Retired Navy Rear Admiral Leendert “Len” Hering is passionate about saving energy, using it wisely and conserving water.
In a way, that’s part of his job, as executive director of the California Center for Sustainable Energy in Kearny Mesa.
But Hering’s passion runs to the very center of what makes him who he is.
“People call me a tree hugger and all that stuff, and if that’s what you want to call me, that’s fine,” Hering said. “My job is to make sure my grandchildren don’t spend their lives in conflict over a resource we think is going to be there and it’s not.”
Born in Portsmouth, Va., Hering spent his childhood moving from base to base.
“My dad was career Navy,” Hering said. His father served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
The family ultimately settled in rural upstate New York, and Hering graduated in 1973 from Coxsackie-Athens High School in Coxsackie.
Hering wound up at State University of New York Maritime College in the Bronx, where he earned bachelor of science degrees in meteorology and oceanography. He also has a master’s degree in international relations and strategic studies from the Naval War College in Newport, R.I., and a master’s degree in business management from Salve Regina University, also in Newport.
In college, Hering joined the Navy ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) as a way to pay for his education.
“I had no expectation of staying in the Navy,” said Hering, who retired from the service in 2009. “I just got great opportunities.”
Among other things, Hering served two deployments in the Persian Gulf commanding the USS Doyle, a guided missile frigate, and participated in Operation Desert Strike.
He also went on numerous non-combat humanitarian relief missions.
“I’ve seen the world, I truly have. As a matter of fact, I’ve seen more of the world than I have of the country I defended,” Hering said. “I’ve been to places I hope never to go back to again and I’ve been to places I’d love to take my wife.”
Hering and his wife, Sharon, have been married for 35 years. She works as an executive assistant at Pacific Southwest Realty Service and Pacific Southwest Mortgage. The couple have three grown sons and three grandchildren.
During his Navy career, Hering held many prestigious positions including commanding officer of Naval Base San Diego.
After serving in the Persian Gulf, Hering said he became convinced that developing sustainable forms of energy that don’t depend on fossil fuels is crucial to the future of the United States.
“I spent half my life in the Gulf, doing what? Protecting oil,” Hering said.
Hering became known as one of the Navy’s experts in base operations and support, substantially reducing the service’s water consumption and converting Navy facilities to sustainable energy using solar, wind and thermal energy.
In 2005, Hering received the Presidential Award for Leadership in Federal Energy Management.
After retiring from the Navy, Hering became vice president for business services and administration at the University of San Diego, where he installed the largest solar energy system in among private colleges in the United States, saving more than $1 million in electricity, and instituted a comprehensive water conservation program that saved more than 3 million gallons of water per year.
Hering left USD in 2012, joining the California Center for Sustainable Energy.
At times, his job can be frustrating as he continues “to get people to understand, to become energy conscious.”
“It’s always a hard sell,” Hering said, but he’s as dedicated as ever, looking decades ahead to what he hopes will be a better future.
-Huard is a San Diego-based freelance writer.