Conversations with Future Sustainability Leaders
By Lee Broughton
Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of participating in New York University’s inaugural Mentoring for Sustainability Fair. The event brought together college students from across the New York region with sustainability professionals for candid conversations about advancing sustainability in business.
The event gave me the opportunity to engage with dozens of rising sustainability leaders about the challenges and the promise of a sustainability-focused career. But, in thinking about what is needed to continue driving sustainability-focused business today, three questions posed to me seemed particularly pertinent:
1. What have been the main challenges you’ve experienced in introducing sustainable initiatives?
Many have grappled with this concept to determine “how is this relevant to me?” Sustainability can sound very non-operational and the perception can be that it’s too big an issue to take on.
Ingraining sustainability in any organization is about the art of persuasion, combined with a practical approach. There isn’t one way to tackle it. It’s a multi-disciplinary function and requires buy-in at many levels. And, part of the complexity is determining roles and responsibilities. They need to be carefully and clearly defined for every part of an organization so that they share a vision of a more sustainable future.
2. Looking toward the future, what most excites you about your work? What are the challenges yet to be overcome?
When I first started in sustainability, the implications of what we were taking on left me feeling very stressed and wondering if I had made the right decision. All the experts seemed to imply that to do sustainability right, we needed to incorporate everything. It was overwhelming.
But, what I discovered was that part of the satisfaction of this work lay in helping shape architecture and communications. As a result of first getting organized and setting a vision before taking action, today we have a strong house, a dedicated sustainability website, www.drivingfutures.com, and more institutionalization of programs. The future is about maintaining momentum. The world of sustainability can be esoteric, and if not constantly evaluated or reviewed, it can regress with other ideas. Going forward, we’re working as a company and as an industry to maintain our relevance and influence while evolving our strategic plan.
3. What advice would you give to young professionals interested in advancing sustainability, regardless of the sector in which they might work?
You have to make up your mind about which route through the sustainability world is best and most appealing to you: you either want to be a scientist or business person.
If your interest is business, subject yourself to a multidisciplinary approach to post-graduate work. You need to be agile, understand people’s approaches to work, challenge, persuade, and influence conversation and sustainability initiatives. Successful programs are led by a team that manages to insert themselves into existing programs rather than starting a new one.
Until next time.