sustainable winchester Carolyn Starrett started Sustainable Winchester, a nonprofit organization, in 2005. It’s mission is to educate and raise awareness about sustainability so that residents, officials, and community organizations can be empowered to take action in their day-to-day lives and to incorporate sustainability into our community. Their programs have helped many Winchester homes and public buildings become more energy efficient, facilitated cost-efficient solar power installation for homes, helped to start our Winchester Farmers Market, and lead a path for our town to become a Green Community, qualifying it to be eligible for state grants on our energy projects. A current home energy-efficiency program is WinSAVE2016 which offers extra savings for seniors.

Interview with Carolyn Starrett

Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you started Sustainable Winchester.

I moved to Winchester in 1989, really fresh out of college, and I’ve lived here ever since. I lived here for a while and wasn’t really connected with the community at all. Like a lot of us, I’d just come home at the end of a long day at work and hunker down. Back in 2005, I was taking a transformation leadership type seminar. I just felt like I wanted to shake things up. The question they asked everybody was: If you could pick one part of your life, one group, whether it’s your family or your group of friends, your workplace, or whatever, and you wanted to make a difference, what would you like to do? I thought of Winchester, and at the time we didn’t have an environmental group. I thought “Wouldn’t that be great if we had one?” With the help of that program laying out the roadmap, I put a notice out that I was starting an environmental group in Winchester and anybody would be welcome. That meeting was at the library, and 20 people came. The really cool thing was that beforehand, I didn’t know what to expect – I could be sitting there in a room by myself. I thought “You know, it would be amazing if 20 people came.” And exactly 20 people came! We’ve been meeting weekly ever since, really, and just working on different projects.

When you started building Sustainable Winchester, what were some of the biggest challenges you faced?

Just my own fear was probably the biggest thing that I needed to work on. That’s why the structure of this transformation seminar helped because they walked participants through each step. I had a couple friends here and there, but they weren’t necessarily environmentally inclined, so I just didn’t have that community within my town. There was a broader environment community regionally, there were groups I would connect with, but within my own town there was nobody. So just the fear of reaching out, not knowing anyone, not knowing what kind of reception I was going to get, if people were going to just think it was a silly idea – that was the hardest thing.

What have been some of the biggest highlights so far?

It’s been so gratifying to see the community building that has happened, and for me personally, I have this whole new group of friends and we have common interests. That’s just been so rewarding. On the individual projects, at the beginning we just started educating people about how to reduce energy in their homes. We had some seminars and we’ve been continuing that along the way. We did the first solar project on the high school. We got the high school panels by getting a certain number of people in town to pledge to the Clean Energy Fund, and then we won an installation from this organization. Since then, we’ve done a big solarized project, SolarizeMA. We got 40 homeowners to put solar on their homes. Then, Fred Yen came to us a few years in and said, “Hey, we should have a farmers market in Winchester!” and we said “Great! Go for it, we’ll be right behind you!” It was his brainchild, but we’re the 501c3 and the organizing body for it. We were able to provide some volunteers and other support. It’s been hugely gratifying to see that community being built in Winchester. At the Winchester Farmers Market on Saturdays you come out and see people running into each other serendipitously and having great conversations. We just didn’t have that a few years ago, so that’s been really fun!

What do you think has been your organization’s biggest contribution to Winchester?

Probably the Winchester Farmers Market which, as I said, was Fred Yen’s baby. Other towns around us had them, and we were able to put ours on this beautiful Common that we have. We figured, let’s take advantage of that resource, it’s a central place where people can come and run into their neighbors and just hang out and listen to music.

What do you want the legacy of your organization to be?

It would be great if we could point to specific environmental gains we’ve made, whether it’s mostly reducing carbon, that’s the main thing. Also to say that we helped build the community, that’s really important to me, and that we really strove to be inclusive. I really try to keep it completely non-partisan. You don’t have to be a Green Democrat to be in our group; we have Republicans, we have conservatives, we have the whole spectrum. Young, old, male, female, whoever you are, you’re welcome in the group.

Do you think being a woman has impacted how people view you as a businessperson/or head of an organization?

I wonder about that, but I haven’t felt that necessarily. I had a recent conversation with a friend of mine in town who’s very involved in organizations and town business and she has felt it. I’m surprised at that – I guess it depends on what pocket of town government and volunteerism you work in, but I can’t say that I’ve felt that, really.

Who is one woman who has inspired you?

Jane Goodall, someone who for decades just keeps plugging along on whatever her passion is. It’s all about educating people and doing it in a gentle, non-judgmental way for the most part even though she’s dealing with people who do horrendous things sometimes.

Any advice to other female entrepreneurs?

Do whatever you need to set aside your fear. Or, you know, often fear can’t be set aside. Just push through it and know that if you have your vision in mind of what you’re trying to go for, keep your mind on that, and say “I know the fear is there, but I’m going to ignore it today and keep going.”