The Best Advice Sustainability Leaders Shared in 2019

(Photo Credit: Harry Sandhu on Unsplash)

by | Dec 20, 2019

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Conversations with dozens of sustainability leaders from around the world for Environment + Energy Leader produced numerous insights this year.

In-depth Q&As with executives covered a wide range of focus areas from resource management and circular design to energy efficiency and renewables procurement. Our editorial team also interviewed many 2019 E+E100 honorees in Denver at ELEMCON. These professionals moving the industry forward opened up about their success.

Amid the regular refrains — collaborate, get buy-in from the top, don’t be afraid to fail, you can’t manage what you don’t measure — we heard helpful new suggestions. Here’s some of the best sustainability advice from the past year:

Alyssa Harding, corporate social responsibility manager for Justin’s, urged holistic thinking. “We’ve been through a lot of iterations, especially with packaging,” she said. “You don’t want to solve a packaging problem by creating a food waste problem. Fight the good fight.”

Liza Milagro, resilience and sustainability manager for Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport, spearheaded the Food Heroes Program with startup GoodR. “A misnomer is, ‘I can’t give this food away because I’m liable,’” she said. “A lot of people don’t know about the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act of 1996. You’re not giving it away. You’re giving it to a hauler and the hauler is giving it away.”

Kraig Westerbeek, senior director of Smithfield Renewables at Smithfield Foods, isn’t afraid to challenge traditional project structures on manure energy initiatives. “It’s essential that projects create a solution that is mutually beneficial to all that are involved,” he said. “You can’t just have projects that are beneficial to investors.”

Charles McEwen, GEMS program manager and industrial hygienist for the Atlanta Veterans Affairs Health Care System, shared a useful analogy. “Think about yourself as a coach. And when you get your team, it’s about your players. Inspire them,” he said.

Dina Ringel, national director environmental compliance for Alpha EMC, said she tries to be self-reflective as a leader: “Your team tends to mirror how you lead them.”

Juan Marin, energy solutions manager for Kimberly-Clark, relies on financial analysts in every region where the company operates to identify KPIs. “Instead of trying to develop that business case as an island, collaborate with the business unit,” he said. “This helps us speak the same language and stay aligned with their expectations.”

Mary Jo Press manages Tesla’s global safety center of excellence. She encourages fellow leaders to factor in the cost to maintain a newly built facility over the long term. “Think about your cost to continue running, not just to start running,” she said.

Mark Newton, head of North America corporate sustainability at Samsung Electronics, suggests “advancing product performance while you implement an environmental performance feature.” At Samsung, that meant improving LED technology performance with alternative materials that don’t contain cadmium.

Ron Voglewede, Whirlpool’s global sustainability leader, spoke about the company’s onsite wind and solar generation. “The renewables industry is now in a place where, unsubsidized, it is extremely effective and has a broader range than many realize,” he said. “This is the new reality, and it’s going to change how you manage your energy.”

Anh Marella, global director of films for Avery Dennison, shared that she’ll go to a materials recovery facility, put on boots, and climb into a dumpster to look at the garbage. “Stretch yourself to look beyond your horizon, your business, for the nuggets of information to help you learn,” she advised.

Discover more advice about successful sustainability leadership from the E+E100 honorees here.


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