E&E News: Meet the boss of a West Coast green group

Robin Bravender
Date: February 12, 2024

Originally published by E&E News here

E&E NEWS PM | Shannon Wright, a longtime environmental advocate whose resume includes stints with Greenpeace and Amazon Watch, is the new leader of the San Francisco-based group Pacific Environment.

She took over in January as executive director of the group that’s aimed at protecting the environment and wildlife in Pacific Rim communities.

Wright is based in Washington state as she oversees the organization of about 60 employees, including workers based in Los Angeles, Alaska, China, Vietnam and the group’s San Francisco hub.

Pacific Environment’s board announced in December that Wright had been hired to replace retiring Executive Director Alex Levinson, a former Sierra Club employee who had led the group since 2011.

“Combining world-class strategic chops with deep emotional intelligence, Shannon is the leader we need now,” Peter Riggs, chair of Pacific Environment’s board of directors, said in December. The board was grateful, Riggs said, for Levinson’s 12 years of leadership and for “putting the organization into its current strong financial position.”

Wright most recently served as executive director of the Bellingham, Washington-based environmental nonprofit RE Sources. She co-founded the organization Making Our Milk Safe and also worked at Amazon Watch, Greenpeace and the Rainforest Action Network.

She traces her interest in environmental protection back to her childhood in the San Francisco Bay area, where she grew up with nature lovers who kept Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” on the bookshelf. Wright recalled seeing oil-slicked birds wash up on the beaches after a spill in the 1970s during an era of environmental “awakening.”

During her travel to the Amazon Basin, Wright saw communities “facing multinational oil companies showing up on their doorstep,” Wright said. Those communities questioned whether the fossil fuel development “really served the interests of their region” even as they “had very little power to protect their lands, their people, from the deforestation and the pollution and the rights violations.”

She had an “aha moment,” Wright said, as she realized she wanted to address “some of the drivers of environmental destruction and lack of sustainability here in North America.”

In her new role, Wright and her organization are working on environmental protection in the Arctic, southeast Asia and in the western United States. Among the group’s top priorities are curbing plastic pollution and cracking down on greenhouse gas emissions from the shipping industry.

She sees this as a critical moment to make big gains on climate policy.

“Each year becomes more important because action earlier on climate has more impact,” Wright said. “Taking more action now is more important than taking action later.”