November & December 2023 - Sustainability Champion: Phil Boutelle

We are excited to feature Phil Boutelle, Associate Engineer at UCSC as Sustainability Champion. Read on to learn about him and his work.

November 15, 2023



Tell us a bit about yourself, your background, and how your path led to where you are today. phil-boutelle-400.jpg

I had a “non-traditional path” and became an engineer late. 

My first time in school I went to Humboldt State University to study music and I dropped out to play music, but I realized I was not cut out for that lifestyle.

Ironically I liked Humboldt, and was attracted to it, because they had the California Center for Appropriate Technology, which is an early sustainable engineer program and focus center. But I went there because of my interest in studying music. So I missed a great opportunity then.

I decided to go back to college and started looking into a future career. I knew I wanted to work in energy, as this was the field I was passionate about. 

During that time I went to a workshop on how to convert a car to run with vegetable oil, led by a mechanical engineer. I liked how he solved problems and helped us solve problems, and was very influenced by this person. It made me look again into engineering, which I had thought of when I was younger. 

After some exploration on what I could do, I talked to a lot of people in the field, and decided that engineering would be the right path for me.

I came back, enrolled at Cabrillo College where I got an associate's degree, and then transferred to San Jose State [University] to study engineering.

In your role as Associate Engineer, what is your routine like and what are the projects on the horizon that you are excited about? 

In my day-to-day, I have around 20 projects at a time. And that means interacting with different people, departments, divisions, staff, faculty, students, colleagues, all over campus all the time. 

Sometimes it is in person, sometimes I'm doing site visits. It could be a sidewalk with a consulting engineer, or it could be working with the campus inspector to verify the contractors are doing what we want, or it could be a Zoom meeting with campus stakeholders. 

phill on stageI always think it comes back to interacting with people and finding out what the real need is before you go solve the problem.

As far as what I am excited about, that is easy: It is all about Decarbonization & Electrification. It's both exciting and daunting. It's a challenge, but I think the campus is providing support and that is very empowering for someone like me who wants to do this work.

What is the most challenging and the most rewarding part of your work?

Lately, the most challenging thing would be… I don't want to say the bureaucracy. I think it is people’s resistance to change. I will say this is probably the most challenging part of my work.

The most rewarding? I'm very mission driven, and I get to feel like I'm making a difference in what I do and it is exciting to be a part of that at UCSC. My whole career has been like that, trying to make a difference and I enjoy doing that. But UCSC has something special about, again, the people that you interact with. It is such a people facing job, and you interact with so many people while helping to solve problems, or taking it to the next level, whatever that is. It really fulfills people as well, and that is really rewarding.

What does sustainability mean to you?

I won't pretend to try to redefine sustainability, but talk about the sustainability stuff that I strive for and think are attainable. I think it is described as urban environmentalism and abundance. If everybody had a place to live, if there was enough housing, for example, near where you work or go to school, we could significantly reduce our environmental impact. 

It translates into individual choices that we want to make as sustainable minded but people are really limited by what our policy choices are, and infrastructure that actually limits the choices we have.

So I think the sustainable vision is to make it easier for people to choose to walk their kids to school, or have the kids walk to school, or ride a bike to work, because it's not far and the roads are safe. That's kind of the little narrower sustainability that I like to think about.

So, for me, I want a healthy and sustainable place for all of us to thrive and that is really inclusive. Everybody has a right to live near where they work, or where they want to live. That's the core of what a sustainable vision is, for the society I want to live in.

Is there anything else about the work you do that you would like to share?

I just don't want to sound too cliché when I say that, but I'm excited for the future, for my own future and for the future of the campus. We painted a great roadmap and I think we're all pretty privileged to be here working at this time with people that are passionate about sustainability. It is a great time to be working at UCSC and UC in general.

Lastly, what do you do for fun outside of work?

I play soccer as much as I can and my body will let me. I used to play music but not so much anymore. Mostly, I like to play soccer.