Michelle and her favorite pup, Joule.
In a way, Michelle Vinson has come full circle in the world of environmental regulation and management.
After 16 years as a state regulator and then eight years on the compliance side as an environmental manager for six of our Wood Products mills in the South, Michelle switched back to a regulatory focus in January 2021 as the company’s Regulatory Affairs manager. She now works with all our businesses to monitor and interpret regulatory developments that impact the company — everything from environmental issues to transportation regulations and requirements from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
But to truly understand Michelle’s story, you need to go back to her early years, when her passion for the environment first took hold.
“The environment has always been my thing,” she says. “When I was in high school, my science project was a study on remediation efforts to remove DDT from the environment.”
Michelle's furbabies Chloe, Joule, Zoe (not pictured are cats Springer and Sprint). "Think they rule the house," she says. "They do!"
ALL THE FUN STUFF
After earning a bachelor’s and master’s degree in engineering, Michelle signed on as an environmental engineer for the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality.
“I was a regulator,” she says. “I loved it.”
But after 16 years with the Mississippi DEQ, she needed a new challenge.
“I had developed regulations, reviewed compliance, worked natural disasters and did everything that was environmentally focused,” she says. “I enjoyed every minute of it, but eventually I got to a point where I felt like I’d done all the fun stuff. Basically, I was getting bored.”
In 2013, she noticed that an environment-related position had opened at Weyerhaeuser. It was the challenge she’d been waiting for.
“I knew it would be hard to switch from regulation, compliance and planning with a public agency to field application with private industry,” says Michelle. “But I’m the type of person who’s always looking for a challenge.”
COMPLIANCE DONE RIGHT
Michelle spent almost eight years as an environmental manager. First as a facility environmental manager for our McComb lumber mill in Magnolia, Mississippi, then our lumber mill in Holden, Louisiana, and then our Evergreen EWP plant in Castleberry, Alabama. She then expanded her role to a regional environmental manager for our manufacturing operations in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi. She ensured each of our locations complied with ever-changing local, state and national environmental regulations.
Michelle visited mills, conducted training, reviewed permits and made sure the sites she supported were doing everything right — and she was recognized for her work with a 2019 Truly Great Award.
But she wasn’t done learning.
Michelle's favorite Christmas gift was this blanket with Joule on it. "My family also knows who the favorite is!" she says.
A RETURN TO HER REGULATORY ROOTS
When our previous federal affairs manager retired, Michelle’s boss, Shane Wells, encouraged her to consider applying for the position.
“I wasn’t looking or even thinking about something new,” she says. “But I knew it would be an opportunity to grow. And it was kind of going back to my roots with the DEQ in terms of developing regulations and working on compliance. And I’d get to do it all for the benefit of our company."
Still, the decision to apply wasn’t an easy one. Michelle was committed to her work supporting her sites, especially at our Holden lumber mill — the mill was beginning a major expansion and she wanted to see the project through. But the pros of the opportunity overshadowed the cons.
Though the focus of her current role is primarily on regulatory management, she still collaborates directly with her old peers.
“It's the best of both worlds,” Michelle says. “I get to go back to the work I did as a regulator for DEQ, which was beneficial for the environment, but I get to do it in a way that’s also beneficial to our industry.”
READIN’ THE REGS
The hardest part of her new job has been learning about regulations impacting our business operations outside of what she was familiar with for manufacturing.
“I’m still learning but, as weird as it sounds, I like reading regulations,” Michelle says. “I ask a lot of questions and spend a lot of time listening. There’s so much to know, but I like taking regulations and translating them into plain English. That makes it easier for our businesses to establish compliance plans.”
Success in her new job has relied heavily on the things she learned in her previous environmental roles.
“I now work with EPA, USDA, Department of Energy, Department of Transportation, the Federal Aviation Administration, the SEC and more,” Michelle says. “There's a different cadence to how those other regulations are written and developed.”
She admits that it’s been a big leap, to go from being an environmental regulator to manufacturing and compliance, and now back to regulations on a broader scale.
“But it’s a challenge that’s allowing me to add value and improve,” she says. “I really enjoy it.”
In her spare time, Michelle plans events such as weddings and baby showers, and cans and preserves food. "I'm canning corn, green beans, pickled onions, sweet pickles, bread & butter pickles, making and canning blueberry jelly ahnd syrup, and making hot sauce with homegrown cayenne peppers, and trying my hand at homemade biscuits."
ADVICE FROM MICHELLE
- Don’t change just for the sake of change. Look for opportunities that will empower you to make a difference, not just in your own life but in the lives of others.
- Remember that you’ll never know everything. You have to be willing to ask questions, to be vulnerable, to learn and build on what you already know.
- Be enthusiastic about what you’re doing. Whether it’s a good day or a bad day, find joy in what you do and know that you did your best.