Erin Cooke - Sustainability Director at San Francisco International Airport

Erin Cooke - Sustainability Director at San Francisco International Airport

Erin’s career is focused on assessing how climate risks affect varied agencies and the publics they serve while building pathways to cut carbon and achieve resilient outcomes.  Currently, she serves as SFO's first Sustainability Director, where she brokers sustainability and net zero investments across campus projects and develops and implements the Airport's Strategic, Sustainability and Climate Action Plans, including annual reporting.

Erin previously served the City of Cupertino as its first Sustainability Manager and, next, Assistant to the City Manager working to oversee a portfolio of energy, water, and materials programs earmarked in the City’s Climate Action Plan, including the launch of Silicon Valley Clean Energy and Silicon Valley’s Climate Adaptation & Resilience Plan, etc. Erin also supported environmental initiatives through work at the Conservation Law Foundation, Goddard Institute of Space Studies, and National Park Service. Erin is a LEED AP and holds a MPA in Environmental Science and Policy from Columbia University.

Erin Joins Sustainable Nation to Discuss:

  • Sustainability issues in the airport and airline industries, including sustainable aviation fuel

  • Leading sustainability while engaging multiple stakeholders including passengers and airport tenants

  • SFO's low carbon and zero waste future

  • Advice and recommendations for sustainability leaders

Erin's Final Five Question Responses:

What is one piece of advice you would give other sustainability professionals that might help them in their careers?

Don't be afraid to be a Jack of all trades. I think this field is certainly evolving and there's an opportunity for specialty and specialization, but the more you dabble in more fields and aspects of sustainability, the more empowered you'll be in a conversation, in a decision or in the execution of a bold, ambitious target for the organization that you're looking to serve.

What are you most excited about right now in the world of sustainability?

I'm thinking back to the Jack of all trades comment. Obviously, I dabble in so many different things. It's hard to narrow to one thing. I'm sure my energy came across relative to sustainable aviation fuel. I think that is a perfect example of an industry coming together to really transform a marketplace and to recognize the richness that comes from collaboration. So whether it's public-private partnerships or public-public partnerships, just the collaboration intensity that I think is elevating the game for sustainability and achieving really big results for this sector. Every single day, just the opportunity I have to engage with so many thoughtful, insightful and progressive leaders is incredible and I don't know a lot of industries that are as ambitious but also do so not in competition but in direct collaboration. So continuing that is something that I look forward to every single day, getting out of bed and biking my way to the airport.

What is one book you would recommend sustainability professionals read?

I'm obviously loving Paul Hawkins Project Drawdown right now, as you heard earlier, recognizing the challenges in central plant operations at our airport, not just in natural gas but also in refrigerant management. I heard him speak on that and I think it's just fascinating how it's so critical that we don't lose sight of the operations and maintenance schedules of things before we put forward big bold goals like zero net energy. We need to make sure that our infrastructure is sound and safe and well equipped, and that we've got a robust set of operators that know how to manage and maintain and really transform this infrastructure that they're working on. So, that to me really resonated as well as just the richness of the subject, the values and needs of empowering women, giving people access to good education and food resources and how that can actually transform into direct results in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. It was a great set of research, so definitely pick that up or schedule a call with me and we could have a book club.

What are some of your favorite resources or tools that really help you in the work that you do?

Just on the collaboration topic, SFO is very lucky to team up with Ceres recently, an NGO that works on really progressive environmental and climate action policy through their investor network. So we recently joined two of their programs, Connect the Drops for water conservation and BICEP - businesses investing in clean energy policy. They've been hosting a series of different advocacy days, here in Sacramento as well as at the capital. I think that really the champions of change come through collaboration and having a unified voice. I saw that happen firsthand and certainly that resonated with our electeds and I really look to those types of networks for influence, and opportunities to really push and continue to stretch. We've been very grateful to partner and team up with The Airport Council International, and also locally we have the California Airport Council that's been working to have more unification in the progressive policies and also best practices that are happening as a new standard in the airport space within our great state.

Where can our listeners go to learn more about you and the work that you're leading at SFO?

SFO has a great website We have a twitter handle and also a Facebook page, so definitely visit those things. We are always happy to receive comments and questions from folks that are traveling to and from our airport, or generally wanting to up the environmental or sustainability game of our airport. So our contact information is also saved there. Please reach out. Obviously our strategic plan is set and our city is driving and directing, but we want to be as responsive to the folks that we're looking to serve on a daily basis, which is our traveling public and of course the airport employees that help our airport to thrive and create a great environment. So check us out there and keep us posted on what should come next.