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Centre for Building Sustainable Value

Michelle Li

A Hindu proverb I am often inspired by goes: “What great ones have is always for the benefit of others.” It was after a service-learning trip to Guatemala that I truly began to recognize my immense privilege. I met local families who were struggling to afford proper housing and education for their children. From then on, I’ve made it a mission to use my privilege to help others.  My long-term career goal lies in the sustainability space and the HBA Sustainability Certificate Program will enable me to better utilize my knowledge and skills for the benefit of the greater good.

 

What is your personal definition of sustainability?

Currently, in the Anthropocene Era, sustainability is no longer ruled by nature’s established processes and now lies in the grip of human activity. The Industrial Revolution created a wide gap between business and environmental sustainability; however, it is now imperative to look at environmental sustainability as a means to long-term business sustainability. My understanding is that sustainability not only encompasses the use of the planet’s resources to sustain life, but also how human capabilities affect natural systems. Sustainability is also our ability to help the planet restore its once equilibrated processes to support life for millennia to come.

 

What role do you see sustainability playing in your professional career?

In my future studies, I want to examine the interactions between the environment and economics. This includes the impact of climate change on the global economy and the inter-generational implications of economic growth on the environment. With a deeper understanding of the complex systems of environmental sustainability, I hope to use business as a source of positive social change. One phenomenon I want to explore in my career is consumerism. The current take-make-dispose model places responsibility for the dispose step on the end consumer. However, it would be interesting to examine the effects of placing disposal responsibility on the “taker” or the “maker”. Circular business practices are a topic I’m looking to learn about during my upcoming internship at General Mills, a CPG company committed to a goal of 100% recycled packaging by 2035. During my internship, I am also looking to engage in initiatives that bring them closer to this goal. Further down the road, I want to help normalize the integration of sustainable practices into the core values and business models of various industries. I’m particularly interested in practices such as impact reporting and linking executive compensation to ESG metrics.

 

What sustainability projects have you been engaged in?

I have been actively involved with the Ivey Social Impact Club; namely attending the Crossroads Conference and participating in the Impact Consulting Project (ICP). At the Crossroads Conference, I had the honor of meeting peers with the same passion for sustainability and was incredibly inspired by the speakers. For ICP, my group and I are helping to build a social enterprise under Habitat for Humanity called ReMove-It that helps to reduce furniture waste through an estate clear-out business that donates un-needed furniture to ReStore locations. Additionally, I enjoy reading about sustainability and am seeking research opportunities with sustainability professors. Currently, I’m reading The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells. This read provides a painfully honest review of the various ways climate change is, and will continue to, affect our everyday life. Furthermore, I pride myself on living true to the values I preach by shopping sustainably. After learning about the detrimental effects of clothing waste, I have only been purchasing from socially responsible brands and second-hand clothing stores.

Michelle Li

Michelle Li