SUSTAINABILITY TRENDS IN BUSINESS: SEEING THE BIGGER PICTURE

 

As I sit down to write the second, and final, installment of reflective posts about my project placement with WSBC and WMEP this summer, I cannot help but to extend this reflection back to the very beginning of the Environmental Conservation Program. As someone who tends to visualize in terms of the big picture, I feel a desire to connect the dots and understand how my experience in the program as a whole has led me to this point in my placement, and how both have prepared me for what will come next. Let’s provide some context: in the initial stages of the program, stemming back as early as the visit to the Aldo Leopold center, each of us had been tasked with completing a questionnaire designed to identify our ‘conservation ideology’ based on our approach to various conservation topics and our perception of other social, environmental, and economic factors. On this spectrum, I align strongly with the ‘New Conservation’ ideology, a position that is characterized by a belief that “win-win situations in which people benefit from conservation can be achieved by promoting economic growth and partnering with corporations…” This description is completely unsurprising when you consider the type of work I am accomplishing with WSBC and WMEP, whose precise medium for implementing sustainability is through business. In other words, in this sense my journey in the Environmental Conservation program has come full circle and I am reassured that a career path in business sustainability aligns with my personal conservation ethic. So, what does New Conservation have to do with my work this summer?

 

When you think about the intersection of business and sustainability in the current business climate, more specifically the role of business in promoting broader sustainability goals and conscious mindsets, there is a clear spectrum that emerges. According to insight from Mac McDermid – my supervisor from WMEP – there are two primary sides of this spectrum: large corporations that are driven by consumer demands and smaller entrepreneurial groups that are driven by their core values and beliefs. The few companies that exist in between these poles who are actively engaged in sustainability tend to still be driven by a series of external demands and drivers (regulations, customer requirements/demands, NGO expectations, or reputation/embarrassment). At what point will an industry-level shift occur that forces companies to look within for their sustainability drivers? 21st Century Pathways, a 5-month workshop facilitated by WSBC annually, seeks to combine the best of both approaches in its mission to help businesses integrate sustainability into their operations and core company culture. 

 

In my previous reflection, I focused much of my time discussing my work for one of WMEP’s private clients for which I was assisting with various research tasks and learning about relevant sustainability metrics. Since then, much of my central focus has now shifted to redeveloping the curriculum of the 21st Century Pathways program in order to prepare the materials for the upcoming round beginning in September 2020. Working alongside both of my supervisors Mac and Jessy to accomplish this feat, we have been collaborating on all aspects of the program in order to meet strict deadlines and adjust the materials so that the program is holistically sound. In short, a few of the tasks that I have completed include: 

  1. Developing a timeline for the work that needs to be done and the deadlines for accomplishing various tasks

  2. Collaborating on a reorganization of program topics to ensure a logical flow of material (e.g. on which days should carbon/energy, engagement, and resource efficiency be placed?)

  3. Updating case study references and statistics to reflect the most up-to-date values and industry trends

  4. Reorganizing and confirming the relevancy of tools and template materials for each topic

  5. Transferring all of the PowerPoint modules into a new template design created by Jessy to ensure that all presentations are aesthetically consistent and professional

  6. Consolidating topics and module content to allocate time to other components of the module

  7. Developing engaging and practical exercises for each module that the participants will complete

  8. Reviewing and evaluating the changes made by my colleagues to their respective modules

 

While all of these various components may appear disparate and jumbled, they are made simpler by the fact that much of what these tasks entail involve two primary strengths of mine: organization and seeing the larger picture. You may recall in my last reflection that I posed the following questions: “What am I doing to make my strengths stronger? And, how am I leveraging the working relationships I have in order to address my weaknesses by utilizing my colleague’s strengths in those areas?” At the time, these questions seemed like an afterthought – ones I did not foresee answering in the short month that spanned between these two reflections. However, the experience of working on the 21st Century Pathways program has enlightened me with answers.

 

Namely, in response to the former question, I have learned how to sharpen my organizational skills through the pressure of a heavier workload, strict deadlines, and a reliance on my output by my colleagues. Throughout the weeks, I have developed a system in which I have tackled the various tasks of each module in a formulaic order that I consider as being the most efficient. Moreover, in response to the latter question, my skills in organization and my technological capabilities have meant that Mac has relied on me to take on more responsibility in areas in which he is less comfortable – for example, switching all of the modules over to a new PowerPoint template and ensuring that they’re aesthetically pleasing and consistent. On the other hand, my lack of familiarity with how the 21stCentury Pathways program has been run in the past means that I have relied more so on Mac and Jessy to make adjustments to my outputs based on their knowledge of the program, what participants desire, and the logistical intricacies of running the program over the course of five months. The ease of collaboration among the three of us during these weeks of curriculum development have exemplified what a positive and productive team culture can make possible.

As I begin the final third of my project placement with WSBC and WMEP, many uncertainties still remain. With the circumstances created by COVID-19 persisting, I have yet to secure plans for after graduation from the EC program. Nevertheless, my work with WSBC and WMEP this summer has shown me that sustainable transformation in the business sphere is inevitable, and it is only a matter of time before a majority of companies embrace these changes for the future. When that time comes, I look forward to welcoming this new wave of sustainability head on.

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