Sean Skaling '91

 

twin passions

Sean Skaling '91 works for Green Star and recognizes environmentally responsible companies.
Sean Skaling '91 works for Green Star and recognizes environmentally responsible companies.
During a chat in his office in downtown Anchorage, two facts emerge about Sean Skaling '91: he knows only one speed—full, and he thrives on two passions—skiing and environmental education/protection. His Alaska license plate is "WE SKI," and he is executive director of Green Star, an award-winning environmental nonprofit that helps businesses go green.

Passion number one began at Colby, where Skaling competed on the Nordic ski team, usually finishing just behind Marc Gilbertson '91, who later competed in the 30K cross-country ski race at the 1998 Olympics.

Skaling studied psychology at Colby. After graduation he coached the Colby ski team for two years and then went to the University of Colorado, where he earned a master's in sports psychology. In 1996 he and his wife, Jennifer Dorsey Skaling '93, whom he met while roller skiing at Colby, moved to Alaska. Jenny had grown up in Alaska and, an equal lure, Alaska presented great cross-country skiing opportunities. They nicknamed their first condo in Anchorage "the ski chalet."

Skaling, who has become a superior biathlete, waxes (pun intended) poetic about cross-country skiing in Alaska. "There are hundreds of kilometers of groomed cross-country trails, a plethora of wilderness trails, and great wilderness crust skiing in the spring," he said. Crust skiing entails skate-skiing across the crust of snow in remote valleys in morning hours during what New Englanders think of as maple sugaring weather—freeze at night, thaw during the day.

Passion number two: Skaling's life is driven by his desire to create a greener world, especially a greener business world. Happily, he's found a position and a place to feed that need.

When he moved to Alaska in 1996 he landed a job as the membership director of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, a position he terms, "a great entrée to city life." One minor program within the chamber was Green Star, which, Skaling explained, "gave merit badges to businesses that ran 'green.'"

In 1996, a month before Skaling began work at the chamber, Green Star became a separate nonprofit organization, and in 1999 Skaling was named its executive director. Today Green Star is a full-fledged environmental organization with a staff of four professionals with advanced degrees. Green Star recognizes businesses and organizations that voluntarily meet and exceed Green Star's high standards of environmental responsibility. When these standards have been met and peer-reviewed to the satisfaction of the Green Star Standards Committee, the organization receives the Green Star Award, which focuses on waste reduction, or the Air Quality Award, which targets outdoor air quality.

In addition to running the awards program, conducting energy audits, and sponsoring educational events, Green Star has piloted several innovative environmental efforts.

"People were constantly asking me, 'What should we do with old computers?' so we established an electronics recycling program," Skaling said. At its height, the three-day program involved 325 volunteers and the use of 35 40-foot trailers (all donated), which hauled away the used electronic material for shipment to a private firm in Seattle. Impressed with the size and scope of that effort, the Seattle firm decided to set up another operation right in Anchorage, so Green Star was able to hand off the program.

"It was a huge coordination effort," Skaling said, "but I was thrilled at the success."

Skaling has been recognized as one of Alaska's 40 top leaders under 40 by the Alaska Journal of Commerce.

—David Treadwell