“One of my most vivid childhood memories is canoeing on the river with my dad and tipping the canoe and falling in. As I fell out of the light and into the dark water, I remember thinking about how quickly things change, and about how I needed to adapt to that change. In that moment, the river showed me that the world we live in is powerful and constantly changing. I wanted to learn more about it.”
Growing up on the idyllic St. Croix River in Stillwater, Minnesota, helped form Sheryl Corrigan’s views as a scientist, government regulator and environmental leader. Today, making the connection between the environment and the benefits it brings to all of us continues to inform her approach as environmental, health and safety director at Koch.
In a visit back to the river she grew up on, Sheryl explains how her current mission is intertwined with the world at large.
“The environment isn’t a static thing. It isn’t just ‘there’s the environment’ and ‘then there’s people.’ We humans are part of the environment. We shape it, and it shapes us. I was reminded of that every day by the changing landscapes in the river valley.”
Sheryl’s love of the outdoors and developing views on the environment drew her to study geology at the University of Minnesota. Her first job out of school was as a “wading-boots-on-the-ground” young scientist – collecting water samples in the rivers, streams and lakes of Minnesota for the state’s pollution control agency.
She credits this early field experience with helping her understand what environmental science looks like at its very foundation, reinforcing her view that people, natural resources and the environment are all part of the same equation. And after numerous environment-related jobs, she was appointed commissioner of Minnesota’s pollution control agency.
“We’re not just part of it. We don’t just take care of it. We are it.”
“I was given an extraordinary opportunity to lead a great organization, and to put the learnings from my previous roles into play. A couple of our accomplishments I am particularly proud of,” Sheryl exclaimed. “First, the Clean Water Legacy Act was enacted by the state legislature as the outcome of many groups working together to balance the needs of citizens, cities, agriculture and industry to use the water resources in Minnesota responsibly. We also passed groundbreaking mercury legislation, which led to mercury reduction in Minnesota’s waterways.”
Circa 1990, Lake of the Woods. Sheryl’s entire career has been dedicated to furthering environmental causes.
Sheryl also spearheaded an idea about a voluntary project to reduce particulate – “soot” emissions from the diesel engines of school buses. This involved partnering with Flint Hills Resources, a Koch company. She discovered that Koch shared her values and beliefs about the necessary connections between people, natural resources and the environment. Ten years later, this program called Project Green Fleet is still a resounding success. To date, the project has retrofitted 4,600 engines, and removed an amount of particulate from Minnesota air equal to taking 750,000 cars off the road permanently.
“It led me to asking Koch if I could work for them in an environmental role,” Sheryl said.
Today, her environmental, health and safety leadership helps keep employees and communities safe, while driving better environmental performance through innovation.
“At Koch, I have never been told ‘no’ to any proposal that was good for people and the environment. Because that very same passion for making lives better and using resources responsibly exists at the highest levels of our company.”
Sheryl pauses. Her stream of thoughts return to the river.
“Tipping that canoe started me on a path that led me to where I am today. It shaped my values and beliefs. People, natural resources and the environment are all connected and dynamic. We make life better for all by using our resources responsibly to make the things that we all need.
“That’s what environmentalism is to me.”
Sheryl shares a personal story as evidence that dedication to the environment can and does make a big difference.