Panelists talk private sector sustainability jobs

by Erin Lee | 2/23/15 7:01pm

2.24.15.news_.sustainability.pannel_Annie.Duncan
The Office of Sustainability brought four alumni back to talk about their careers in sustainability.
Source: Annie Duncan

The office of sustainability hosted a panel titled “Business and Sustainability” Monday afternoon that featured four alumni working on environmental issues in the private sector. The event was intended to give students a sense of the variety of careers available that are related to social responsibility, director of sustainability Rosi Kerr, who is a member of the Class of 1997, said.

“There are lots of ways to make a living and engage in fun and meaningful work and business in a for-profit space, but also to make a difference in the world,” she said. “We are hoping essentially to make sustainability careers more approachable.”

Kerr, who moderated the event, introduced the panel as a “reassuring parallel track to corporate recruiting.”

Panelist and co-president of SunCommon, a solar energy provider, Duane Peterson ’78 said that he decided to work at the intersection of business and sustainability after discovering the power of money in social ventures. His company, which is almost three years old, is the largest solar business in Vermont and commands 60 percent of the market share, he said.

“Social ventures are about doing something good with a revenue stream,” he said.

Panelist Megan Rast ’06, environmental sustainability director at Sony Pictures Entertainment, said that she went on the environmental studies foreign study program in South Africa while she was an undergraduate and enjoyed the interdisciplinary nature of the field.

“I liked the idea that sustainability and the environment bring together all these different disciplines to bring together all these big problems to solve things no one alone can solve,” she said.

Panelist Jennifer Jenkins ’91, director of science and strategy at Applied GeoSolutions, an environmental and geographic consulting firm in New Hampshire, said her career evolved from academic research to applied policy to for-profit consulting.

After teaching at the University of Vermont, she joined the Environmental Protection Agency before moving to the business arena. She said she believes change is going to come from the private sector, rather than from the government.

“Through my whole career, I’ve known that that’s where the action is,” she said in an interview after the event. “It’s only now that I’ve been able to go ahead and do it.”

Panelist and head of global compliance for L.L. Bean Ross Nova ’94 said his interest in human rights and the environment began as a desire to help people as a labor and employment lawyer. He said his job now is making sure that people are being respected wherever L.L. Bean makes products.

“The reason I stay in the field is that I love the intersection of sustainability and convincing businesspeople that sustainability is the right thing to do,” he said.

Panelists described a typical day at their jobs, discussed their future career goals and gave advice to students looking for careers related to sustainability.

Nova said that having dynamic, varied experiences in different fields and good communication skills are valuable assets for students looking for employment in the business sector.

“The challenge for Dartmouth students is to find opportunities to work on those issues while they’re here,” he said.

After the event, panelists said that they were happy with the turnout.

Nova said that he wanted to come speak at this event because he did not have access to these kinds of career opportunities when he was an undergraduate.

“I think I would have been a little more in control of my career if I had a little bit of advice,” he said.

Rast said that she was excited to come back to the College, especially because sustainability was not a topic of interest while she was an undergraduate.

“Sustainability’s a new field for everybody, so I’m happy to talk to everybody that’s interested — a bold, small following,” she said.

A desire to help students interested in careers in sustainability is what drew Peterson to the panel.

“My friend Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry’s said, ‘If it’s not fun, why do it?’ and there are careers that are fulfilling where you can earn a decent living and feel really good about what you’re doing,” he said. “I love helping young people see that.”

Sustainability fellow Denielle Harrison said that the idea for the panel came about over the summer and was conceived as a way to showcase options for careers for environmental studies majors besides the “typical environmental non-governmental organization profession.”

Sustainability program manager Jenna Musco said that the event was part of the Class of 1983 Big Green Careers Program, an initiative to expand student access to careers outside of the familiar fields like business, medicine and law.

This was the second sustainability in careers panel that the office has hosted. Kerr said that they are hoping to develop the program into an annual alternative to corporate recruiting.

Drusilla Falco ’18 said she attended the panel because she has recently become more interested in sustainability but is unsure what her career path could ultimately be.

“I came in really nervous, and now I feel better that there are a lot of options out there,” she said.

Kelsey Flower and Parker Richards contributed reporting.