Melissa Nergard joined UW-Madison as its first full-time Director of Sustainability in August 2018. With more than a decade of experience in sustainability, Nergard joins the UW-Madison community ready to make a positive impact on the university and those around her.
As a mother who loves animals and all things outdoors, Nergard is excited to return to Wisconsin where nature is abundant.
I sat down with Nergard to learn more about what she’s looking forward to as she starts her new position at UW-Madison.
Q: What brought you to Wisconsin?
A: I am from Neenah, Wisconsin. I grew up here, so coming to Wisconsin was simply a matter of coming home.
Q: What are some activities you enjoy doing in Madison?
A: So far, I have enjoyed walking around campus and getting to know the area and the people.
Q: Why is sustainability important to you, especially on a university campus like UW-Madison?
A: Sustainability is especially important on a university campus because of the span of influence. On a campus, especially a campus of UW-Madison’s size, there are many students that will go out and impact their communities. The span of influence at any institution is great so we need to be as responsible with that as we can be.
Q: What does it mean to have experience in sustainability?
A: Sustainability is systems thinking. It’s not just looking at how we can improve a building envelope for energy and efficiency, it’s how we can engage the building occupants to change their behaviors. Sustainability looks at an entire system. When we turn on a light, for example, there are a lot of related impacts, and sustainability takes a holistic view of those.
Q: Was sustainability always a passion of yours?
A: I grew up in a family that was always outdoors. My family was predominantly in the paper industry, so I could readily connect an economy with the environment. When I started my undergraduate work at UW-Stevens Point, I was going to go into forestry. I had a good grounding in that. However, that program particularly tied in the economic value. What I was missing was the aspect of social justice. The term sustainability was evolving and emerging and wasn’t necessarily present until the early 2000s. Throughout my time as an undergraduate, I had a good framework for a career in sustainability, there just wasn’t a name for it yet.
Q: How do you think your personality shows through in the work that you do?
A: I am very collaborative and I love learning and hearing new ideas, which is critical when working across the many schools, colleges, and divisions at a university. I think I’m nice and friendly which makes others feel comfortable. I don’t want anyone to feel like they have a great idea that they cannot share. Building on our shared knowledge to develop real-world solutions is what I consider a successful work environment.
Q: So far, what is your favorite part about Madison culture?
A: There is an established culture of sustainability here that I love seeing. People are using reusable containers, people have reusable water bottles, and there is a huge biking culture. There is also a prominent focus on wellness. I think this mindset makes Madison very unique.
Q: What are some of your hobbies?
A: I have two teenagers, and we raise chickens, ducks, pheasant, and quail on our small farm. I also work at a canine search and rescue, so I do a lot of dog training. This hobby is particularly important to me.
Q: Are animals a large part of your life?
A: Animals are a big part of my life. I also help restore habitat in my free time. It’s hard work but it gives me a feeling of joy to see a positive impact on the animals and their environment.
Q: If you could describe yourself in three words, what would those words be?
A: Happy, friendly, and introverted. When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is put a smile on my face. This not only impacts the rest of my day but also the way others react to me throughout the day. I’ve discovered that starting my day with happiness can change the course of the entire day.
By Jenna Walters