Sustainability Twinned with Profits: A Report from IGEL’s Careers in Sustainability Event

Aishwarya Nair is a Masters of Environmental Studies student at Penn, with a focus on Environmental Policy and Sustainability Management. With a B.A in Economics & International Relations from the University of British Columbia, she is currently researching solutions for sustainable electrification in rural areas in the developing world and the redesigning of the grid system.

The days of the earth movement being limited to tree hugging and long-haired hippies are over.  Green fever is sweeping across the global corporate landscape, and I didn’t have to look much further to find the proof of this statement than IGEL’s Careers in Sustainability, Energy and Business event.

On October 5th, executives from SAP, MERCK & Co, Coca-Cola, the Dow Chemical Company, and Sustainable Life Media met with Penn students to discuss the future of careers in sustainability and social impact. For those looking at the possibility of entering a green career, the advice is simple. You can start anywhere but sustainability is about being cross-functional, understanding business, and being able to speak the “different” languages to communicate across the board. Just as important, however, is picking the right company to work for; it must be a company that understands sustainability as well, and has a purpose that they take active steps to achieve.

Also appealing was the knowledge that sustainable ideas could come from anywhere. With more and more businesses seeing the profitability in greening up their supply chain and their products, today’s focus is on building relationships between disciplines (finance and sustainability for example).

The pointed questions asked by the audience also revealed that this interest is not one sided. One of the real concerns voiced by the students seemed to be whether all that could be done had already been done, and where the future of green corporations was heading. As someone thinking about a green career, I was just as relieved to hear that we’re only at the tip of the iceberg. As populations expand and demands grow upon the natural system, governments and companies are all looking for more innovation and partnerships to help improve choices and productivity.

Another very valid question asked was how do companies make their sustainability schemes mainstream and actually impact the bottom of the pyramid.  Joe Rozza, Global Resource Sustainability Manager for Coca-Cola, gave an example of his company’s own work to show how sustainability must make sense locally. As a company that heavily uses water, Coke’s future is dependent on access to good quality drinking water. When working in an area with lower environmental standards, building economic dependence on a local asset helps not only in greening up the supply chain for a company, but in also improving the quality of life in that area by creating economic development at the bottom of the pyramid.

The main takeaway from the first panel was that one must learn to balance different stakeholders and have clarity of destination. All in all, the event marked an excellent start to the academic year. The panellists were all very informed and very open to really answering the questions and concerns the audience raised.  To read about the second panel on careers in energy and corporate efficiency, click here.

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