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Change Agent
From Managing Complexity to Protecting the Environment:

Clary Coutu, Director of Environmental Affairs for Keolis Commuter Services.

The first thing you need to know about Ana Claribel “Clary” Coutu is that there is no such thing as a typical day.

Considering her responsibilities, it’s not hard to understand why.

When the Director of Environmental Affairs for Keolis Commuter Services (Keolis) isn’t managing one of the rail’s two wastewater treatment plants that operate 24/7, 365 days a year, she’s finding innovative ways to further reduce the environmental impact of a railroad that includes 28 facilities and 138 stations across many hundreds of miles of track.

Clary directs the global strategy for environmental compliance and the environmental services programs for the commuter rail. Her responsibilities range from waste management, air emissions and land use to vegetation control, emergency response and stakeholder engagement.

In her first year working for the commuter rail, she implemented an Environmental Management System following the ISO 14001 Standards, and received the first third party ISO certification – a first for railroads in the eastern United States.

It’s a big job, but one that comes with an obvious question: has she always been passionate about environmental issues?

I was a biology major in college, so environmental issues have always been an interest of mine,” Clary says.

I grew up in the mountains of Puerto Rico, in a small town at the heart of the island called Orocovis. I spent my downtime finding swimming holes, hiking, climbing, cliff-diving, snorkeling and other activities you enjoy on a tropical island.”

Moving to Boston in 2002 gave her the opportunity to raise a family and build a network of new stakeholders as she pursued a degree in environmental science and economics.

“Clary Couto meets with members of her team, Dean Hazel and Ana Rita Pascoal, at Keolis Commuter Services office in Boston.”

It was challenging going back to school as a working mother. I spent long hours at night studying, and I did it in two-and-a-half years,” she laughs. “But after my third child, I was a little bored!

Over the course of more than 15 years, she has developed strong business management and technical skills from legal, compliance, risk and strategic management to valuable field experience.

Every day is an interesting day at the railroad. I get to use all my learned skills and still find I learn something new every day. It can be stressful at times, but gratifying.”

Clary was brought on board early on to help with the bid, transition and execution of the environmental component to Keolis’ winning MBTA Commuter Rail proposal.

I fell in love with the project – and worked on it from concept and design to mobilization and execution – now as Director.

Four years later, she has built an Environmental Department team from the ground up, which includes four full time employees, 13 contractors and a multi-million dollar budget. Clary is transforming the way rail operators approach environmental management – and she couldn’t be happier.

For businesses, environmental issues are about building sustainable operations, and reducing liability and costs,” she says.

But there’s a personal side as well.

Whether it’s building efficiencies in the environmental programs, or making sure operations are in compliance with regulations, I get the opportunity to build awareness and be a change agent by doing something about the environment. Ultimately, a strong environmental program is about ensuring that we continually improve and do the best we can to reduce externalities of operations. Everyone benefits.”

Clary’s role is supported by her company’s leadership position in transportation operations and “new mobility” around the world.

It helps to work for an international company. Keolis has a strong network of professionals that form a collaborative network of support and provide access to best practices in other parts of the world, with innovative solutions to the problems we’re trying to solve. And it certainly helps to work for a company which not only leads in these areas, but works to exceed regulatory guidelines with higher company standards,” she says.

Clary is a lead-by-example change agent who is passionate about her work and it shows.

The key to my job is understanding operations, working hand-in-hand with all departments. My best time at work is when I am in the field with operations teams. That is the best part of my job.”

Her colleagues aren’t the only ones taking notice. The industry has also recognized Clary with an appointment to the executive board at the New England Railroad Club and, more recently, being named one of Railway Age’s top “Women in Rail.”

There’s more work to be done,” she says, “But resiliency is engraved in my Puerto Rican DNA, so I will keep after it!”