A Chat About Sustainability
by Kendall Bedford, Project Manager | March 31, 2021
This blog flourished while two ClimeCo colleagues sat down to enjoy a virtual cup of joe while discussing a topic that inspires them – Sustainability.
Long-time Project Manager (and part-time master’s student), Kendall Bedford, and her team leader, Emily Damon, VP of Sustainability, Policy and Advisory discussed what they love about sustainability and what they see in the marketplace. Their responses have been edited for conciseness and clarity.
A Journey in Sustainability
To some, “Sustainability” can be a loaded word due to its multiple definitions and implications in the business world. For myself, it simply implies an opportunity to ensure longevity within our society for our peers, our planet, and our work. As a young professional and master’s student, these topics are meaningful to me. Through the work I am currently doing at ClimeCo, and Sustainability’s intersection with Business, which I am studying at UPenn, I hope to become a future leader in this space and help to unite various priorities and people while working to create real progress under a shared goal.
Today, I am speaking to a leader who is impacting the sustainability field, and one I am lucky to call my teammate, Emily Damon. Below, Emily and I discuss her previous work in the Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) space and why she continues to enjoy it, the challenges she encounters, and how this space has evolved and will continue to change over time.
Kendall: So, let’s start off with you telling me a little bit about yourself and why you chose to build a career in the sustainability field.
Emily: I suppose the short answer is … *laughs* …frisbee. I played competitive ultimate frisbee for most of my life, and I chose my college so that I could play for one of the best women’s teams. Then I chose my major based on my teammates. Many of them were majoring in Earth Systems, an interdisciplinary degree with a focus on climate change. I liked science and cared about climate change, so I gave that a try. I ended up liking the engineering approach to climate change even more, so I shifted over partway through. I have stayed in this field because I’m making an impact, learning new things, and working with teams. The daily work gives me a steady drip of optimism for the future.
Kendall: I completely get that. As someone who is in school for this subject now, it’s nice preparing to work in an evolving field! You’ve been working in this space for a significant amount of time, how has your perspective on ESG work changed?
Emily: When I finished my degree, I felt that the solutions for climate change were clear. Over time, I have come to appreciate that seeing the optimal solution is only half the battle. Getting very-human business mechanisms to change is hard, slow, and important work. It can feel sluggish, but I think it’s the kind of change that sticks around.
Kendall: What about the field itself – how have you seen that develop over time? Do you think the changes have been for the better?
Emily: When I first started out doing this work, I was often supporting a smaller, independent sustainability department within organizations. Within the last 4-5 years, their ties to the rest of the company, especially to the C-Suite, have grown significantly. I think that’s a wonderful thing! It acknowledges that the drivers for sustainability are more significant, and the benefits of pursuing sustainability are more obvious.
Kendall: I love that! Buy-in from executive leadership and company board members is something we discuss in class all the time; it’s so important because it offers credibility to the work the sustainability teams are doing and can even help garner more support from stakeholders.
Emily: You know, without the ties to the C-Suite, smaller teams could sometimes be more nimble, at least when it came to things like measuring impacts, reporting, and making small commitments. But the connections to the leadership became essential when those sustainability teams were ready to change the organization’s behavior and needed funding for projects. As connections to leadership strengthen, processes change and new governance takes shape. It can sometimes seem as if things have slowed down, but it’s usually just a phase of growing pains. It’s an interesting dynamic! *laughs*
Kendall: When it comes to sustainability and communication, especially now that you get to work with more organizations with a higher-level team, there are many different definitions for sustainability floating around, and it can be a “triggering” term for some. How do you level the playing field and communicate sustainability (the idea) to your teams and clients?
Emily: I start with a very broad definition and with the understanding that any company I’m working with probably has its own, so I’m flexible. ESG is what I see typically falling under a company’s sustainability umbrella. To me, it’s a logical review of everything a company touches. So, what are our impacts on the planet (E) and on people (S), and how have we set up our structures and processes to ensure we can be improving those impacts (G)?
Kendall: That being said, something I’ve heard is that it’s a bit harder for companies to wrap their head around certain aspects of ESG work. In your experience, what has been the hardest concept for a business to learn about and improve on?
Emily: This is one with a lot of variety. It’s a common story to get on the phone with someone who started out working in an environmental role and then had a sustainability role pushed their way. That trajectory can leave companies with a blind spot regarding stakeholder’s “S” and “G” expectations.
Kendall: What do you recommend to those who find themselves in this position?
Emily: Even when companies have things like great employee training programs or hiring practices designed to increase workforce diversity, these initiatives aren’t always linked with the sustainability program. One thing that can often help a company in this position is a materiality assessment, a structured process for looking at a wide range of possible sustainability topics and determining the company’s priorities based on a diverse set of stakeholder perspectives.
Kendall: Why do you think ClimeCo is uniquely positioned to participate in this kind of work?
Emily: Oh, I think ClimeCo is in an amazing position to help companies with sustainability! Companies have a lot that they need to be doing right now, from communicating their progress or measuring their impacts to creating new strategies and executing them across the ESG space. What’s unique to ClimeCo is that we can support companies through more of these steps than other firms can. We have teams that advise, measure, and communicate, but also teams that can execute by developing emission reduction projects or transacting environmental commodities. It’s a natural progression! Many companies are doing each of those things, but none do all three as well as we do.
In the classroom and at the office, Sustainability has been an almost constant discussion subject for me within the past year. In speaking with Emily, not only was I able to validate some of my suspicions about how broad-reaching and impactful the ESG field can be, but I was able to confirm my beliefs about the exciting work I have gotten to do at ClimeCo. In my (almost) four years of working here, the idea of “we can do it all, and do it well” has rung true. Even more so now, I am exceptionally excited about everything that the team, and Emily with her expertise and passion, will be able to accomplish in this space.
To find out more about the ClimeCo’s Sustainability, Policy and Advisory team’s great work, please contact us by visiting, www.climeco.com.
About the Author
Kendall Bedford started off at ClimeCo in 2017 specializing in managing the data associated with ClimeCo’s extensive network of biogas destruction projects. She now dedicates her expertise to the team in the form of assisting with Sustainability consulting work and working closely with the environmental crediting process. She is currently pursuing a dual degree Master’s in Environmental Studies and MBA at the University of Pennsylvania.