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Joyfully Leading With One's Heart
Stephen Kent
Source: St. Anthony Messenger magazine
Published: Saturday, October 1, 2011
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Whether sitting next to a beehive and native plants in the backyard of his Seattle home or leading the global environmental team for a $6 billion international company, Derek Eisel works for change in a world where all of God’s creatures can realize their potential and beauty.

Christian stewardship and corporate ethics can be practiced by joyfully leading with the heart, he thinks.

“If we see creation as good and the environment as God’s creation, then we are expected to be good stewards,” says Eisel. “More importantly, God’s creation is joyful; being stewards of creation is a joyful activity.”

Change is delicate, whether in a large corporation or in a parish, says Eisel, a parishioner of Seattle’s St. James Cathedral and cofounder of its ecojustice group. Faith and environment can mobilize people who aren’t traditionally thought of as environmentalists, he explains. “This combination has the potential to widen the audience considerably, which is necessary.

“I think it is visionary and wonderful that Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have been outspoken about the Christian obligation to the environment,” Eisel explains. But then he adds: “On a parish level, I think more could be done to give parishes the tools and the staff to act on this papal vision.”

Eisel works in research and development for Expeditors International of Washington, Inc., an international transportation company handling global logistics, supply chain management and freight forwarding.

After eight years with the company, Eisel was asked to head its environmental team. “I sold the change to my peers by showing that customers are asking how we can help them with their environmental goals and by showing through pilot projects that we can save money through saving energy in our offices.

“I never went to my company and said we need to change because I’m a Catholic and I believe it’s right. That is not how you go about change.”

The only difference between Eisel’s company and parish environmental work is relative size. He adapts best practices from his day job for his parish work.

“I think you need to see where you can have the biggest bang for your buck with small projects,” he says. “Have some early successes and build from there.”

The eco-justice group at St. James began with programs stressing action and education. Trained members attended a legislative day at the state capitol to lobby for environmental legislation. The group also sponsored a parish potluck, asking everyone to bring only food that was grown within 100 miles of the city.

Here are Eisel’s tips on how to introduce change and implement action without risking “issue fatigue”:
  • Pick an achievable project and get started.
  • Start small. It’s not hard to implement recycling if your community already does it.
  • Partner with a city or utility to get recommendations for reducing energy use.
  • Keep the team small and make sure one person is leading it.
“There is a huge social-justice component involved,” adds Eisel. “If the Christian mission is to care for the poor, then we must be sensitive to the impacts of environmental degradation.”

A few years ago, Eisel ripped out the front lawn of his home. “Now we have a beautiful, useful front garden with native plants at the borders and vegetables and flowers in the boxes.

“Having a front-yard vegetable garden has allowed us to meet many people on our street. Being environmentally friendly can be simply friend-friendly,” he comments.

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