Women and the Environment

Women and the Environment Symposium Honors Hidden Heroines

The 4th Annual Women and the Environment Symposium, co-hosted by WMEAC and GVSU’s Women’s Center, brought together professionals, students, and concerned citizens throughout West Michigan to explore the intersection of women’s issues and environmental concerns.

One goal of the Women and the Environment Symposium was to recognize several women’s achievements in the environmental movement. By highlighting these “hidden heroines” in the community, the Symposium praised their achievements and encouraged others to step up and follow their lead.

This year, among the three award categories of Women of Hope, Woman of Inspiration, and Woman of Vision, a total of sixteen women were nominated. From those nominations, Autumn Sands, Tammy Ayers, and Ginny Wanty were chosen as the award recipients in each category for their activism and passion in sustainable practices and environmentalism.

Woman of Hope

Autumn Sands has been the Sustainability Coordinator at Barfly Ventures LLC since 2013, and has recently been involved in composting initiatives and anti-fracking advocacy. When nominating Sands for the Women of Hope award, Dan Schoonmaker, the director of the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum, wrote, “Autumn is an unsung heroine for her work as a leader of environmental stewardship and sustainability in the foodservice industry.” He believed that “Autumn best embodies a woman of hope; she brings hope, fresh voices, and diverse perspectives to the ongoing efforts to improve the environment.”

When accepting the award, Sands said that she felt honored and privileged to have won. She spoke about the need to not become discouraged by climate change and environmental decline, but continue to work in hope. “It is very easy for one to get wrapped up in all of the negativity surrounding us every day,” she said, “Especially in the kind of work that we do. Often times, with so many of these kinds of issues and the constant flow of bad news – it can seem like there is no hope. It wasn’t until I began to really reach out – joining numerous community and environmental organizations and meeting so many amazing individuals who were fighting the same fight that I was – that I truly began to see and feel the hope.” Amid discouragement, Sands can bring hope for a better future for West Michigan.

Woman of Inspiration

In the words of Alicia Crawford, a Materials Chemistry Specialist at Steelcase and Tammy Ayer’s nominator: “Tammy Lynn Ayers is a green chemistry rockstar.” Ayers is a veteran member of the Global Environmental Sustainability department at Steelcase and currently manages the Materials Chemistry platform. Praising Ayers’ work for environmental consciousness in corporate chemistry, Crawford upheld her as a role model, writing, “She’s a guiding light in corporate sustainability.”

Ayers was chosen from among many deserving women for the Woman of Inspiration award, and she expressed feeling “honored to be awarded the award, especially given the work of so many deserving woman leaders in sustainability.” In her acceptance, she spoke about the value of intentionally pausing to recognize other people’s achievements in sustainability, saying, “It’s rewarding to know that in a world filled with endless opportunities, taking the time to identify and connect ones with greater meaning can result in new voices of inspiration, changing lives for the better, and creating the momentum for positive change.” Ayers will definitely continue to inspire her colleagues and fellow community members in her dedicated work and careful leadership.

Woman of Vision

Ginny Wanty was nominated by three women who all believed her unsung work to eradicate invasive species should be recognized. Her work has helped connect community members with their parks, conserve local nature centers’ ecosystems, and co-chair the West Michigan Cluster of the Stewardship Network, as well as initiating a Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area in West Michigan. Her nominators, Jeanette Henderson, Jessie Schulte, and Nancy McIntyre believe her to be “truly a woman of vision and an unsung heroine.”

During her acceptance remarks, Wanty shared a personal story about a car accident and hospital visit, using it to demonstrate a pivotal moment in her life when she realized what was truly important to her. After that incident, she dedicated her time and energy to environmental work. She spoke about how she moved back to Grand Rapids and rekindling some of her former connections where I could put her knowledge and expertise to work. Ever since then, she has been working hard in various capacities for conservation and environmentalism. “It means so much to be noticed for the work we are trying to do to improve and keep balanced the natural communities of West Michigan,” she said while accepting the award. Wanty is a premiere example of someone working passionately and tirelessly towards a vision. “The West Michigan community is a very special place, filled with very special people and habitats,” she said. “We need to continue to work together to keep the vision going.”

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