The Charles River Watershed Association announced that it has named Emily Norton, who is currently director of the Massachusetts Chapter of the Sierra Club, as CRWA’s new executive director. She succeeds longtime CRWA Executive Director Bob Zimmerman.
Norton, of Newton, brings widespread experience in both politics and environmental advocacy to CRWA. Prior to joining the Sierra Club, she worked as a research and communications consultant to the Conservation Law Foundation, the Environmental Defense Fund and the U.S. EPA ENERGY STAR Program. Norton is also an elected city councilor in Newton and spent several years as a fundraiser for the Democratic Leadership Council in Washington, D.C., and as finance director for a Congressional campaign on Cape Cod.
“Emily has the perfect set of skills to lead CRWA’s mission to protect, preserve and enhance the Charles River and its watershed,” said Zimmerman, who is retiring July 1. “She will not only strengthen CRWA’s voice but will also broaden its role in this critical time for the environment and climate change.”
CRWA, formed in 1965, uses science, advocacy and the law to safeguard the 80-mile length of the Charles and its environs as it courses through 23 cities and towns from Hopkinton to Boston. CRWA’s achievements include scientific research that resulted in nearly eliminating sewage discharges into the Charles, advocacy that led to better regulation around water use, and a commitment to addressing the risks of climate change.
As for her goals for CRWA, Norton said she intends to make the organization more of a resource for the 35 Greater Boston communities served by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority around innovations that champion green infrastructure and mitigate climate change. She also plans to unite with other area watershed associations to lobby Beacon Hill on environmental issues and to raise the profile and expertise of the organization as a whole.
“I’m an organizer at heart,” she said. “We get much more accomplished when we work together with allies who share our values and our passion for clean water, healthy communities and a sustainable environment.”
At the Sierra Club, Norton led lobbying efforts for stronger policies and laws on clean energy, electrification of transportation, reducing plastic pollution, protecting water quality and reducing toxics. Under her leadership the Massachusetts membership grew 24 percent and the budget more than doubled as the chapter played a leadership role in fighting gas pipelines and promoting legislation to reduce barriers to solar energy and to increase offshore wind and electric vehicles. The Sierra Club has run trainings for hundreds of volunteers all over the state to become more effective advocates, and is now launching a similar training program specifically for local elected officials.
As a city councilor in her hometown of Newton, Norton serves on the Finance Committee and the Public Facilities Committee. Some of her local victories include the introduction of Newton Power Choice, a citywide ban on plastic bags, restricting the use of polluting leaf blowers, creating more affordable housing by making it easier to build accessory apartments, ensuring firefighters and police carry Narcan, changing the name from the outdated term “alderman” to “city councilor”, and drawing more attention to Newton’s $1B unfunded liabilities. She also serves on the Mass. Municipal Association Environmental Policy Committee.
Norton, 50, is the mother of three sons and holds a BA in philosophy from the University of Vermont and a master’s degree in public policy from the Harvard Kennedy School.