During Pacific Standard's "Women and the Environment" conference, the magazine's writers are chatting with speakers and attendees about why they're getting involved—and where we go from here. Below, a chat with programmer Kristen Hazard, who created Wildnote, which aims to streamline the collection, management, and reporting of environmental data.
Tell me about your app, Wildnote.
For five years I was actually a principal of an environmental consulting company. Before that, I was a software programmer. So those two worlds came together when I learned about environmental compliance and how a lot of that work was still back in the dark ages of pen and paper. And so, we built an application so people could do all the environmental data collection using the phone or tablet. It basically streamlines and makes more efficient people reporting on the environment, reporting on environmental compliance, determining what natural resources are out there, all that sort of thing.
What sort of applications do you see for this in the current political climate?
After we built this platform for that kind of data collection, and then when [President Donald] Trump started deregulating—like the Storm Protection Rule, we're trying to figure out how to organize local people that are affected by the deregulation and have them go out and collect the data using the platform, so that then we have a central location of where all of this data's collected. Because the Environmental Protection Agency and the government regulators aren't going to be doing that, probably. So we see it as a really amazing tool for citizen science. It's not why I built it, but now with the whole Trump thing, it's like, maybe we could actually add value in that way by using the platform.
What kind of climate action would you like to see in your own community?
I'm from San Luis Obispo. I was born there. I'm actually on the climate action task force down there. Since there's not affordable housing, people are driving in and driving out for their jobs, so that's a big deal. And then building efficiencies; there are incentives to get all of our buildings more efficient, but since it's such a large renter community, the efficiencies don't necessarily translate to activity, to actually owners increasing their efficiencies in their buildings. And the other thing that we're really interested in is this community power concept, where you choose where you get your power from. There's a group of people that are very active in trying to bring community power to San Luis Obispo. And we actually just hired our first full-time sustainability coordinator. And our mayor, Heidi Harman, she was elected recently, in November, and her No. 1 issue is climate. So, we have a lot of momentum happening down there.
Do you have any experiences or moments that were really formative for you that got you into this environmental field?
So I was a programmer. Well, I was actually a lawyer. I went to law school, and didn't really want to be a lawyer, and then ended up in Silicon Valley and became a programmer. And then I ended up, through my girlfriend, becoming involved in the environmental consulting world. And at that time, I was like, I want to be an entrepreneur, what do I do? And I was reading all these books about how to determine what you would build as a product. And the best piece of advice I got was, pick an industry where you like to hang out with the people, because you're gonna be around them a lot. And I really like biologists. I like botanists. They're kind of weird, they're really smart, they're super into the Earth, they're into nature. I really love nature, so it turned out to be a really good thing for me, because now I get to go to all these conferences, hang out with environmental activists, hang out with biologists, botanists, archaeologists, you know. All of the -ologists.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.