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The Community Environmental Council (CEC) is pleased to welcome Em Johnson as its Director of Climate Resilience, charged with empowering California’s Central Coast communities to better respond, recover, adapt, and thrive in the face of climate change-related disruptions. Johnson takes the place of Sharyn Main who departed CEC in July after spending a cumulative 14 years with CEC, most recently as the Director of Climate Resilience.

Johnson brings a wealth of expertise around rural innovation, social enterprise, and nonprofit leadership to the position. During her five years as Executive Director of the Blue Sky Center, she brought creativity, innovation, and investment into the Cuyama Valley in Central California. She has worked with local entrepreneurs to design and implement collaborative projects aimed to create thriving and inclusive rural communities. One of Blue Sky Center’s successful initiatives is the Cuyama Beverage Co., which partners with local farms and businesses to create jobs and invest in a hyper-local food system in the Cuyama Valley.

“The leadership Em brings around impact investment and nonprofit innovation in our rural regions comes at a critical time as we accelerate our efforts to achieve rapid and equitable solutions to the climate crisis,” said CEC CEO/Executive Director Sigrid Wright. “This year we’ve seen a once-in-a-generation financial investment in climate solutions through the federal Inflation Reduction Act, coupled with a burst of powerful climate legislation in the California legislature. In this moment of great potential and great urgency, CEC’s Climate Resilience team under Em’s leadership is poised to make huge strides in preparing for increased wildfires, heat waves, floods and other climate impacts.”

At Blue Sky Center, Johnson worked to depoliticize climate change, and bridged the divide between urban and rural communities. As a community advocate participating in the development of  the Groundwater Sustainability Plan in Cuyama Valley, Em says she witnessed first-hand the gap between economic justice and climate justice. The experience motivated her to find creative solutions that redirect investments toward community-driven projects and businesses. These efforts led to the development of the Cuyama Valley Community Action Plan, which lays out priorities for rural development as determined by the residents, organizations, and stakeholders in the region.

“Working in the Cuyama Valley has provided me with an on-the-ground opportunity to understand the social and economic challenges of our most vulnerable communities on the Central Coast, and what it takes to advocate, plan, and implement solutions that help these communities thrive,” said Johnson. 

Johnson earned an MBA in Social Entrepreneurship and Strategic Planning at Antioch University in Santa Barbara. In 2020, she made the Pacific Coast Business Times’ “40 Under 40” list, and in 2021 was nominated as an inaugural member of the Rural Futurists cohort sponsored by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and FutureGood. Johnson also sits on the Board of Directors for the Santa Barbara Food Action Network, a sustainable, local food system initiative which CEC helped establish.

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