WCS Member of the Month highlights the amazing stories of female leaders in the industry. This month, we spotlight Ranyee Chiang, Technology Officer for Bay Area Air Quality Management District
WCS: Please introduce us to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and the work it does. For readers who are unfamiliar with the work of Air Quality boards, can you give a little background?
Ranyee: The Bay Area Air Quality Management District is the country’s first regional air district, recognizing that air quality is an issue that crosses city and county borders. The Bay Area Air District includes Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara counties, as well as the southern parts of Solano and Sonoma counties.
The backbone of the Air District’s work is the measurement of sources of pollution, weather patterns, and how those interact to impact air quality and our health. From those measurements, we know that air pollution, including pollutants that impact air quality and climate change, come from both industrial and transportation sources. The Air District has regulatory authority over industrial facilities, from gas stations to the Bay Area’s refineries. So the work to reduce emissions comes from rules, permit requirements, and inspections. For transportation, the Air District doesn’t have regulatory authority. So the Air District works through communication programs to increase carpooling and use of public transit (Spare the Air), and incentives for people to switch to cleaner trucks, buses, and cars.
WCS: You are involved in launching the new Technology Implementation Office. What is its mission, and what skills do you rely on in achieving successful outcomes?
Ranyee: Launching a new program within an organization is exciting. It’s a chance to set the broad strategy, but also roll up your sleeves and focus on the operational details. In the beginning, launching the Technology Implementation Office meant wearing many different hats. But as I’ve been building out this new team, it’s been a pleasure to pass those hats on to new team members and to expand our overall impact.
The mission of our new office is to connect climate technologies and customers so we can reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. For example, one new program is an incentive program for low income consumers to access clean vehicles like hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and electric vehicles, and to build out more charging infrastructure to support new EV drivers. Our motivation is to ensure equitable access to new technologies, so that everyone can save money on fuel, maintenance, and have a better driving experience, while also reducing fossil fuel use and improving air quality.
WCS: What has your career path been so far? Based on your experience, what advice do you have for other women seeking to enter work in environmental policy and regulation?
Ranyee: I’ve had a few branching points in my career, though each branching point built on my previous experiences. I started my career as a scientist, and it has been helpful to have that foundation since the environment and energy areas require a strong evidence base for policies and programs. I spent some time in the science education field. Over the last 10 years, I’ve focused improving access to better energy technologies at the domestic, international, and now regional levels, and that has spanned the household to industrial scale. It has been rewarding to support emerging technologies that can provide better services to people as well as help protect our environment and climate, especially in developing countries and disadvantaged communities.
If you asked me 5 or 10 years ago, “where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years”? I could not have predicted that I would be where I am now. In fact, I think we should abolish that type of question. Rather than targeting a single career path or role, my advice is to be open minded about what career paths are possible. I don’t mean that you shouldn’t be strategic or thoughtful. In fact, I think it’s really important to look for opportunities to learn, to challenge yourself, and to connect with other people. And while you do that, if you’re open minded, there will likely be unexpected opportunities for you, that are a better fit for your skills and interest than what you could have imagined.
WCS: For women who are job hunting: what roles are most often hired for in your organization?
Ranyee: The Air District staff includes engineers, scientists, inspectors, planners, community organizers, and grant managers, all who are passionate about the mission to improve air quality and climate. So the opportunities at the Air District include a mix of technical and public-facing roles. And often, the organization looks for people who combine those two sides together. The Air District has a number of expanding programs, including to expand our work to address climate change and tackle the remaining “hot spots” of air pollution, especially those in disadvantaged communities. It is also worth mentioning that the Air District may hire from a single job posting to fill multiple vacancies and for multiple teams. So I encourage people to factor that in to your application strategy if you’re interested in working with the Air District.
WCS: What is something you hope to get out of your WCS membership?
Ranyee: After spending some time on the East Coast, I returned to San Francisco in 2016 and found that my previous Bay Area network was no longer as relevant for my current career path in sustainability and energy. I also transitioned from working internationally to having a California focus. I was excited to find out about WCS, which was a chance for me to expand my network to match the progression of my career and meet new friends.