MBA Students Reflect on the Kellogg on Sustainability Conference
by Steve Merrick, 2Y 2019; Michael Hursh, 2Y 2019 and Karina Gerstenschlager, 2Y 2020
I found the inaugural Kellogg on Sustainability: The Business of Climate Change conference a fascinating and eye-opening experience. The speaker lineup was highly decorated and well-rounded, and I loved spending the day with others who all care deeply about sustainability. However, I had a simple learning goal heading into the conference: How might I best promote sustainability in my future career?
Jeffrey Ubben, CEO of ValueAct Capital, provided a fascinating perspective on this question while speaking on a panel moderating by our own Professor Meghan Busse. He explained how business success relies on balancing natural capital, or natural resources, with financial capital. Fifty years ago we had abundant, seemingly infinite, natural capital, but the lack of financial capital limited business. Today, however, the opposite is true. Financing flows freely, but our natural resources are quickly depleting. Only the companies that learn how to balance conservation and sustainability with profitable business models will thrive in the long-term. Unfortunately, many firms take our natural resources for granted.
Fortunately, corporations are in a position to drive the transition towards sustainable business decision making. Ubben outlined four ways that business can promote this change: financing, technology, corporate and consumer behavior change, and regulation. It is through corporate and consumer behavior change that I believe I can best promote sustainability.
After graduation, I will be heading to Shell New Energies, the electricity and renewable energy division of Royal Dutch Shell. Shell is at the beginning of a crossroads where they are exploring whether to make electricity and renewable energy an important pillar of their business going forward. I will strive for opportunities to drive behavior change of customers as well as internally at Shell in ways that combine sustainability with long-term profitability.
From lunch and learns on new drug development hosted by leading pharmaceutical companies, to in-class case studies on the airplane manufacturing business, Kellogg has exposed me to a wide range of industries and given me the chance to dissect them from a number of different angles. Most content focuses on firms’ and industries’ core businesses, and although sustainability is not part of this “core business” for most firms, it is increasingly a central concern and a major priority across industries.
My experience before coming to Kellogg working in residential solar financing and consulting in the power and utilities industry fostered a deep interest in our energy use and how it impacts the environment. My time at Kellogg has developed breadth in my interest as I have gotten to see first-hand how universally relevant sustainability is. Serving as the co-president of the Kellogg Energy and Sustainability Club this year was a great chance to bring sustainability focused speakers to campus and shape the conversation around Kellogg, and attending Kellogg on Sustainability recently have made it abundantly clear that companies across the spectrum (from hedge funds to snack food producers) are not only thinking about sustainability, but proactively seeking sustainable solutions. I came to business school, and Kellogg in particular for exactly this: Students, professors and business leaders coming together to share insights and best practices on pressing and emerging business issues.
The past two years have given me the chance to explore a topic of growing business importance and personal passion, and I’m proud that Kellogg embraces sustainability as a problem of today — not of the future.
I came to Kellogg to formalize a business skill set that would enable me to tackle climate change at scale from within a corporation. Coming from a background in retail, I always planned to do so from a supply chain and manufacturing angle, but attending the Kellogg on Sustainability: Business of Climate Change conference, I was reminded of the many angles that corporations and individuals are taking to address Climate Change. The speakers painted a landscape of proof that roles in sustainability are not confined to Corporate Social Responsibility positions. Christine Montenegro McGrath’s path to harvesting sustainably sourced cocoa in West Africa at Mondelez International and Mitchell Toomy’s experiences creating closed-loop manufacturing systems at BASF align with my current goals, but I was equally excited to consider different long-term career possibilities given the variety of roles within the room. Entrepreneurs, investors, public companies and nonprofits compelled the students in the audience to consider taking calculated risks by joining innovative start-ups, but also reminded us that an equally viable path is to perpetuate the business value of environmentally sustainable decision-making from roles within large corporations. I left the conference inspired to hold myself and the companies that I work for accountable to higher standards of sustainability and green decision-making.