Many Harvard students choose to study environmental science, policy, and engineering, but what do those same students do after they leave the Square? I posed this question to Mark Ginalski, who earned a Master’s in Public Administration at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Though armed with a law degree, Mr. Ginalski aimed his expertise instead at the renewable energy sector, and has since dedicated ten years in the field. His curriculum vitae details a list of accolades and leadership roles: a former CEO of ToxFree and Commissioner of Marin County in California, Mark currently works as General Counsel for SunLink, a company that provides integrated solar photovoltaic system solutions. Below, he offers his insight, professional experiences, and advice on life after Harvard.
Jahred: Let’s start broad. What motivates your interest in renewable energy?
Mark: Climate change and the need to manage diminishing fossil fuel reserves are among the biggest challenges now facing the planet. In order to secure the future for ourselves and the generations to follow, we must act now to reduce energy consumption, and substantially cut greenhouse gases—to ignore this problem today, will ensure that future generations will have to address it in the future.
Jahred: Why solar? Why SunLink?
Mark: Solar, much like the development of the automobile last century is a game-changer. The US solar photovoltaic industry has been one of the fast growing sectors of the economy over the last decade. Clean tech venture capital investment has increased steadily in the same time period and advancement in engineering and innovative products (such as those provided by SunLink) have driven costs to a level where typical people can afford to operate a home solar energy system.
Jahred: Give us a little more information about your professional life. What has your professional trajectory been like after graduating from the Kennedy School? Any noteworthy contrasts between work in the public and private sectors?
Mark: 2008 was the year of “too big to fail” —the economic collapse caused me to re-think my course following graduation. Instead of pursuing law practice at a firm, I started Tox-Free, a renewable “waste-to-energy” enterprise. At the same time I ran for public office – it was, as Professor Porter noted in a class I had taken, a living study at the intersection of public and private sectors, addressing “how government policies affect the competitive positions of individual firms and industries and how firms and industries compete to influence such policies.”
Jahred: What’s a day in the life of the General Counsel at SunLink?
Mark: It is like being strapped to the outside of a SpaceX booster rocket. The industry is constantly changing in response to new economic and regulatory forces – each day is an opportunity to wear several hats: law, policy, government relations, finance all touch my work life on a daily basis.
Jahred: Do you find yourself using your graduate or undergraduate studies in your career?
Mark: Yes, I use my formal education constantly, but it is important to remember the lessons from grade school—in many ways, those lessons are more important.
Jahred: If you had to give one bit of advice to a student interested in a career in renewable energy, public policy, or sustainability, what would it be?
Mark: Travel to gain perspective. Observe how others live, what is cherished by others, and why. After all, no matter where we are on the planet, the original form of solar energy is a nuclear power plant located 93 million miles away—it really is all about context.
Jahred: To conclude, where do you see SunLink, solar, and/or renewable energy going?
Mark: The solar sector should be viewed as an environmental service industry. We have created a fair number of projects to capture solar energy during the day, but have few choices when it comes to the storage of energy or “shaving” peak loads. While battery technology is all the rage right now, it will probably produce another environmental issue in the future. Technologies such as pyrolysis—which convert waste into energy, may be coupled with solar arrays to produce a 24 hour per day clean energy system, known as “solrolysis.” This combined technology will allow for the production of clean energy while remediating land-fills and toxic waste sites. We have established a joint venture to bring solrolysis to an island nation this year—this could be the next new thing.