Below is the transcript for our show "Net Impact's Corporate Careers that Make a Difference." You can listen to the show here
AMY POTTHAST: Welcome to the Idealist careers podcast, where we discover new ways to look at social impact careers. I'm Amy Potthast, director of career programs at Idealist. Today we're chatting about corporate careers that make a difference and a free online career guide from Net Impact, a national nonprofit dedicated to engaging business in making the world sustainable. During the conversation we also briefly mention the Business as UNusual Guide to MBA programs that have a focus on corporate citizenship. The 2011 guide launches this week and is available at netimpact.org. You can meet many of the schools mentioned in Business as Unusual at the Idealist grad fairs taking place across the country: gradfairs.idealist.org.
AMY: Abby and Yonnie, welcome to the show.
ABBY DAVISSON: Thank you.
AMY: Let's start off with each of you introducing yourselves.
ABBY: This is Abby Davisson, I work at Net Impact where I head up the career and education team.
AMY: And Yonnie?
YONNIE LEUNG: Hi everyone, my name is Yonnie Leung. I currently work PG&E, which is a gas and electric utility based out of San Fransisco and we serve northern and central California.
AMY: Abby, would you briefly introduce Net Impact, and why your organization values corporate citizenship?
ABBY: Sure, so Net Impact is an organization of students and young leaders who work accross all sectors and industries, and are all committed to using their business skills to work for a better world. So our name comes from the desire to make a net impact, that benefits not just the bottom line, but people in the planet as well. And we care about corporate citizenship because we believe the power of business can create a more prosperous world, that's built on principles and sustainability, and opportunity for all. So Net Impact exists to inspire and support people to use their business skills to lead us toward this vision.
AMY: And what's your relationship to MBA schools? And can you talk about Business as UNusual?
ABBY: Sure, so Net Impact was actually started by a group of passionate MBAs who felt that they were among the minority of their classmates, they really cared about issues beyond pure profits. So they banded together in a small group and came together for a conference. And now Net Impact has chapters in ninety percent of the top MBA programs around the world. And we put out a guide to help people who are thinking of going to pursue their MBAs where they can read about all of the different programing and curriculum available at different business schools, so they can find one that is taylored to their interests and what they're looking to get out of their graduate education. Information in the guide is provided by students, so it's a real inside look at the reality of a number of MBA programs, so it's a great resource as well. And it's available on our website as well.
AMY: And the Business as UNusual Guide for 2011 launches this week, so be sure to look for it on netimpact.org.
ABBY: Yes, exactly.
AMY: The focus of our chat today is actually a different online guide that Net Impact has produced called Corporate Careers That Make a Difference, which is also available as a free download from netimpact.org. So I wanted to turn the conversation more specifically towards careers and corporate citizenship. So to that end, I wanted to ask, what is corporate citizenship, and is it something new?
ABBY: I can take a stab as that: The terminology in the case can be really challenging and confusing. I think people often use "corporate responsibility" and "corporate citizenship" fairly interchangeably, and because when Net Impact produced this guide we worked in partnership with Boston College's Center for Corporate Citizenship, we decided to use the world "corporate citizenship" for consistency. And so to define that, what we mean, is it's really any work within a company that addresses social or environmental impact. So that might include an employee who is managing their company's volunteer program, or an engineer focused on life psychoanalysis, or even someone working on employee diversity or community affairs initiative within their company. And you know this is not necessarily new, there have always been a select group of companies who think about these issues and address them to some degree. But really, in the last several decades, we've seen this concept of corporate citizenship evolve dramatically.
AMY: So I'm wondering if you could talk a little bit about a few functions or job titles, maybe from Corporate Careers that Make a Difference, about how different positions can have an impact on the social and environmental bottom line.
ABBY: So what I can say is, the upshot of our findings from putting together the guide, is really that anyone can make an impact, no matter what their department or job title. So I think, if it's okay with you, rather than focusing on the dedicated corporate citizenship positions, I might highlight some of the more overlooked job functions.
AMY: Yeah! That would be great.
ABBY: Yeah, that people just don't often think of, or relate to sustainability or social change. So certainly in finance and accounting, there is a tremendous opportunity because these folks really influence how companies spend, and how companies measure and evaluate the work that the they do. And so people in this functional area can really play a critical role by linking social and environmental initiatives to the company's financial bottom line, because a lot of people are focused on the cost of these initiatives, and not necessarily what they might return in the longer run. And so that's definitely an area that if you are passionate about numbers, and like being analytical, there is a great deal of opportunity to make a difference. Certainly, I think, in marketing and product management as well, and these departments can really help companies think through, as they develop new products and services, think about how those products and services can reach different markets. And that might mean working with a local community that might be under-served to understand their needs and concerns before they roll out a new product. Or perhaps even tailoring a product specifically for an under-served market. Often there is tremendous opportunity in packaging and in purchasing. And so just one interesting anecdote, since this is one of my personal favorite anecdotes from the guide: We highlight a man named Jim Mitchell who works in packaging and development at Pepperridge Farm. And his team managed to decrease the size of a carton of Pepperridge Farm's goldfish snacks, which I'm sure we can all remember eating and children. And just by reducing the size of the carton, saved 400,000 lbs of paper through a packaging decision. So again, thinking about potentially overlooked opportunities, and bringing a sustainability change lens to that work can bring a huge difference.
AMY: And I guess when the proposal to change the packaging comes with also a much lower price tag, than it's really hard for a company to say, "oh no, that's just tree-hugging."
ABBY: Right, well there's certainly in all of these cases, the need to make the business case for any of these initiatives in order for it to be embraced. Because it's not necessarily a no-brainer, so in order to be successful, they had to do messaging to educate consumers. And so Jim actually worked closely with the marketing and the creative team in order to use an animated goldfish character named Fin [laughs] who taught children the connection between the product's package and the impact that it has on the environment, to make sure that customers would embrace this new package design, and not think that the product as getting smaller, or they were actually selling fewer goldfish because of it. So it's a really closely coordinated effort, and certainly the ability to demonstrate how that kind of decision and packaging can affect the company's bottom line, as well as their environmental footprint.
AMY: At this point in the conversation, I think it would be really helpful for each of you to describe your own career paths, so we have a better sense of where you're each coming from. Yonnie, from PG&E, will you talk about your career path in corporate citizenship?
YONNIE: So my career path basically started right out of school. I was recruited by PGE for their undergraduate leadership development program and started in the forcing department. And so from forcing, I moved into customer energy efficiency and into managing and developing our green supply chain program, and then to a job where i oversaw three different aspects of supply chain, and finally in my current role, I manage and oversee the strategy for our shared services group relative to environmental sustainability.
AMY: If you don't mind my interrupting--Abby when you hear Yonnie's career path, if you could explain or describe the steps that she went through.
ABBY: I think often people think about the dedicated corporate citizenship jobs, because those are maybe high profile or the ones that they think are able to be more aligned with their social or environmental values, but what we've found is that with the right planning and practice, pretty much any job can offer an opportunity to do this type of work. And we actually have data that say that a very large percentage of corporate citizenship jobs--about 50% filled internally, and then about 25% are filled through referrals or through previous relationships with companies--either internships or consulting relationships. And so I think that really Yonnie's experience is really, I think certainly best practice, and a lot more prevalent, in terms of the ability of people to make an impact form any position within a company. So think about taking a more quote-unquote conventional role and then that gives you access to some of the systemic issues that need to be addressed. So Yonnie mentioned starting out in procurement and thinking about some of the customer-focused that she was seeing.
YONNIE: So my path has actually been I think the non-traditional path of corporate citizenship. However, I actually landed here, really through what I describe as a creative combination process. So if you hear sort of the steps I've taken throughout my career, up until I got to the point of about green supply chain, I didn't really have environmental in my background. So, how this all came together, and what I really sort of encourage folks that I speak to, is really kind of think about all the different tools and resources that you have in your tool kit, whether it's from school, whether it's from conversations that you have with people, or even folks that you talk to within work, and try to think about what it is you're interested in doing, what you're passionate about, and if sustainability is where you want to go, how do you kind of put those things together.
AMY: Abby from Net Impact, can you talk about your career path in corporate citizenship?
ABBY: My path to date has actually spanned all three sectors. So I started out my career working for a nonprofit strategy consulting firm, and then I worked for the nation's largest public school district, The New York City Department of Education, and finally for a San Francisco Bay Area foundation. And along the way I had some internships at Gap Inc. and with an NGO in Thailand. So you can see I've had a pretty varied career, I have a liberal arts degree, I was a history major undergrad, and then I earned my MBA and my master's in education through a joint degree program. And all of my jobs have been ones that I've either helped create, or have found through self-directed job searches. So never through an on campus recruiting process or just blindly applying on a job board and so along the way, learned a lot about how to navigate this tricky path and a passion for helping others land roles that helped them to bring their values to work, regardless of what sector they may work in. So that is I believe why you invited me to be on the call today.
AMY: Yeah, absolutely! That's why we invited you. For many of our listeners, when they think about public good career, the first thing that comes to mind is not a career in the corporate sector. Isn't going to work for a corporation kind of like selling out?
ABBY: Well I would say not at all, I think that you know certainly the private sector is not going away, it's actually a key piece of solving social and environmental challenges, given its size and impact. So, you know, the private sector employs more people than the government and nonprofit sectors combined. So it represents a tremendous number of individuals who, if they have the right training and the right resources, can help their companies rethink how they are approaching their overall business strategy, so the strategy takes into account not just profit, but people on the planet too.
AMY: Okay, and is that tied to the vision of Net Impact?
ABBY: At Net Impact we get excited imagining what could happen if every employee in a company came to work in the morning and started making decisions during their daily routine that took into account the social or environmental impacts of their work.
AMY: Abby, can you think of an example of someone stepping up from the ranks to make a real difference in their corporation?
ABBY: One of our Net Impact members, Jeslin Jacobs, works in the operations department at our roofing plant. She noticed that they were throwing out all of the company's fiberglass waste straight into the dumpster, and you know this was not clean stuff. And so she did some research and found out that fiberglass can be recycled if it manages to find its way to the right production people. And so she talked to people inside and outside of her plant, and so she eventually managed to get a recycling system in place. And that system manged to get 40,000 lbs of fiberglass recycled, rather than dumped into a landfill somewhere, and that was just in the first year. And so all tolled, her company now recycles 500,000 lbs of fiberglass waste annually. So I think there's actually tremendous opportunity for impact to work, to change the corporate sector from within, and that shouldn't be considered selling out.
YONNIE: Abby, that's actually a great example. I was gonna actually talk about something very similar that we've done in the supply chain, I think a good example, actually, is a project that we did a couple years ago with one of our wire and cable suppliers to commission them around developing and designing a cable that is inserted underground, so that we did not have to trench up and dig up the street in San Fransisco--which of course, you can think of all the different environmental impacts that would have. And a result of that, the supplier actually won our green supplier of the year award in 2009.
AMY: For job seekers, what do entry points in citizenship career paths look like?
YONNIE: In the corporate citizenship world, I think the jobs that are most highlighted are those that are the most directly in the environmental policy groups, sustainability strategy groups of corporations. But in terms of the roles that I've seen in my own career that have also a huge impact, are those that are embedded in operations. And so for those folks that are dedicated to corporate citizenship and sustainability, there's room or opportunity in finance or HR or operations.
ABBY: And I think Yonnie's example demonstrates the importance of being proactive, and so one of the leanings that we had in putting together the guide is one of the traditional or conventional career paths that lead to corporate citizenship, there are certainly a variety of ways to get into this type of work.Two things are really important: The first is education, so make sure that you read and understand the issues, the trends, the best practices in the field that you're interested in. And we've actually profiled a number of agencies in the guide that I know that your listeners may want to learn more about. And you know, I'd say, more important than the degree are certainly the competencies and the skills.
AMY: And when you're talking about the competencies, I think you're referring to the leadership competencies for corporate citizenship?
ABBY: Yes, exactly. These competencies were developed with the Center for Corporate Citizenship at Boston College based on third party research through interviews and analysis, and these competencies are qualities that are intended to help individuals be more successful and effective at this work.
AMY: And can I ask you to highlight a few of the leadership competencies for us?
ABBY: Two that I'll just mention: One is, determined commitment. This kind of work is not for the faint of heart. It often requires swimming upstream. So determined commitment means finding encouragement and fulfillment by small successes over the long term, as you work towards larger goals. So Rob Kaplan who is the manager for corporate responsibility for Brown Foreman, has called called this work sort of a quote-unquote long slog, that ultimately brings reward when change happens, but that's only after a series of ups and downs. So certainly having that commitment can help people see themselves through some times of frustration. And another competency is being able to be a collaborative networker--someone who has the ability to listen to and understand other's concerns and perspectives. And the ability to build networks of key stakeholders across the organization. So not just thinking about your own perspective, so really taking into account everyone who might be in a meeting--what are they really worried about, what constitutes success for their department, and therefore what are you going to have to demonstrate to them, in order to get their support for a given initiative.
YONNIE: One sort of summary thought that I have, around sort of interested in sustainability careers, is really no mater what industry or what function you're in within an organization, the three things that will really bring your ideas, in terms of building a business case for it are, one, to have connections and creativity, two, to build a value proposition around what that creative idea might be able to bring to your organization, and three, to execute on it, to make sure your idea comes through.
AMY: That's really helpful, those are really good insights. Where can the folks who are listening find a copy of Corporate Careers That Make a Difference?
ABBY: So the guide is available as a free download from our website, so that's www.netimpact.org/corpcareersguide. Or if you go to our homepage at netimpact.org, there is a link that you can follow to download the guide.
AMY: And the guide goes over a whole huge range of things, including what is corporate citizenship, how can you act as a corporate citizenship leader in a corperation from all these different kinds of positions and roles that we were talking about, what are the leadership competencies for corporate citizenship, and then pages and pages and pages of profiles of real people just like Yonnie who have made a career for themselves following a corporate citizenship path. Is there anything I'm leaving out?
ABBY: There's just also some tips on how to approach this kind of job search, at the end of the guide, but I would definitively say that a really important element if you're looking to get into this work is really just to talk to people. You know, certainly reading the guide is a great first step, but there's only so much that paper can convey, so certainly connecting with others to understand more about what they like and what they don't like about their experiences can be extremely informative.
AMY: Well thank you so much, Abby and Yonnie.
ABBY: Thank you again, just for the opportunity, and than you Yonnie for just being available and able to contribute your perspective. I think it's really useful to have someone who's profiled in the guide be able to share their insights first hand.
YONNIE: Yes, this is wonderful, thank you so much.
ALL: Bye, bye
You can learn more about corporate citizenship careers at netimpact.org. There you can also connect to your local chapter to start building your network of corporate citizenship professionals. Meet many of the MBA schools featured in the Business as Unusual guide at the Idealist grad fairs taking place across the country: gradfairs.idealist.org. I'm Amy Potthast, thanks for listening. To find more good things to do, go to idealist.org. Today's show was produced with the help of Tim Johnson. If you have enjoyed our podcasts, please show your support by going to iTunes and leaving a review and a rating of this episode or other's you've liked. You can also send us feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.