How can we be true advocates for sustainability? How can we be meaningful allies to social justice causes? What does this work look like as we confront disruption and/or institutional failures?
A panel of Scheller College of Business alumni delved into the above questions and more at a virtual event hosted by the Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business (“Center”) on June 16. The panel, “Bringing Our Personal Values to Our Professional Lives,” was envisioned as a way to build community among sustainability-minded alumni and other interested parties. Panelists included Naveed Ahmad (MBA ’19), Lara Ferreira (MBA ’18), and Elizabeth Schultz (MBA ’17). During their time at Scheller College, all three speakers served as president or co-president of the Net Impact – MBA chapter, which is dedicated to encouraging environmentally and socially responsible business practices. The event was moderated by Arianna Robinson (MBA ’18), who serves as assistant director of business operations at the Center and as advisor for both the Net Impact and Blacks in Business student groups.
Nearly 50 attendees logged in for the discussion. Robinson set the stage by describing the stark reality that our world is “in the midst of two deadly crises: Covid-19 and systemic racism.” She said the goal of the event was to provide an opportunity for “conversation, reflection, and engagement.” Robinson noted that the panelists, due to their involvement in Net Impact during business school, have all demonstrated passion for creating a more sustainable and just world. She asked if, following graduation, they had found ways to integrate their values in their careers and entrepreneurial ventures.
Ahmad, who is advisor of operational planning in the customer service division of Southern California Edison (SCE), said he was intentional about finding an employer that had a mission that aligns with his own values. Ahmad said he was impressed by SCE’s mission to create a clean energy future. “Even if I’m working in spreadsheets all day and not dealing directly with decreasing our carbon footprint, I’m supporting our overall mission,” he said. Ahmad also stepped into a leadership role in EcoIQ, SCE’s employee resource group (ERG) for those passionate about environmental sustainability. To those attendees who feel disconnected from sustainability in their role, Ahmad suggested joining an ERG to promote the culture they want to see at their company.
Ferreira, director of The Third Door, a special events and live music venue in Marietta, and co-founder of Temperance Trailers, which serves the events industry across the Southeast, provided an entrepreneur’s point of view. She said that sustainability has been integrated into The Third Door’s brand and space since its inception. The venue, which Ferreira described as a “speakeasy,”’ is located in a renovated 1920s gas station. She and her business partners created the venue using almost entirely reclaimed materials, EcoStar appliances, and LED lighting. They also went above and beyond to make sure the space would be accessible to everybody. “It’s not so much a statement. It’s just kind of embedded in our brand—this dedication to beautiful things and to welcoming people in our community,” she said.
Alumni also described how the Center, Net Impact, and Scheller College prepared them to champion causes in their careers. Schultz, a senior associate at ScottMadden, Inc., identified one of the key lessons she learned in her time at Scheller: that sustainability is about not only the environment but also social performance. This “awakening” led her to pursue a leadership position within ScottMadden’s Diversity & Inclusion team and to be a more vocal ally for social justice causes. She said that even though she does not have all the answers and often feels apprehensive to speak up, the benefits far outweigh the costs. She does her best to educate herself on the issues in order to make a positive impact.
Agreeing with Schultz, Ahmad said that while reducing carbon emissions is critical, we need to remember that some people’s basic needs are not being met. He recalled the time when he, as co-president of Net Impact, hosted a talk on racial equity with Blacks in Business. “The preparation for that event was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do,” he said. Although the talk made him feel uncomfortable, he said it’s imperative to push yourself to get the outcome you want. He commended his boss at SCE for dedicating time to talking about systemic racism in our country and current protests stemming from the death of George Floyd at the hands of police.
The panel reinforced that fact that sustainability is a complex, multifaceted field, according to Martin Estes, a second-year student in the Full-time MBA Program and 2018-19 Graduate Sustainability Fellow. “While it’s easy for me to over-identify with environmental issues, I was reminded that an equal amount of effort is needed on the social side,” he remarked. “The talk inspired me to further research the history of social equality issues from various perspectives.”
Robinson closed the panel by asking participants to reflect on where they are in their allyship. “If we all stay where we are comfortable, we won’t actualize the change we want to see in the world,” she said. “We need courage to take our allyship to the next level.”
With substantive, thought-provoking topics from strategies for making the business case for sustainability to fighting racial inequality, the hour-long panel went by quickly. Due to the high level of interest, the Center will host more events in the future to continue the dialogue on these meaningful and timely issues.
Written by Jennifer Holley Lux