As Scheller College of Business students get back into the swing of school after a much-appreciated winter break, the pressure to secure a job or internship is mounting. Researching, applying, and interviewing for positions is pretty grueling work. Personally, the stress of the search has caused me to pendulum between “maybe I’ll be a farmhand on my cousin’s sustainable farm in New York” to “APPLY FOR EVERYTHING.”
In my occasional moments of panic, I return to the lessons I learned at the 2018 Net Impact Conference (NI18) in Phoenix, Arizona. Whether you’re dead-set on finding a career in sustainability or are purely searching for a job with a positive “net impact” on the world, I hope you find a similar inspiration in the wise words I carried with me from Phoenix back in October. Best of luck—we got this!
NI18 was an inspiring convergence of diverse students and professionals who are committed to working hard to improve business’s impact on the environment and to create a world where people are prioritized over profits. As a first-year MBA student who intends to build a career in sustainability, the opportunity to meet pioneers in the field and representatives from companies of all sizes was inspiring to say the least.
But don’t just take my word for it. Over the three days of the conference, from October 25-27, I jotted down quotes from several high-profile keynote speakers. I will share some of these quotes that eloquently summarize some of the most valuable lessons I learned from NI18.
“The great lake of resources is not reaching the thirsty shores.”
—Antony Bugg-Levine, CEO of Nonprofit Finance Fund
Antony Bugg-Levine kicked off the weekend by encouraging conference attendees to utilize their opportunities in business—whether in the nonprofit, for-profit, or public sector—to “lift people up, not to use them as a means to profit.” This lesson was at the heart of most of the conference sessions. Later in the week, staff from The Nature Conservancy, the Bayer Crop Science Division, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation discussed solutions to food scarcity in a changing climate. Members from Nike’s sustainability and design teams highlighted their commitment to the environment, responsible production, and innovation. The senior director of corporate responsibility at Cox Communications detailed the company’s targets: to eliminate all waste to landfill by 2024, to be carbon neutral by 2044, and to be water neutral by 2044. Also, Microsoft’s director of datacenter sustainability explained how the company is working to engage, connect, and serve the communities they enter.
Whether they worked at big or small companies, most of the presenters ultimately focused on how their roles and companies improved the allocation of resources to help more people succeed.
“Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will.”
Doubt almost kept Kavita Shukla from launching FRESHPAPER—a product that improves the longevity of produce and reduces food waste. The product she developed as a middle schooler in her mom’s garage has now reached the shelves of your local Whole Foods Market. As champions of sustainability, we cannot let criticism or obstinacy from others lead us to doubt the importance of our work.
“Be Fearless. Make big bets. Make failure matter. Reach beyond your bubble. Develop a fierce urgency of now.”
Jean Case echoed the lessons from Shukla, pushing attendees to use the sense of urgency to make change happen. Rosario Londono, founder of One-4-One Accelerator, also urged us “not to get good at being obedient.” Both encouraged us to reach beyond our network of like-minded people to incite change.
“I will not accept the things I cannot change. I will change the things I cannot accept.”
This statement rang true for all attendees, as we are all passionate about making a positive impact. If you have never seen Stephen Ritz speak, I encourage you to watch his TED Talk. His energy is unwavering, and he will make you laugh, cry, and wonder how one person can do so much.
“These are crazy-ass times, but you have to stop being a crazy ass.”
—Gina McCarthy, Former Administrator of the United States EPA, Director of C-CHANGE at Harvard University
The fiery former EPA Administrator from Boston certainly caught our attention with this one, but the message stuck. Don’t blame the situation; do something to fix it. Use evidence models, not logical models, to prove the benefits of a sustainable or social initiative at work. Don’t tell people to change the way they live—enable them. As the CEO of EcoLabs demonstrated, you don’t have to be an environmentalist to make a profit that doesn’t hurt the environment, community, or people. Balance your outrage with optimism, lead from the front, and make change happen.
Needless to say, NI18 lit a fire for my journey to incorporate sustainability into my MBA experience at Scheller and beyond. I am grateful for support from the Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business that made my conference experience possible. NI18 proved that even in these “crazy-ass times,” good people are making positive changes in our world. I look forward to joining their efforts!
Blais Hickey is a first-year student in the Full-time MBA Program and a 2018-19 Scheller College of Business MBA Sustainability Fellow.