Marilu Hastings, Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation

TITLE: Vice President of Sustainability Programs

FUNDING AREAS: Shale Sustainability, Water, Clean Energy, and Sustainability Education

PROFILE: The Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation funds a combination of science research, environmental policy, and gas extraction research. For this unique and potentially contradictory set of interests, Vice President of Sustainability Programs Marilu Hastings brings a varied background in which she's dealt with many of these elements.

At the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation, based in Texas and started by billionaire and natural gas "fracking" pioneer George Mitchell, Hastings is vice president of sustainability programs. The title and her expertise in the field reflect the heavy emphasis the foundation has decided to place on sustainability in its current grantmaking, despite the fact that its funding is not limited to sustainability or energy.

While Hastings oversees a few interests, her mission for the foundation is clear: Steer oil-and-gas-friendly Texas toward sustainability. And she has significant credibility with environmental research and policy. For example, for three years concurrent with her job at Mitchell, she served as Texas portfolio manager for the Energy Foundation, one of the most prominent clean energy initiatives in the country.

Hastings also worked for three years as a policy analyst for the Environmental Defense Fund. And, currently, she sits on the Science Advisory Board for the Environmental Law and Policy Center, as well as the Energy Institute Advisory Board.

As for her experience with science, while Hastings is not a researcher herself, she has spent many years working for science and technology firms. For example, she worked for more than a decade as director of climate programs at the Houston Advanced Research Center, a nonprofit founded and heavily funded by Mitchell that focuses on sustainability technology. And early in her career, she worked for Science Applications International Corporation, a huge company that contracts primarily with the federal defense and intelligence agencies.

The other thing to know about Hastings and her approach to sustainability is that she often comes at it from a business-friendly perspective, or at least with a certain amount of savvy about collaborating with business.

For one, her education was a split between business and public affairs. She holds an MBA and a master of public affairs degree from the University of Texas at Austin and an undergraduate degree in economics and political science. And based on her writings, she seems to be a believer in the concept of business interests willingly becoming more sustainable or partnering with other entities to improve industry standards.

For example, she wrote a research article for Business Strategy and the Environment which made the case that some oil companies were beginning to proactively address their environmental impacts and thereby actually gain an advantage in the market. And in a recent op-ed for the Star-Telegram, Hastings promoted the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation's efforts to bring the gas drilling industry to the table with environmental experts and researchers to improve regulations.

The Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation is unique because the late George Mitchell was the pioneer of shale gas extraction and a legend in the natural gas industry. Not exactly an obvious backstory for a foundation that supports environmental research and policy, and one that surely draws skepticism from some environmentalists.

But Mitchell's Natural Gas program supports research to better understand methane leakage during fracking and attempts to get the regulatory policy up to speed with the fracking boom. Hastings' program also supports broader sustainability research, including a $20 million endowment to the National Academy of Sciences, an endowment to Rice University, and ongoing support for the Houston Advanced Research Center.

It's important to note that, aside from the focus on sustainability science, Mitchell has a rather massive side interest in astronomy and physics, though this is not part of the Sustainability Program. The foundation has granted more than $33 million to Texas A&M for the Giant Magellan Telescope project and additional funding for a number of other projects at the university.