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Alumni discuss what the sustainability imperative means for business

  • Communications
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  • May 18, 2022
Alumni discuss what the sustainability imperative means for business

L-r: Jillian Rodak, HBA ’10; Jessica Stevenson, HBA ’07; and Marc Faucher, MBA ’00.

A decade ago, sustainability wasn’t core to education programs, there weren’t many sustainability-focused startups, and there were even fewer venture capital funds to invest in them. But a recent webinar showcasing how three Ivey alumni have made their mark in the sustainability space proves that time can change everything.

“Over a decade ago, sustainability definitely wasn’t critical to an overall education. Going through my corporate career, it changed from being a CSR [corporate social responsibility] department or marketing initiative that was on the side and set by a few people to becoming foundational across organizations,” said Jessica Stevenson, HBA ’07, Co-Founder and CEO of Everist, a beauty brand offering waterless, zero-waste products.

Stevenson participated in a virtual discussion on the role business leaders can play in tackling societal change, which was part of Global Ivey Day activities. The discussion was hosted by the Centre for Building Sustainable Value (BSV Centre) and facilitated by Matthew Lynch, Associate Director of the Centre. The panel also included Marc Faucher, MBA ’00, Managing Partner at ArcTern Ventures, a venture capital firm that invests in cleantech companies; and Jillian Rodak, HBA ’10, Manager of Sustainability and Climate Change at Deloitte, a professional services firm that recently announced a $1-billion investment into its global sustainability and climate practice.

Sustainability and Ivey Next

Dean Sharon Hodgson kicked off the event by discussing how sustainability is embedded in Ivey’s new strategy, Ivey Next, and will be prioritized in curriculum, thought leadership, and outreach.

Rodak said it’s a path that many organizations are following and a natural evolution for Ivey.

She told how the School supported her when she carved out opportunities to study sustainability during the HBA program. Not long after she graduated, Ivey created the HBA Sustainability Certificate, which has since been an in-demand program.

“Holding ourselves responsible for the impact we make in the communities where we operate has always been a core value of the School. It might have been called something different and perhaps not as prominent and the urgency may not have been as strong then, but it was always there,” she said. “I’m not surprised that sustainability is now being called out at the heart of Ivey’s purpose.”

The business leadership shift

Rodak said the number of companies seeking support for sustainability work has exploded, in part due to regulation, but mostly because investors demand it. Such work includes embedding sustainability into a company’s purpose or strategy; assessing climate risks; developing environmental, social, and governance (ESG) disclosures; and reducing supply chain emissions.

Noting that climate change is a systemic risk to all parts of the economy, Faucher said bringing sustainability into business leadership is critical. He told how that has led to innovative startups and breakthrough ideas. One example is a packaging solutions company that is using accounting software to track its carbon footprint and has introduced carbon footprint as an employee-level key performance indicator tied to annual performance reviews.

“If that kind of mindset becomes pervasive, we’re going to see phenomenal change,” said Faucher.

Impact through innovation

He said change is most needed in energy, agriculture and food systems, construction and materials, and transportation industries and there is venture capital to support innovation in those areas. For instance, ArcTern Ventures has supported Flashfood, which provides an app to help consumers purchase nearing-expiry grocery items at a discounted rate.

“There are going to be big meaningful businesses created from scratch to address sustainability … performance-driven, returns-driven organizations,” said Faucher. “A lot of leaders view sustainability as a cost – a constraint or hurdle to run their business or an unnecessary requirement that they need to adhere to. That whole mindset fundamentally needs to change.”

Merging profit and purpose

After climbing the typical corporate ladder post-graduation, Stevenson partnered with Jayme Jenkins, HBA ’07, in 2019 to create a meaningful business. Using the experience she gained at General Mills, Revlon, and Nude by Nature, Stevenson said their initial goal was to create beauty products without single-use plastics, but further research showed waterless products would eliminate the need for preservatives. Her advice is to keep an open mind and offer products or services that are as close as possible to what consumers are used to.

“For us, it was about progress over perfection. Small steps can add up to big impact together so taking action is the first step,” she said.

Stevenson said she is encouraged that sustainability has grown in importance because there are endless opportunities for innovation in this space.

“There has been a big shift from it being a nice to have to a need to have and really becoming a foundational element and that has had a huge impact,” she said. “We spend so much time and effort and energy in our corporate careers so we need to find the place where profit and purpose can work together and you can have a really big impact.”

Bringing alumni together

To wrap up the session, Jenni Denniston, HBA ’04, Director of Alumni Relations at Ivey, announced that the Ivey Alumni Network Board is working in partnership with the BSV Centre to introduce an Ivey Alumni Sustainability Community. The Community will provide a platform for networking opportunities, lifelong learning, giving back, and promoting alumni excellence in business sustainability.