The Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business (“Center”) at Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business and the Net Impact – MBA Chapter co-hosted the sixth annual panel on sustainability in careers on October 9.
Speakers shared insights with nearly two dozen MBA students eager to hear how their careers could be aligned with their environmental and social values. Panelists included David Hogan (Mgt ’10, T&M minor), president of America’s Remanufacturing Company; Jesse Miers (AE ’11), program manager on Delta Air Lines’ Fleet Strategy team; Doug Nagy, deputy commissioner of city planning for the City of Atlanta; and Cecilia Shutters (MPP ’12), recycling technical advisor at The Recycling Partnership. Blais Hickey, Net Impact Chapter President, served as moderator.
Left to right: Panelists David Hogan, Cecilia Shutters, Jesse Miers, and Doug Nagy.
Beginning with the first career panel in 2014, organizers have intentionally included panelists with diverse titles and roles in relation to sustainability: sustainability-focused positions, hybrid business/sustainability roles, and traditional business functions that may interact with those in more dedicated sustainability roles. Panelists spoke of their personal “sustainability stories,” the evolution of their roles, and their organizations’ overarching sustainability strategies.
Miers, who got a job at Delta soon after he graduated from Georgia Tech, said that his interest in sustainability didn’t come as an “epiphany.” Rather, he has long held the belief that “we should not be destroying the only cradle of life that we know of, and our business practices should reflect that.” As president of Green Up, Delta’s employee-led sustainability business resource group, Miers values the opportunity to drive change internally. Green Up focuses on near-term, highly visible projects that elicit positive reactions from employees and customers. The employee group can help to activate the Delta sustainability team’s bigger, long-term projects that can really move the needle.
Hogan shared a very different “sustainability story.” He said, “I fell into sustainability entirely by accident.” After he completed his MBA at Cambridge University, where he had conducted research in reverse logistics, he was offered the opportunity to return to Georgia to take over a remanufacturing company. He said he’s not a “sustainability champion” in his current role, but rather “an operational efficiency person in a company that drives environmental sustainability.”
The students in attendance—many of whom are passionate not only about sustainability but also about the city in which they live, work, and study—engaged Nagy in spirited dialogue about his work for Atlanta. Particularly hot topics were related to transportation challenges such as the high rate of single-occupancy vehicle trips and the need for regulation and roads that accommodate electronic scooters.
Nagy, who said that a passion for building better cities is what led to his position, claimed, “Sustainability is very much on the minds of everybody working at the city. It’s embedded throughout city planning, mostly in regard to land use and transportation.” Try as they might, though, the City will never be able to please everyone. He remarked, “You could say, ‘I want to save all the trees,’ but then you can’t build more multifamily housing, and affordability of living in the city will go down. Values have to be in balance.”
Michelle Lumpkin, a student in the Evening MBA Program, appreciated Nagy’s nuanced point of view. “When we think about sustainability, we often focus on the environmental side, but I love how he emphasized the importance of both people and the environment in making decisions that impact the landscape of Atlanta.”
Panelists advised students to be flexible in their career paths. Shutters reminded students that professional growth is not always linear, comparing a career path to climbing Mount Everest—a feat that involves moving between camps along the mountain. “You’re acclimatizing,” she said. “To get to the summit, you don't just hike up in a straight line all at once. You prepare yourself; you make adjustments. Sometimes you have to circle back, sometimes you have to stay longer than you anticipated, and sometimes you move forward before you dreamed you could.”
The speakers agreed that you do not need to have “sustainability” in your title in order to be a change agent. Hogan said, “At the end of the day, if you’re in a position to make decisions, you can have the ability to impact sustainability. Look at the whole company and see where you can make an impact.” Miers continued, “There’s a growing view that sustainability, like safety and profitability, is the responsibility of everyone in a company.”
Panelists encouraged students to be vocal—outspoken, even—if they want to be given more responsibility related to sustainable business. Hogan said, “You can evolve your own role if you show your interest in a respectful way.”
Following the event, Shrinka Roy, a first-year full-time student in the MBA & MID Dual Degree Program, said she appreciated the opportunity to hear about the emerging career landscape for sustainability. She remarked, “The panel was an incredible opportunity to learn from professionals across different industries, sectors, and roles.”
Henry McGill, a second-year student in the Full-time MBA Program, found it inspiring that the presenters reached their current positions even though their early or current careers weren’t necessarily rooted in sustainability. McGill reflected, “Through their own initiatives, they became known for their passions which led to more sustainability-dedicated roles down the line.”
Written by Jennifer Holley Lux