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Regents Fellowship Enables Killmer to Pursue Ph.D. Research on Environmental Commitment Beyond Compliance
March 16, 1999

Written by: Jackie Savani

Annette Killmer has been awarded a Regents Fellowship to pursue a Ph.D. degree at the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Killmer is currently a second year student in the Bren School's two-year professional master's degree program.

Killmer is one of 60 prospective Ph.D. students who have been offered the award out of a pool of 300 nominees, according to Cynthia Smith. The director of graduate financial support and academic appointments at UC Santa Barbara, Smith notes that Killmer is "The first person in the Bren School's new Ph.D. program to receive one of the campus's most prestigious awards for doctoral study." This spring about 600 students have been admitted to doctoral programs at UC Santa Barbara.

The fellowship, which supports graduate students at Santa Barbara for four years, provides a stipend for the first and fourth years of study and a teaching assistantship for the second and third years. In addition to all fees and health insurance, the award covers the cost of tuition for non-California residents and international students. Killmer, whose parents reside in Wiesbaden, Germany, is a native of that country.

Despite her German citizenship, Killmer prepared for and completed her undergraduate education in England. She received her B.A. with first-class honors in biological sciences from Oxford University in 1995. Having specialized in zoology at Oxford, she wrote her undergraduate thesis on captive breeding programs for endangered species.

"I looked at five endangered species that are currently bred in captivity," she says. "Some of the animals such as the African wild dog did well in the zoo and bred well; others," she noted, "such as the bush dog, a species native to Latin America, did not."

Killmer used breeding records to determine the pattern by which animals propagated and to construct a model of the genetic diversity lost in that process. Her intent was to determine how much biological diversity can be lost without, in effect, domesticating wild animals. She concluded that current breeding strategies would result in a significant loss of genetic diversity for all of the species over the next 200 years.

That undergraduate thesis work, which turned her attention from pure to applied ecological research, represented the first step she took en route to the Bren School master's degree program. "I said to myself, let's stop talking about the ideal world," Killmer recalls, "and ask instead, Can we use the research we have to change something out there in the world as it is?"

From Oxford she went to Costa Rica, where she worked as an assistant to the UC Education Abroad Program during the first half of 1996. There she met UC Irvine ecology professor Lynn Carpenter, who had carted UC catalogs to Costa Rica. Killmer thumbed through the catalogs lying about on Carpenter's shelves and discovered the Bren School professional master's program.

Having matriculated in September of 1997, Killmer has focused on environmental economics and policy at the Bren School. She says that she has found the master's degree program to be "what I expected"--an educational vehicle for bringing scientific findings about the environment into practical use.

Instead of a solo master's thesis akin to the captive breeding project that wrapped up her undergraduate work at Oxford, Killmer is now working on a group master's project, the hallmark of the Bren master's degree program which engages several students in a research problem. Her group of six students is now completing its analysis of "The Effectiveness of ISO 14000."

ISO 14000 refers to the standards set by an international Switzerland-based group for companies to attain an environmental management system. These guidelines, according to Killmer, can be used voluntarily by companies to monitor and improve their environmental performance. The Bren School group project focused on the effect of ISO 14000 in the U.S., where about 200 companies participate (in contrast to Japan, the country with the most involved companies, numbering over 1,000).

In the United States so far, explains Killmer, the federal government has been hesitant towards ISO 14000 and proactive environmental groups favoring regulation have generally been opposed. Killmer believes that the opposition stems from a misconception about ISO 14000 that the standards are in lieu of regulation. On the contrary, she explains, one of the primary tenets of ISO is that a company be in compliance with the regulations of its own governmental context. "ISO is not a substitute for regulation," she says, "but an encouraging of companies to go beyond compliance to commitment."

The group project has collected and analyzed data on the certification process of the 200 American companies. In addition, the project also entailed implementing an environmental management system (EMS) at a local tape manufacturer.

One of the project's principal findings, according to Killmer who is serving as editor of the report written as a group collaboration, is that "There's no common approach to assessing how companies affect the environment. And since there's no common approach, the environmental performance of various companies cannot be meaningfully compared. ISO has to come up with a set of indicators that companies can adopt to assess their impacts on the environment.

"We also devised," Killmer says, "a matrix that companies can use to assess their environmental impacts. And we have tried to clarify what is meant in sections of the standards that we think are ambiguous."

The report will be sent to ISO 14000, to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and to the 200 participating U.S. companies.

The group project in turn serves as a springboard for the research Killmer intends to pursue as a Ph.D. candidate at the Bren School. Working with Assistant Professors Arturo Keller and Magali Delmas, she intends to explore "voluntary agreements in the United States and in Europe between governments and companies that promote environmental commitment beyond compliance."

What does Killmer expect to do after she receives her Ph.D. in Environmental Science & Management?

"Environmental consulting," she responds with alacrity. "What captivates me is going from new problem to new problem. I like moving up from the low end of the learning curve."