Story: Derek Eisel

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I grew up in Virginia. My dad was a Vietnam vet and brick layer. Mom worked at the Pentagon. At that time the military in DC was expanding (cold war) and this was drawing many people into the area where I lived. This gave my dad lots of work and also mowed down beautiful forests for housing developments, traffic and sprawl. I remember when the traveling carnival I loved didn’t come to my town anymore because the field where they set up in had been paved over for a parking lot for a K-Mart. I point out these connections because everything is connected – work, environment, class, war… Because of my mom and dad’s hard work I was afforded the opportunity to go to college (which neither of my parents had done) and get an education that allowed me to make more money, and also expanded my mind.

In college I flirted with environmental courses, but at that time the only options were really hard sciences and I found myself more drawn to philosophy classes, particularly ethics and environmental ethics.  After graduating from college (William and Mary), I was offered a job at the pentagon, where I’d interned for three summers (it helped that my mom worked there). I turned down that job because I could not see myself working for the military industrial complex (even though my dear mother and MANY people I deeply respect work/serve in that industry). I also could not see myself living in Virginia because I felt it would not be tolerant of my sexuality, plus my inner hippy was yearning for the west coast. Even though the guys in Virginia and DC were consistently the hottest men I have ever encountered (and also the most closeted and dual-living). I drove cross country to Seattle with two dear friends after one of them chose Seattle rather randomly. I was drawn to it for grunge (this was 1994) and was still reeling from the awful decision I made to stay in my dorm room studying instead of going to see Nirvana when they came to my campus. Still a major regret.  Also I loved trees. I loved trees and heard there were lots of trees and water in and around Seattle.

I remember looking at a map of Seattle while living in Virginia and being excited to go swimming in the Puget sound. I didn’t realize it was 55 degree water year round. I remember looking in the paper for jobs, trying to find environmental jobs, and there were none except for political canvasing jobs. So I did what every philosophy major does when they’re living off credit cards in a strange city: I took a job selling clothes at Banana Republic and worked in a restaurant. I shocked myself by finding out that my favorite parts of those two jobs were selling and accounting ( I kept the books for the restaurant). I went back to school nights for accounting and ended up with a job for a tech recruiting company doing accounting. I saw how much the technologists got paid and decided to do that and after a few years went to a big shipping company, Expeditors, where they hired me to test accounting software.

All of my life I’ve been able to bridge from one career to another with just enough credibility to get going until I can wing enough success out of it to grow into the next thing. I really liked software testing, for years, but had this gnawing anxiety about what I was doing to the planet. I was already a vegetarian and planting trees in Seattle parks with Green Seattle Partnership, volunteering for Seattle Audubon and started a green group at St. James Cathedral (don’t get me started on being a gay catholic), but I was still having a full blown existential crisis about my work (that was bleeding into my relationship and friendships to the point that they were tired of hearing about it). Even my yoga practice wasn’t allowing my mind to be free of this nagging question…what are you doing with your life’s work? So I started asking questions within the company about our carbon footprint, what was it? What were we doing?

Eventually a senior VP called me into his office because he’d heard I was asking these questions. Instead of firing me he told me he needed my help and put me in charge of convening a group of people together to get started. I spent the next six years growing Expeditors’ environmental program, and eventually automating the data and reporting side of that by using Scope 5. I liked Scope 5 so much that a year ago I left Expeditors to help other companies use Scope 5 to collect, quantify and use their sustainability data to save money, tell their stories and engage people in real ways to make a measurable difference. My story and their stories continue to unfold, but it’s safe to say that I’m not suffering from that particular existential crisis anymore.

In another attempt to enjoy my sustainable life, I practice massage and teach yoga and you can find me at www.freerangemassage.net.

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