Growing Up Green

MES in the Community, Greg Kelder

How one lawyer translated his childhood dreams into a thriving environmental career

Greg Kelder (Master of Environmental Studies, ’10) has had a lifelong relationship with the great outdoors. Growing up in the Hudson Valley, Greg and his family spent their time visiting national parks, hiking the Adirondacks and driving 25 miles to nearby recycling plants to do their part to help the environment. He reminisces, “My parents were recycling when no one was recycling.”

When it was time to pick an undergraduate major, unfortunately, there weren’t as many opportunities in the environmental field in the mid-80’s. “I majored in political science with a minor in pre-law at the State University of New York at New Paltz and went to law school at Rutgers, which, at the time, only offered one environmental course. I, of course, took it. That made me somewhat of an expert back then,” he laughs.

Greg translated his passion for the environment and his legal background into a thriving career in the insurance industry. Nowadays, Greg is the Vice President of Claims at the Brandywine Group of Insurance and Reinsurance Companies, a subsidiary of the ACE Group, where he helps businesses manage their environmental risks through insurance products. “People don’t think of insurance as being related to environmental issues, but we’re intricately connected to the global economy and global environmental issues. It was insurance companies that originally undertook many of the early climate change studies because we are impacted by severe storm events and many of the consequences of climate change.”

Greg has been in his field for nearly three decades, but the large-scale environmental focus of businesses and institutions is a fairly recent development. “I’ve seen a complete turnaround over the expanse of my career in environmental education and corporate responsibility,” he says. Greg’s deeply-rooted passion for his work and desire to continue making a positive impact led him to Penn’s Master of Environmental Studies (MES)—which is now celebrating its 20th anniversary. Much like Greg’s parents and their recycling, Penn was offering a Master of Environmental Studies when many universities weren’t.

The MES program introduced Greg to earth sciences and environmental policy courses, which gave him a brand-new perspective and authority in his field. “I wanted to have more technical expertise on the legal side. When I talked about bio remediation or safe transport of contaminants, I wanted to have a better understanding of the science of legal issues. It gave me more credibility in my industry and my profession,” he adds.

While studying at Penn, Greg traveled to Antarctica with the Wharton School and spoke to future business leaders about how their decisions can impact remote locations. “When we hiked on the beaches of Antarctica, we saw plastics wash ashore, which was really sad in such a pristine, beautiful environment,” he shares, “but it helped drive the lesson home.”

Greg also traveled to Amman, Jordan with MES professor Stan Laskowski to give institutional strengthening training to environmental leaders in the Middle East and Northern Africa on how to regulate and enforce environmental issues in their countries. The highlight of Greg’s travels through the MES program was attending World Water Week in Stockholm, Sweden. Needless to say, his hands-on training in the environmental field was anything but ordinary.

Greg managed to do all of this while studying part-time and working full-time. “It was a busy time, but very energizing and invigorating,” he recalls, “When I think about the MES program, the faculty and the students, the one word that comes to mind is, ‘passion.’ I’m still very connected to the MES network—two weeks ago I had coffee with the director of Professional Masters Programs in Earth and Environmental Science, Yvette Bordeaux.”

When Greg isn’t hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro, vacationing in Cape Cod or mentoring future environmental lawyers through the Environmental Inn of Court, he’s the acting secretary for Global Water Alliance—a non-profit that helps bring water sanitation hygiene to the developing world and helps the UN reach its sustainability goals.

From overlooking the Hudson River in his childhood home to overlooking Independence Hall from his office, Greg Kelder has had extraordinary experiences in the environmental field—and he’s giving no signs of slowing down anytime soon.