IGEL’s Careers in Sustainability Event: An Evening of Discussion About Sustainability, Energy and Business

By Marissa Rosen*

On Wednesday, October 3rd, Wharton’s MBA Career Management department and Wharton’s Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (IGEL) co-hosted the second annual “Careers in Sustainability, Energy, and Business” panel at Huntsman Hall. The brightly lit 8th floor Colloquium Hall buzzed with chatter and enthusiasm from a mixture of Penn students, faculty, and staff who were eager to hear from a dozen business and environmental professionals from across the United States, half of whom were Wharton graduates.

In opening remarks, Vice Dean of the MBA program Howard Kaufold paid homage to Barry Commoner, a leader in the emerging environmental movement of the 1960’s, famous for stating that “everything must go somewhere”. Kaufold explained how Commoner’s words ring true fifty years later, as the examination of the symbiosis of economics and social impact is more necessary now than ever before.

Two separate panels discussed their educational backgrounds and career path trajectories, and entertained pertinent questions from the intrigued and eclectic audience.

David Gottesman, a second year Wharton MBA student leader in the Wharton Energy Club, served as the moderator for the first hour’s panel. The panel highlighted careers in corporate sustainability investment and resource management. Leaders from Reznick Capital Markets Securities, GE Power and Water, Penn Engineering, Goldman Sachs, and Rotunda Capital shared insights on venture capital, employee engagement, and environmental and social risks in the energy, water, and natural resources industries. Jon Freedman, Global Government Relations Leader at GE Power and Water, discussed GE’s investments in small seed companies as a necessary component to building the worldwide movement towards industrial sustainability. Wharton Professor Andrew Jackson highlighted his knowledge from his career at Exxon Mobil, and to the surprise of the audience, explained that the fossil fuel industry is not a fossilized industry, saying, “Exxon knows more about wind and solar than anyone; that’s where the money is.” Speaking on experience in investment banking, Bob Wickham of Rotunda Capital Partners nudged the wide-eyed crowd to consider the businesses in which they would invest their own money, and to act upon the same intuitions when job searching.

The second panel examined connections to sustainability from a holistic spectrum outside of the traditional business lens. Panel moderator, Gary Survis, founder of Practical Digital Marketing, introduced the four strategic innovators at the table from the waste management, chemical, and packaged food industries. Nate Morris, co-founder of Rubicon Global, explained that his company aimed to solve the social problem of outdated technologies in America’s corporate recycling services. He said that Rubicon Global had to “make the economic case first” before the social and environmental case. Tom Schneberger, Global Sustainability Director at FMC Corporation, shared that one of his greatest challenges is that policies across the world’s borders are varying and inconsistent. FMC generated its first bio-based chemical report in 2011; Tom thinks that there is opportunity in globally standardizing metrics and policies. Kimberly Petska from Dow Chemical discussed her market-driven sustainability solutions in personal care products such as Clorox Greenworks, which is now generating billions of dollars annually. She said that it’s necessary to question the status quo to truly innovate (and create new businesses). Finally, Shauna Sadowski, Director of Sustainability at Annie’s Inc., discussed her focus on the supply chain and the brand’s need to ensure transparency and accountability. She shared thoughts on the global need for environmental accountability, summarized by Annie’s “farm to fork” philosophy: “Farming is about feeding the soil, and not just the plant.”

The panelists garnered many questions from the engaged audience, and spoke off the cuff from their experience in business and sustainability. The remarks were well received by the mixture of students from Wharton, Design, Environmental Studies, and other Penn departments. Peter Cappelli, Director of HR at Wharton, closed the event by encouraging all attendees to continue their own education, and to actively seek to fulfill a career that’s meaningful for themselves, while making a difference in society.

*Marissa is actively involved with the University of Pennsylvania, where she is a Staff Eco-Rep and Faculty Advisor to a national undergraduate community-service fraternity. She achieved a second-tier Green Office certification from the University, co-founded the College House Staff Eco-Rep Green Team, and received a Green Fund Grant for implementation of research.  In August 2012, she completed her Masters of Environmental Studies at the University, with a concentration in Advocacy and Education. Follow her on Twitter.

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