2009 Emerging Leaders

Kristen Taddonio

Created a unique industry-government alliance that is accelerating adoption of greener technologies.

As a graduate student at George Washington University, Kristen Taddonio was taught that environmental protection was a trade-off: one could choose either economic or environmental progress, but not both.

Unwilling to accept the conventional wisdom, Taddonio is now using her position at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to bridge this gap with new technologies that help both industry and the environment.

Taddonio, 26, is part of a new generation of young federal workers choosing to use their tech savvy and advanced degrees to bring about change in the public sector, often forgoing the bigger salaries that lure others to private industry. Already, she has accomplished an incredible amount: she co-authored a United Nations book on the landmark Montreal Protocol, has traveled extensively in the United States and around the world to lecture on environmental issues, and has worked with government and industry alike to change their practices.

Currently, Taddonio is working with General Motors and other auto makers on alternative refrigerant systems for automobile air conditioners designed to reduce pollution. “This translates into money saved and better A/C reliability for drivers like you and me, all while protecting the environment,” she said.

Twenty years ago, Taddonio said cars used refrigerants that damaged the earth’s protective ozone layer. “Today, refrigerants are much better, but they are still powerful greenhouse gases: one pound of refrigerant leaking from your car has the same global warming impact as over 1,400 pounds of carbon dioxide,” said Taddonio.

Increasing the use of more eco-friendly refrigerants has not been obstacle free. Taddonio had to strike up partnerships with two car associations, overcome bureaucratic and industry resistance to change, motivate an industry that was not always interested in being more environmentally conscious, and work to update antiquated state laws.

“Laws were outdated; technology had improved. If they weren’t changed, if states weren’t made aware, then we would have had been locked in with refrigerants with terribly high global warming potential.”

Working directly with the automotive industry and the states, Kristen has already contributed to changing these laws in fifteen states.

Her boss and mentor at EPA, Stephen Andersen, described Taddonio as an innovative powerhouse. “Kristen has the right combination of skills to accomplish the impossible,” said Andersen. “She’s very smart, highly educated, widely experienced, environmentally concerned, technically optimistic, and consistently demonstrates people skills equally effective with environmentalists, engineers and business managers.”

Taddonio started at the EPA in 2003 as an intern with the ENERGY STAR program, which helps Americans save money and protect the environment through energy efficient products and practices. Today, she is working on a new program designed to accelerate the market success of technologies with significant potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The program provides recognition to select new environmental technologies, a model similar to ENERGY STAR.

“Because of these programs, people will have access to better technology for lower costs, experience fewer air-pollution-related health problems and be less at risk from the consequences of climate change,” Taddonio said.

Scott Stone, longtime advocate of international environmental law and policy, admires Taddonio’s work. “Kristen’s efforts will help address the paramount challenges posed by climate and energy issues, and at the same time, she’ll also play an important role in boosting innovation, which in turn contributes new jobs, new products and services, increased productivity, and many other benefits to the U.S. economy,” said Stone.

In addition to her dedication to the environment, Taddonio is quick to mention her devotion to the public sector.

“I’ve worked for EPA for five years now, and I’ve loved every minute of it. I got involved because I wanted to make a difference, “I wanted to make a career out of doing something that I believed in,” said Taddonio. “The EPA has provided me that opportunity, and more.