Welcome to our series of interviews with leading female CSR practitioners where we are learning about what inspires these women and how they found their way to careers in sustainability. Read the rest of the series here.
TriplePundit: Briefly describe your role and responsibilities, and how many years you have been in the business.
Dr. Jeana Wirtenberg: I am the CEO of Transitioning to Green. When companies, and other types of organizations, want to move sustainability programs forward, my job is to provide them with tools to do so. They often need models for taking action and strategies for catalyzing culture change. People driving this change can get stuck. I help them avoid that or, if they’re already stuck my job is to get them unstuck. That’s what we do at Transitioning to Green.
We also have a nonprofit arm, which I lead. In that role, I help people find their place and career in the green economy. We work with displaced professionals, veterans, and others.
In addition, I’m an author, professor, and researcher. My new book, just out, is called Building a Culture for Sustainability: People, Planet, and Profits in a New Green Economy. I teach in the Bard MBA in Sustainability program and I consult with the Institute for Sustainable Enterprise, which I founded, at Fairleigh Dickinson University.
3p: How has the sustainability program evolved at your company?
JW: The big evolution in my business is the same as what I see as the big evolution in the sustainability world at large. We are going from sustainability as the job of a few strategists and special departments to sustainability as a natural part of everyone’s job.
It’s like the total quality movement (TQM) in the 1980s. There was a time when “quality” as a top business priority was a new concept like sustainability is today. Companies set up quality departments and quality committees, just like they do with sustainability today. But now quality is part everyone’s job and few can imagine it being otherwise.
We’re ready to do the same with sustainability, to make it a standard business practice for every type of job in every type of company. That’s less mysterious than it may sound but it leaves many people feeling overwhelmed, immobilized, helpless, and hopeless. The big evolution is to get past that – not with lectures and not with dogma but with tools that help people find self awareness about their role and discover their own power—coupled with clear steps for turning that power into action.
In my book, I draw lessons about building culture and catalog great models for action from nine major companies from a cross-section of industries—Alcatel Lucent, Alcoa, BASF, Bureau Veritas, Church & Dwight, Ingersoll-Rand, Pfizer, Sanofi, and Wyndham.
3p: Tell us about someone (mentor, sponsor, friend, hero) who affected your sustainability journey, and how.
JW: I would have to say it was my Mom, who, sadly, passed away while I was writing my most recent book last year. I dedicated my book to Mom, with these words: “To our dear sweet mother, Pearl Cecile Wirtenberg, who will remain in our hearts forever. Mom showed us the way to live a sustainable life.”
I go on to say more in my acknowledgments…
“Mom was the quintessential embodiment of sustainability: she believed in simplicity, was never ostentatious, and always did what was right. She was intensely curious and inquiring about everything – people, business, and the world. She was a gentle soul, generous, gracious, and incredibly smart, yet always humble.”
I continue to be deeply moved by her constant inspiration and endless support for keeping me nourished spiritually and physically, even as her own health began to wane. I am so enormously grateful that I am able to carry on her legacy through my book and my work.
3p: What is the best advice you have ever received?
JW: The best advice I ever had was from my sister Sharon to follow my heart. While I think logic, reason, research, and analysis are incredibly important, and what I have done for much of my life, ultimately we need to find ways to listen with both the heart and the mind simultaneously. When I have a really tough decision to make, after weighing all the factors logically, I go deep within myself to see what my heart is telling me to do, and I do that.
3p: Can you share a recent accomplishment you are especially proud of?
JW: My new book. The book is the culmination and a true expression of my life’s work, and I believe it meets a profoundly important need in the world. My dream, and our shared dream in the sustainability world, is that no organization and no individual get left out.
3p: If you had the power to make one major change at your company or in your industry, what would it be?
JW: It would be for everyone to wake up one day and discover the things that have made them immobilized or helpless around sustainability are all gone.
3p: Describe your perfect day.
JW: My perfect day is a balancing act to nourish my body, heart, mind, and soul. To nourish my body, eat healthy foods, sleep enough, and exercise, preferably outdoors. To nourish my heart, spend quality time with my family and friends who I love. To nourish my mind, spend time reading, writing, speaking, listening, consulting, teaching, and training others to share my wisdom and knowledge, and in the process inspiring them to find their own passion through their work and in their life. To nourish my soul, spend time going inward each day, through yoga or other reflection, to live a life of gratitude, harmony, and peace.Posted on 3 March 2014 | 12:38 pm
As populations have grown and societies have developed, there has been a global shift towards urban centers. This creates new environmental and social challenges as people are living closer together than they ever have before. Rob Bennet, founder and CEO of EcoDistricts, is trying to dig into this problem and proactively solve it from the bottom up. Bennet joined us for a Sustainable Business Fridays conversation, hosted by the Bard MBA in Sustainability, and he shared with us the inspiring work he doing with EcoDistricts.
Based out of Portland, Oregon, EcoDistricts is focused on one simple idea: in order to accelerate the sustainable city agenda, we need to look at the neighborhood level. At the neighborhood level, there is a tremendous amount of investment that either allows a neighborhood to work or not work. Bennet’s mission is to crack into the sectors that make those investments and encourage them and build systems to encourage the implementation of sustainable outcomes. This is not an easy task. Bennet says that EcoDistrict’s goal is to be a disrupting force.
So, EcoDistrict’s mission is pretty clear: create public-private partnerships with the goal of promoting sustainable development at the neighborhood level; but what exactly is their role in this process? Bennet says that as a non-profit intermediary EcoDistricts gives definition and clarity of performance and rewarding excellence within the space. Without this, the EcoDistrict movement would be very disorganized. They are developing frameworks, performance areas, and pilot programs, which has allowed the movement to scale up and find success transnationally.
Right now, EcoDistricts is working on a pilot program called Target City in Portland. Bennet says that this is an opportunity to define success and work with catalytic projects so other “ecodistricts” have something to model after. Target City consists of a deep two-year engagement, a summit, and trainings. The goal is build a cross disciplinary army of champions. Bennet shared with us that one of the biggest challenges EcoDistricts faces is being clear about all of the sectors that matter and engaging with them. This is more difficult than it sounds because most of the sectors that need to be involved work within their own industry but don’t see themselves as part of a bigger ecosystem.
Overall, EcoDistricts has seen tremendous success, starting in Portland and spreading across the world. Check out their website to learn more and see how you can get involved.
Listen to the audio from this conversation here.
Join us for our next Sustainable Business Fridays conversation on March 7th. We’re talking with David J. Tulauskas, Director of Sustainability for General Motors Co. Dave will focus on his team’s efforts to further embed sustainability into GM’s business through activities such as goal setting and sustainability reporting.
Photo credit: ecodistricts.orgPosted on 3 March 2014 | 8:23 am
One might expect a paper company to be resistant to evaluating their environmental impact and to welcoming criticisms from environmental NGOs. A paper company’s job is to cut down forests and act in direct opposition to environmental interests, right? Well, not at Domtar. Domtar is leading the pulp paper industry in proactive sustainability, and Lewis Fix, VP of Pulp Sales, joined us for a Sustainable Business Fridays conversation to tell us how. In his previous role, Fix helped implement new sustainability standards and initiatives in the pulp and paper segment, so he was able walk us through Domtar’s journey towards sustainability.
Domtar, a $5.5 billion corporation that employs over 9,000 people, began their sustainability journey in the mid 90s. This journey was catalyzed by a protest by Green Peace at one of their plants. Instead of pressing back against the NGOs who were questioning their environmental practices, Domtar invited the NGOs in and gave them a seat at the table. Domtar saw the opportunity that the NGOs were giving them. Domtar could benefit from the NGOs’ knowledge and endorsements as they moved towards more environmentally responsible practices.
The first order of action was the trees. In the late 90s and early 2000s, Domtar made a commitment for Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification for all of its wood products. From there, Domtar moved on to add four more key focus areas to their sustainability initiatives: mill performance, products, people, and communities. Within their 5 key areas, Domtar has 35 key performance indicators. It’s obvious that they have scaled up their sustainability initiatives quickly and taken ownership the environmental impacts of their actions. Fix shared numerous initiatives that I can’t cover here for the sake of space, but I would encourage anyone to take a look at the sustainability report on their website.
One of the most notable and innovative initiatives is what Domtar calls the “Domtar Paper Trail”. This is an online web tool that takes people on a journey from the tree to the market. It’s remarkable the amount of dedication and resources that Domtar puts into not only making the lifecycle of their products more sustainable but also increasing the transparency of their operations.
Listen to the audio from this conversation here.
Join us for our next Sustainable Business Fridays conversation on Februrary 28th. We’re talking with Toby Usnik of Christie’s, a fine art auction house, who will be speaking about launching inaugural CSR campaigns within one of the world’s oldest companies.Posted on 27 February 2014 | 8:17 pm