Alumni Stories: Conservation and Development
Ned Sullivan's career reads like a history of the last 25 years of the environmental movement. A 1982 Yale SOM/FES graduate, Sullivan played roles in developing the blueprint for cleaning up Boston Harbor, creating the financial structure for disposing of 21,000 tons of toxic waste found buried beneath the Love Canal neighborhood in Niagara Falls, bringing together several northeastern states and Canadian provinces on a pollution pact, and more recently, helping to secure thousands of acres along the Hudson River from development. "Itís all a culmination of my training at Yale," he told an audience at Yale SOM on April 20. "My degree here has been a terrific base for everything Iíve wanted to do."
Sullivan, who spoke as a guest of Net Impact and the Organizational Effectiveness lunch series, began his post-Yale career in investment banking, developing a municipal utility sector finance program for the Bank of Boston. While he was at the bank, the contamination of Boston Harbor became a major issue, sparking the formation of a blue-ribbon panel to develop a master plan to cleanse the waterway. Sullivan worked behind the scenes, helping to create the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority in 1985 to regulate the release of raw sewage into the harbor. "Today it is clean," he said.
From the Bank of Boston, Sullivan moved into the public sector, becoming deputy commissioner for the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, where he oversaw the stateís hazardous waste cleanup initiative, including the massive Love Canal project. Along the way, his office helped create a funding mechanism through which governments can borrow money at low interest rates in order to clean up waterways. "One thing SOM trained me how to do was create new organizations between the public and private sectors," he said. "If I had to estimate, governments have been able to use these schemes to raise hundreds of billions of dollars for cleanups."
A call from a friend in Maine led Sullivan to take up the helm of the stateís Department of Environmental Protection, which he described as the peak of his professional career. He led the department from 1995 to 1999, forging a compact among New England states and eastern Canadian provinces to reduce the discharges of mercury from power plants and other industries into the environment.
In 1999, he joined Scenic Hudson, where he is president, overseeing an organization with a $125 million endowment and a long history of saving key plots along the Hudson River from development. Sullivan was joined at the talk by Sacha Spector YC í93, the director of conservation science at Scenic Hudson, who spoke in detail about the groupís projects.
While the organizationís primary aim is to preserve vital habitats, Scenic Hudson has taken a dual approach that reflects the philosophy Sullivan learned at Yale. Among the parks it has helped establish is the West Point Foundry Preserve. A former site for building cannons during the Civil War, the site has been developed as both a nature preserve and heritage park. Other projects include the uncovering of the Saw Mill River in downtown Yonkers and preventing Walmart from building a store a mile from Franklin Delano Rooseveltís home.
"Our goal is not just preservation," Sullivan said. ďWeíre trying to build on the regionís $4.7 billion tourism industry and bring in green jobs. Up and down the Hudson Valley, what weíre doing is not just helping protect habitats but to spur redevelopment. As we see it, and as Yale taught me, the two go hand-in-hand."