific truth emerges from a consensus of experiments and observations, it is the way of the world. What I’m saying is, when different experiments give you the same result, it is no longer subject to your opinion. That’s the good thing about science: It’s true whether or not you believe in it. That’s why it works.”
I often find myself quoting the “That’s the good thing about science: It’s true whether or not you believe in it” line to clients. In a world where any thought, true or false, can be backed up by internet research, this is sometimes a shock for them. I explain, as Dr. deGrasse Tyson does, that the consensus of the experiments and observations is what leads to the scientific truth and that above anything else that is what must be relied upon in establishing a baseline for any process.
This sometimes runs contrary to a client’s desired outcome in an engagement but ultimately relying on the science and doing the right thing always serves them best in the end.
However, some folks still need a lot of convincing!
What is one habit of yours that helps you be productive?
I like lists! I generally make one each morning for what I want to accomplish during the day and then have a longer list for what I want to get accomplished in general. I think this is something I learned from when I worked construction. When you’re completing construction projects, you generally end up with a punch list of items to do to take you to the finish line. By creating lists for myself daily, I get a sense of accomplishment as I check items off and that allows me to see that I’m making progress towards my overall goals.
What is the one thing you repeatedly do and recommend everyone else do?
Put yourself in a position to be uncomfortable either personally or professionally. Engage in conversations where you may not be an expert or have knowledge, this allows you to learn and to get prospective from people you ordinarily may not interact with.
What are your plans for the future?
I’ve learned a lot since starting Environmental Communications Strategies and I find that learning exciting. In fall 2023, I plan to open a pro-bono portion of the practice that will allow me to help communities struggling with pollution impacts and what to do about it. I’m hoping to continue my learning journey with those communities while delivering some wins for them along the way!