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“What Skills Do You Need to Work in Sustainability?”


What Skills Do You Need to Work in Sustainability? 

Written by and posted on behalf of Rochelle March (Master’s in Environmental Policy and MBA in Sustainability Candidate 2015)

I remember visiting a college friend in Switzerland after my first year of undergraduate school, where we mutually declared, “I just want more skills!” At the time, I still had three more years of undergrad left, a couple years of work experience ahead of me, plus three more years of pursuing two masters’ degrees to acquire all these untold skills I felt sure I needed. Well, looking back, I think my friend and I had the right idea.

This summer, I am an Environmental Defense Fund Climate Corps fellow working at the donut headquarters of Dunkin’ Brands, where I call upon a lot of skills, and some of which I didn’t think would ever come in handy. 

First of all, the application for EDF Climate Corps called for all kinds of skills. Not only were former test scores, syllabi and technical writing samples required, but also long and short answer questions to gauge the intent of candidates. I employed my writing and grammar skills, honed through long nights of paper writing and grammar-policing relatives, to write sound pieces of why I wanted to be an EDF Climate Corps fellow.

The interview with EDF was over Skype and consisted of an array of scenario-based questions, interpreting charts and graphs, answering technical business questions, and a detailed walkthrough of my resume. Tough. However, I had done so many presentations in graduate school, answering questions on the spot came easily. Also, going through art critiques in my studio classes in undergraduate where I pursued an individualized degree in landscape architecture, conditioned me for scrutiny and creative responding. I got the job.

The EDF Climate Corps training week, this year in Chicago, was a great experience where I met other fellows and listened to lectures from energy efficiency experts. There also was a pitch competition on the last day, where participants had one minute to pitch an innovative technology idea to the group at large. One of my favorite classes in college was an advanced poetry workshop. I wrote a limerick poem for the competition about demand response. I won.

While at Dunkin’ Brands, I am helping to roll out a new green building codes project that requires a ton of different skills, and I love it. When I’m not crunching numbers and researching energy efficient construction, I am creating content for their communications platform or developing an employee engagement sustainability strategy.

I work with a team, collectively replete with skills, but it sure does help to have a variety of my own or, at least, have enough to understand where my team members are coming from. Tackling the technical and business aspects of the project is very satisfying, but perhaps even more fulfilling, is realizing there is a place for all these other skills I’ve developed over the years—like graphic design, psychology, learning other languages and, dare I say it, poetry.

Acquiring a variety of other skillsets only helps as I try to solve the often multi-faceted and interdisciplinary challenges inherent in sustainability issues. If I were to tell a newcomer to the sustainability field what skills they should have, I’d say as many as you can! There is a basis of business, scientific and technical knowledge every sustainability professional should probably know, but the field is growing into so many diverse and applicable subsets, there is a place for everyone to play to their individual strengths.

Posted on 25 July 2014 | 4:06 pm

Three Transformative Business Sustainability Trends

Emerging trends that can re-shape standard business practices.

Written by Jeana Wirtenberg, Ph.D., President & CEO, Transitioning to Green, LLC and Bard MBA in Sustainability Professor

(originally posted in Stanford Social Innovation Review:

Sustainability has come a long way in the last 30 years. Fewer and fewer business leaders are asking, “Why should my company take action?” and more and more are asking “How?”—how do they create impactful programs that will take root, deliver return on investment, and drive innovation across the business?

To answer that question, I spent two years embedded within nine major companies—none of the “usual suspects” on sustainability. I explored the intricacies of their sustainability programs: what worked and what didn’t, and which ideas remained ideas and which became reality.
In doing research for my book on building a culture for sustainability, I identified three powerful answers—three emerging trends that can re-shape standard business practices, and therefore shape a future in which sustainability considerations are no more unusual than budget considerations.
I call these transformative impact practices in sustainability, or TIPS, and they form a powerful core for changing business culture and mindsets in ways that make sustainability and social responsibility indelible. Here’s a look:
Sustainability and corporate responsibility are not just top-down mandates, worked out by executives closed off in a conference room. In fact, sustainability works best with the opposite approach: executives working with customers and other external stakeholders to determine what to do and how to do it. It’s what the business world calls co-creation, and it’s one of the most powerful TIPS emerging in the sustainability space.
Here are a few examples of the kind of co-creation that, if adopted more broadly, will help take private sector sustainability to the tipping point:

Co-Designing Products: Rather than engineers designing sustainability-enhancing products that nobody may buy, companies are increasingly bringing customers into the product development process. These co-created products can reach the greatest possible market and enhance customers’ own sustainability goals, making the product seller and buyer part of a seamless green business strategy.

Ingersoll Rand, which manufactures heating and cooling systems used by businesses and consumers, has launched a system for determining its customers’ sustainability objectives and how much they’re willing to pay for products that support those objectives. This enables the company to “upgrade” products in ways that bake in a new generation of sustainability features that people will actually buy and use. In doing so, it makes a real contribution to protecting the environment—especially considering that its customers are heavy energy users.
Co-Creative Planning: Co-creation should start in the planning stages, and incorporate customer, employee, community leader, and other stakeholder voices from the outset. Co-creating sustainability strategies is the best way for companies to ensure that their work will take root and have impact.

Several companies are already doing this. Alcoa, for example, uses co-creation to set up its community initiatives. Instead of dreaming up nice things to do for the community, it created a deliberate process and trains people on the front lines (for example, plant managers) to use the process to engage stakeholders, analyze and evaluate needs, and determine priorities. This Community Framework system teaches people that meeting community needs is part of their job; it also guides them through the steps needed to do so strategically.
Companies are increasingly adopting bottom-up approaches to sustainability that make employees a vital part of the innovation process. Bringing employees into the innovation process is precisely what many businesses want, and it’s a particularly powerful concept when applied to sustainability.
Deep change in business—change that’s truly about social good and sustainability—is no longer as much about what happens at the highest levels of a company, but at the mid- and front-line levels. The latter are the ones who make business decisions and take actions daily that make or break whether sustainability happens.
In addition, once a movement is bottom-up, it’s hard to stop. And that’s exactly what we need! It also has the added benefit of being visible to others, giving it a multiplier effect.
At Alcatel-Lucent—a telecommunications company in a male-dominated industry—a few women in France got together and brainstormed about how to create a program to help women unleash their potential. They created a group called StrongHer, which has since grown to more than 950 members (18 percent of whom are men) in 51 countries. The group collaborates on an internal social media network and organizes local events. Senior management has taken notice, and now regularly consults the group’s leaders and sees it as a model for their industry.
At chemical company BASF, everyone in the company—including scientists, sales people, and those on the factory floor—have individual sustainability objectives and have articulated sustainability in their own words and for their own jobs. It’s a top-down requirement aimed at unleashing bottom-up thinking and action that senior executives couldn’t dream of.
While companies are often accused of having a quarterly-earnings mentality, more and more corporate leaders are including longer-term growth concerns into their strategies. Sustainability requires a long view, and companies are starting to incorporate sustainability programs into a longer-term vision for their companies—not in conflict with shareholders but as a way to satisfy them.
This is important for any company operating today that wants to thrive tomorrow, and it means planning for a whole new world of customers, employees, environments, and constraints. Sustainability is critical to future-proofing any company.
BASF has created an environment for strategic planning and business operations that may sound at odds with the near-sighted company stereotype. It’s focused on 2050 and has found ways to make future orientation part of corporate strategy, product development, and partnership creation. In particular, it’s looking at the role it will need to play as the global population reaches a projected 9 billion—something that will happen in our children’s lifetime.
An exploding population coupled with the rapid growth of the middle class in developing countries, in conjunction with ever increasing demand for ubiquitous connectivity around the world, means exponentially more people using the smart devices supported by Alcatel-Lucent’s IP, ultra-broadband, and cloud networks. That’s why the company’s Bell Labs founded a global research consortium called GreenTouch—to achieve the goal of making telecommunication networks up to 1,000 times more energy efficient than they are now.
The choice is deep change or slow death, because the products the world needs and the talent companies need to produce those products are going to be very different in a world that’s flatter, hotter, and more crowded.

Posted on 24 July 2014 | 4:21 pm

New Greenhouse Gas Rules Will Cost Taxpayers Very Little

This post was originally published on on June 2nd, 2014 and was written by Eban Goodstein.

China agrees to halt subsidies to wind power firms

As director of a graduate program in climate science and policy, every day I look into the faces of my 24 year-old students, and think about the world 30 years from now. In 2044, I will be an old man — 84 — and my students will be my age now, 54. At that time, in a very profound way, we will know the future of the earth.

We will know whether we can meet the needs of another 2 billion people on a planet where resource scarcity and conflicts — over oil, water, food, topsoil, forests, fish, biodiversity — are already severe. More fundamentally, we will know how hot it is going to get. Will global warming drive the planet 4 degrees (Fahrenheit) hotter or 11 degrees (Fahrenheit) hotter within my students’ lifetimes?

To put those numbers in perspective, during the last Ice Age, when my office here in New York State was under a thousand feet of ice, the world was only 9 degrees F colder than it is today. So in 2044 we will know if we were able to rewire the world with clean energy, and prevent a swing in global temperatures of Ice Age magnitude, only in the opposite direction.

Today, the Obama administration appears set to take a step in the right direction, announcing caps on global warming pollution from existing electric power plants. Depending on the final details of the plan, it will likely move the US close to target reductions announced in Copenhagen of 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, and a 30 percent reduction by 2030.

What will a 17 percent by 2020 cut cost ratepayers? Very little. According to Dallas Burtraw, a senior economist at the non-partisan thank-tank Resources for the Future: “there are multiple approaches [to achieve this goal] that would have nearly unobservable effects on consumers”.

The Natural Resources Defense Council sponsored research showing that a larger 2020 cut— 25 percent below 2005 levels — would actually save consumers $37 billion while creating over 200,000 jobs. And even an industry-sponsored study that looked at reductions of 40 percent below 2005 levels by the later date, 2030, found moderate overall costs: 0.2 percent of GDP.

Assuming that a post-2016 administration keeps the nation on track, Obama is set to deliver on his Copenhagen pledge, with a no- to low-cost option for ratepayers. Given today’s polarized climate politics, that is a decent start — but only a start. According to the World Bank, if the U.S. and other countries only meet their Copenhagen targets, the world will still likely be 8 degrees F hotter, and rising, by the end of the century.

As the planet gets hotter, and unprecedented, extreme weather events rock the U.S. and other countries, the politics for deeper reductions will start to line up. In the interim, we can look to Germany for inspiration and leadership. During one day last month, the country produced an eye-popping 74 percent of their electric power from renewable energy.

This record was just for one afternoon, with favorable winds and lots of sunshine. But Germany is headed towards a goal of producing 80 percent of their total annual electric power from renewables by 2050. And the rapid ramp-up of solar power over the last decade in that country has driven solar electric prices down to “grid parity”: any new solar installations cost German ratepayers zero relative to new coal, gas or nuclear sources. Steep cost declines for renewables globally are one reason why the U.S. can also now cut global warming pollution at a low upfront cost, with the shift to renewable energy soon returning economic gains.

The recently released National Climate Assessment has made it clear that climate change is here now, already threatening south Florida with rising seas, exacerbating drought and fire in west the southwest; and causing more extreme flooding across the country. But past mid-century, global warming impacts will dominate the lives of my students. Germany’s goal of 80 percent renewables by 2050, replicated globally, would be enough to stabilize a recognizable climate. This move by Obama’s EPA is a critical step down that path. Anything less will challenge the foundations of civilization itself.

Eban Goodstein, an economist, is the Director of the Center for Environmental Policy at Bard College and a member of the Scholars Strategy Network.

Posted on 4 June 2014 | 1:05 pm

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