When Kerry C. Duggan was a senior at Detroit Country Day School, she signed up for an environmental studies class, thinking it would be a blow-off course. That class ended up changing her world.
“My perspective on everything (changed),” Duggan said. “In that course I read Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, which really got me looking at the world I live in differently.
“So that’s kind of where I set off on my course,” Duggan continued.
The work she’s done in the environmental world since graduating high school would definitely make her former teacher proud.
Not only did she work for the Department of Energy during President Barack Obama’s administration – where she ran the legislative, regulatory, and urban affairs for the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy office – but she worked directly with Vice President Joe Biden as his Deputy Director for Policy, which she said was an insane joy.
Duggan – who has her undergraduate degree in Environmental Studies and her masters degree in Natural Resource Policy & Behavior – may have been in Washington D.C. for the better part of the past decade, but she never lost her connection to Detroit.
“It’s funny, I ran into a colleague at Whole Foods not too long ago, and with great excitement I said that I was moving back or that I’d moved back and he said, ‘I never knew you left,’” she laughed. “I’ve been gone for the better part of 10 years but I’ve always been able to keep one arm tied to Michigan in some fashion.”
Including during her time at the DOE, where she served as the Secretary of Energy’s liaison to the city of Detroit. Her focus was on the street lighting conversion to LEDs, manufacturing, renewable power generation, energy efficiency, and sustainable transportation.
For Duggan, the work she got to do as a liaison was amazing.
“The on-the-ground work I was able to do on behalf of President Obama in Detroit was the most meaningful work of my career,” Duggan said. “Because it's real impact, it's people being able to come home safely, kids getting to and from school safely. When I started that work, half the street lights were completely out and the quality of lighting was not great.”
Now she’s back in her home state permanently. Duggan said she wanted the opportunity to raise her children among the Great Lakes and her family, who are all in metro Detroit. She also knew she could have an impact here.
Since coming back, Duggan has co-founded Smart Cities Lab with a group of fellow former senior Obama Administration officials, started a consulting business, and most recently, she became a partner in the Sustainability Practice of RIDGE-LANE LP, which is where her sole focus currently is. She also joined the board of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, which she was on the board of 10 years ago as well.
When asked about watching the current administration from the outside, Duggan said it is certainly upsetting but she doesn’t focus on it. Instead she puts all of that energy into her work at RIDGE-LANE LP.
“I’ve joined a national firm with a bunch of top-shelf people who are prone to action,” Duggan said. “So we’re going to leverage our selective power to effect change. I’m doing all that I can with what I can.”
And she shows no signs of slowing down.
“I’ve had an interesting career so far and I’m just getting warmed up,” Duggan said.
Photo: Jean Lannen