A Visit with Allison Schumacher
Director, Environmental Policy & Sustainability
Consumer Technology Association (CTA)
The term “sustainability” has become so ubiquitous that some observers think it has lost some power – it’s in danger of being kind of like “natural” in food marketing. Is that your understanding?
Not really. I think the terminology is still relevant. That sustainability has become part of the public discourse strikes me as a good thing.
You’ve worked in the field of environmental economics and sustainability your entire career.
Partly, I suppose, that’s because I always thought of it as the “family business.” My father worked in the nuclear energy field, and I remember writing a paper in seventh grade on the viability of nuclear power. I remember hearing Dad debate nuclear vs. coal with the father of a girl on my swim team who worked for Con Edison in Illinois, and I’d listen to their debates rather than hang out with the kids.
And your husband works in the environmental field, too?
Yes, I married an environmental markets attorney. Friends tell us our dinner parties can be dull because we speak a shared language about our shared passion, which is clean tech and the environment. We try to steer conversations away from that!
There’s a lot of legislative and regulatory activity in that area right now.
There is. I just got back from the 2017 CES [the CTA’s annual tradeshow] — its 50th anniversary — and there were two dozen new state bills on my desk. But those are only the ones that dropped week one. In 2016, we had to deal with more than 200 federal, state and local environmental bills. In the state legislatures, there’s always a flurry of activity at the beginning of every legislative session.
To what extent does that reflect the sense that Washington has been so polarized that not much is going to get done at the federal level?
There’s certainly a feeling in several states that the Environmental Protection Agency could be doing more. In any case, federalism is alive and well, meaning the states are very active. For us and our members, it is always a balancing act between achieving what is good for the economy and what is good for the environment. Some Western states like California, Oregon and Washington, like to be in the vanguard with environmental policies that other states try to pick up. It’s a challenge when the states start building on what other states have done, and it becomes a regulatory patchwork. All that can make it difficult to balance the cost of doing business, the cost of growing the economy, and the cost to the consumer, with the environmental benefits.
If you’d pursued a different career, what might it have been?
My undergraduate work was in international relations and broadcast journalism. I really admired reporters back then. I loved Walter Cronkite, and I admired Diane Sawyer. Today, journalism has changed so much with the 24-hour news cycle that I find it harder to identify with the reporters.
Is there a book you’d recommend?
I really love Anne-Marie Slaughter’s Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family. She was director of policy planning at the State Department, and her book gives a perceptive and realistic look at the challenges facing women and families — and caregivers in general. I have experienced some of these challenges myself. I have 7-year-old twin daughters and a 4-year-old son.
And you have a long commute.
Yes, CTA’s offices are in Arlington, Va., but we recently moved to Round Hill, Va., which is about 50 miles northwest of Washington. You might be surprised at the number of people who commute these long distances — some even from West Virginia — to their jobs in the D.C. area. More and more people do this, for quality-of-life reasons.
Contact Allison at 703.907.7631 or firstname.lastname@example.org.