Emily Bryant has two jobs she loves.
Less than a year after graduating from Baldwin-Wallace College, Bryant, 23, is the sustainability coordinator for Lube Stop Inc. and a sustainability specialist for Energizer. She even has a bachelor’s degree in sustainability, a word and movement that often mean different things to different people. At her jobs, it means reducing the companies’ energy use, improving their recycling of waste products, finding more efficient product designs, and helping measure and improve performance in all aspects of the businesses.
“Sustainability is a creative science,” says Bryant. “It’s problem solving, and a lot of it is uncharted territory. You learn how to market your abilities to make a difference, … realize what you’re good at and use it to make the world better.”
Many Northeast Ohio colleges and universities are helping their students chart careers in the growing field of sustainable business practices. Hundreds of local students are now pursuing degrees or training in sustainability, and a growing number of companies are interested in their skills.
Some call sustainability the ability to endure. In the business world, promoters of sustainability often talk about a “triple bottom line: people, planet, prosperity.” That means directing employees’ ingenuity toward using resources more wisely, improving employees’ quality of life and considering the business’s impact on the communities it touches. Learning how to do all that requires a wide-ranging education that combines hard science and the social sciences with business savvy.
at Baldwin-Wallace thinking she’d study art, but her passion for conservation and nature eventually consumed her academic life.
Her time in science labs for biology classes left her yearning for broader fieldwork. She studied for six months in Europe and was inspired by the public transportation and wind energy projects she saw there. She returned with a new interest in her college’s sustainability proram and graduated with a double major in sustainability and studio art in December 2010.
At Berea-based Lube Stop,
Bryant started in an office job, but the company quickly found a use for her degree. She moved on to environmental certification filings, reporting information about oil use and storage for 37 stores to county offices and fire departments. Bryant says her degree in sustainability helps her confidence in the workplace.
“There’s so much to do in business, nonprofits, government,” she says. “The possibilities are endless.”
Now, as Lube Stop’s sustainability coordinator, she helps the company track utility use at stores. Simply turning off the lights in summer can cut energy usage in half, she says. Lube Stop is also increasing its use of recycled products. It sends oil from serviced cars to companies to remove impurities and reuses it in its EcoGuard oil change. Most customers now choose an EcoGuard oil change, even though it costs $2 more than new oil.
Tom Morley, president of Lube Stop, is accustomed to skepticism about his company’s sustainability advancements. He acknowledges that a business based on oil, a nonrenewable resource and potential pollutant, will never be able to match the efforts of, say, a solar panel company. But “no matter what industry you’re in, you can be more efficient,” Morley says.
“You have to leverage sustainability as a framework to become more efficient,” he continues. “The fact that Lube Stop can do this means that any company should be able to do this.”
The biggest challenge is changing old practices. “That means more work,” Morley says. “But we’ve seen what it can do monetarily and ecologically, so we’re sold.”
At Energizer’s Global Technology Center in Westlake, Bryant works with 11 engineers who focus on everything from lithium batteries to hearing aids, developing training materials and aiding them in achieving sustainable design.
“They understand the products best and can incorporate sustainability best,” she says. As a sustainability specialist, she also helps to measure recyclability, recycled content and the disassembly of products.
Energizer’s business portfolio includes Schick razors, Playtex tampons and baby products, and Banana Boat and Hawaiian Tropic sunscreens. Bryant is looking at ways to make each supply chain more sustainable, and she presented on sustainability at Schick’s facility in Milford, Conn., in April. Global retail giant Wal-Mart has been a big driver of sustainability efforts, pushing its suppliers to reduce their environmental footprints, she added.
Bryant’s alma mater, Baldwin-Wallace, is the first college in Ohio to offer a bachelor’s degree in sustainability. Now, 50 undergrads are majoring or minoring in it. The students focus on one of four concentrations: science, business administration, social sciences and humanities, or quantitative analysis. A capstone class asks them to work together to solve a sustainability problem based on real-world challenges. The major also requires students to work at an internship.
Finding them is easy, says David Krueger, a professor of business ethics at Baldwin-Wallace and director of its Institute for Sustainable Business Practice. In fact, he says, there are more available sustainability internships than students to fill them. The institute has added about 30 corporate sponsors in the past year, including Sherwin-Williams, the Cleveland Clinic and Fifth Third Bank.
“I am convinced this movement is important to our region,” he says. “The most important companies in our region are grasping onto sustainability.”
B-W also began offering an MBA program in sustainability in 2010. It hopes to have 10 to 15 sustainability MBA students this fall, drawing employees from local business looking to improve sustainability practices.
Krueger says he advises sustainability students to be assertive, innovative and creative and to network as much as they can. That’s because the jobs many of them will eventually hold may not exist yet.
“It’s not like accountants applying for jobs at the Big Four accounting firms,” Krueger says.
Still, three of the five students who graduated with sustainability degrees last year were placed in various positions at businesses and nonprofits, and one is pursuing a degree in environmental law.
“Companies in our region understand that this is no fad,” Krueger says. “In order to compete, they have to get into the process.”
BrownFlynn, a corporate responsibility and sustainability consulting firm in Cleveland, hosted what it billed as the world’s largest training session in Global Reporting Initiative standards, a reporting framework for sustainability practices.
At the free two-day session, about 180 local college seniors and MBA students created mock companies and company logos, and engaged in a stock simulation.
Students learned how companies use the GRI standards to report on their sustainability efforts. They also learned about the growing popularity of sustainability measurements that include environmental, social and governance (ESG) impacts.
BrownFlynn, the first certified GRI trainer in the United States, normally charges $1,400 per person for similar training, but it held the student-outreach event to celebrate its 15th anniversary.
“We want to make sure students are armed with the knowledge and information to have the dialogue that takes place within companies to keep them evolving on their sustainability journeys,” says Barbara Brown
, principal and co-owner of BrownFlynn. “It’s about caring for the resources we have today and the people on the planet today so it will be here for future generations.”
Last year, 1,800 organizations produced GRI reports, including local companies such as Cliffs Natural Resources and Progressive. Shareholders and other stakeholders are also increasingly interested in reviewing companies’ ESG reports, such as those now embedded on Bloomberg terminals.
Curtis Ravenel, global head of the sustainability group at Bloomberg, earned his MBA 10 years ago from Columbia University. Back then, he says, Columbia offered nothing on sustainability. Now he returns to the school almost every semester to lecture. Colleagues of his have master’s degrees in sustainability management.
“There are opportunities to implement sustainable practices in every department,” Ravenel says.
At Bloomberg, the focus on sustainability began years ago by analyzing the company’s environmental impact. Waste showed inefficiencies, which equated to “money left on the table,” Ravenel says. So Bloomberg invested $9 million over the last three years and saved more than $35 million in the process. One example: a lighting project that cost $700,000 for more energy-efficient bulbs and other practices has led to about $300,000 in annual savings.
Finding such savings is key to making sustainability work in the corporate world. For businesses to benefit from it, they must not only lower their environmental impacts, but also see returns on investments, Ravenel says.
“To find savings and create revenue, that’s the sweet spot,” Ravenel says. But it’s not clear how often that happens. It’s possible companies with sustainability practices outperform competitors who do not, but there is no definitive evidence yet, Ravenel says. That’s because there is not enough data to analyze, and there won’t be for another five years.
At Case Western Reserve University
, the Fowler Center for Sustainable Value is working to modify the Weatherhead School of Management’s curriculum to embed sustainability into each course.
Case’s goal is not to train sustainability specialists, says Roger Saillant, the Fowler Center’s executive director. Instead, it wants to train businesspeople and professionals to use “sustainable value as the leading lens,” Saillant says. That means they’ll examine their business decisions’ impact on future generations, other species, and the communities they work in.
Beau Daane, 31, a manager at the Fowler Center and part-time Weatherhead MBA student, worked in the recycling industry for 3 1/2 years before coming to CWRU. The experience made him want to go further. Recycling is a “gateway to sustainability,” he says, but it’s “about being less bad, which is not the same as being good. We can’t recycle our way into sustainability.”
Now, Daane works with research assistant Indrajeet Ghatge and others on enhancing the curriculum by finding case studies, books and websites on sustainability that will help professors teach it. Ghatge, 26, a rising second-year MBA student and a native of India, chose Weatherhead and the Fowler Center because their missions matched his personal values: “To do something good without destroying what has been given to us by God,” Ghatge says. “To create value without destroying nature.”
By integrating sustainability into all that Weatherhead does, Daane, Saillant and others hope to train leaders who will go on to make sustainability an integrated part of their future business practices, not an add-on.
Some companies that hire people right out of school for “sustainability” positions, Saillant warns, may engage in “greenwashing.” For instance, the firms promote the person as a sustainability hero, but he or she reports to the human resources or marketing department, not the CEO, who makes real change happen. An example of greenwashing would be a coal company buying hybrid cars for its executives, says Daane.
“Since there’s no real change in actual business practices, it’s irrelevant,” he argues.
Ravenel says Bloomberg worked behind the scenes on sustainability enhancements for about five years. “We didn’t want to talk about it until we’d done it,” he says.
He encourages employees to find ways to implement sustainable practices in every department and business where they work. Ravenel speaks from experience. His initial sustainability proposal at Bloomberg was quite modest, he says, but now those practices increasingly permeate the company’s internal practices and some of its external analyses.
“There are opportunities out there to take what students learn and apply them to more specific vocations,” he says. “Find opportunities to integrate sustainability first in what you control.”