Linsey Nancarrow is the creative director of Sustainable Innovation at Indigo Slate in Seattle, where she is leading a new effort to work with clients on sustainable business initiatives. Learn about Linsey Nancarrow…
Hometown: The delightful town of Montesano, WA, where I went to junior high and high school. It’s two hours southwest of Seattle and known for Christmas tree farms and small-town charm.
What was your first job? I was a summer intern at the local county prosecutor’s office, a job I was lucky to inherit from my older sister, who was a real go-getter [and] on her way to becoming an attorney. You could already tell then that I was bound for more creative pursuits because I spent as much of my time as possible drawing delightful pictures on filing-cabinet labels, redesigning office forms and making an eye-catching poster for their table at the county fair. I also neglected to learn anything about law.
What are your favorite ways to spend your free time in Washington? An absolute highlight of my day is walking around my Seattle neighborhood while listening to podcasts—usually about sustainability. I’ll get so wrapped up and excited by new ideas; sometimes I come home and immediately scribble all my thoughts out on paper. One of these days I’m going to wake up and realize I’ve written an entire book about sustainable innovation. I love it so much. When I’m not busy daydreaming about clever and fun ways to save the world, my all-time favorite activity is river floating. In fact, I love any activity that involves playing in the water. I am very happy going on camping trips, hikes, bike trips and weekend getaways, but all of these are better when swimming is involved. Maybe I’ll need to try this with podcasts…
What’s your biggest accomplishment and why? I am so excited that we just launched our Sustainable Innovation practice at my company, Indigo Slate! Within about five minutes of my joining the company, everyone knew I was really into sustainability. I was bringing it up [in] projects, leading internal initiatives and giving talks about it, but I was still hungry to make a bigger impact. Now, with our new Sustainable Innovation offering and the incredible team we’ve brought together, I have basically created my own dream job. I get to use all my creative design-thinking skills from years of design consulting to help businesses figure out innovative, exciting ways to become more sustainable. It’s this magical combination of doing something I love to do, that I’m super good at, and that the world really needs. I truly can’t think of any work I would rather be doing. It’s amazing.
What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome? It was a big challenge for me to develop the confidence to speak up for what I care about at work. Before joining Indigo Slate, I took a career break and spent a few years full-time parenting. During that time, I started to doubt my value in the professional world, even though at the same time I was strengthening my sense of self-worth as a person outside my career. I’ve known a lot of other moms who have struggled with professional confidence too as they attempt to juggle competing demands in their lives. Something magical happened for me when I returned to design strategy work—I discovered that I was still great at what I do professionally, while also feeling more confident in myself with or without a paid job. This combination sparked a new kind of fearlessness in me, and since then I’ve become very outspoken about doing work that matters. The best part is that instead of getting myself into trouble by speaking up about sustainability all the time, it’s only opened up amazing opportunities, like the chance to create our Sustainable Innovation practice.
Who inspires you and why? My two biggest heroes are Christiana Figueres and Mary Robinson, both incredibly rad women leaders in the climate movement. Christiana Figueres is a diplomat from Costa Rica who negotiated the 2015 Paris climate agreement. I admire her determination to make the climate negotiations a success, despite countless people claiming it couldn’t be done. I also love her unwavering insistence that we all must practice optimism as a deliberate choice, as that is the only mindset that will lead to solutions. Even thinking about it now gives me chills. Mary Robinson was the first woman president of Ireland and has spent decades advocating for human rights and climate justice. It was her work linking climate change and feminism that first introduced me to the idea of climate change as a human rights issue and set me on the path to [pursuing] sustainability in my professional work.
What advice would you give to someone pursuing a career path like yours? I would love to see more people getting ambitious about sustainability in their own professional lives. Often that starts with realizing that you don’t need to change jobs to do sustainability work. In almost any role, there are plenty of ways to make an impact right where you are. Next, I encourage people to question the boundaries that limit the impact they can have. Go after ideas that fall outside of your job description, that have impact outside of your organization and create ripple effects outside your industry. The other side of those boundaries is where the most impactful change can happen. My last suggestion is to learn about design thinking. It’s a really effective and fun process for problem-solving, and it is such a great tool for creating innovative, sustainable solutions. I [gain] a lot of joy working on sustainability projects, and I hope more people get to experience that too.
What’s your favorite quote? “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” —Margaret Mead
What would someone be surprised to learn about you? I’m actually a terrible environmentalist at home. It isn’t for lack of trying, but so many of the workarounds for being more sustainable—like going plastic-free or vegan or flying less—involve so much extra research, effort and sacrifice that I’ve bailed on many of them. I have huge respect and appreciation for people who make big sustainable lifestyle changes. For me, the experience of trying has doubled down my determination to drive change at a bigger, systems-level scale. Sign me up for plastic-free grocery stores, plant-based meal deliveries and clean air travel!
What makes someone fabulous? Knowing their purpose in the world and acting on it.