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Profiles in Leadership

Andrew Winston

Founder of Winston Eco-Strategies

Andrew Winston, founder of Winston Eco-Strategies, is the author of Green Recovery and co-author of Green to Gold, the best-selling guide to what works - and what doesn't - when companies go green. He is a globally recognized expert on green business, and has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Time, BusinessWeek, Forbes, The New York Times, and CNBC. Andrew is dedicated to helping companies both large and small use environmental strategy to grow, create enduring value, and build stronger relationships with employees, customers, and other stakeholders. His clients have included Bank of America, HP, and IKEA.

What is one of the most memorable moments you have about your academic experience at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies?

Like most people, I’d have to say mods. The experience of throwing all these people together with diverse backgrounds, in the woods, was enlightening, especially for me - I was coming from business without much history in environmental issues and I was changing careers. Those few weeks made my career right turn happen fast. It was like diving in the deep end. And I made some good friends in a short period of time. Getting dropped in the woods with a map and a compass was hilarious and a great bonding experience.

What career advice would you offer a current student interested in pursuing a career in corporate sustainability?

I think the most important thing in going into ‘corporate’ sustainability is to be open-minded about what that means. The number of jobs with sustainability in the title, within big companies, is still very small, and it might remain small indefinitely. Increasingly, green concerns are becoming a part of every job in a company, so most companies will not need that many dedicated people on the topic. So there are a few other tracks that I’d suggest for working on the private sector greening movement including:

  • Consulting: it is 'exploding' in many ways, but the pure niche sustainability firms are still fairly small. All the big consulting firms are jumping into this as well, but I don't think (I don't know this for sure) that they are changing their hiring at all. I imagine they still look mainly for MBAs or top undergraduate programs or whatever it is they hire for these days. But keep in mind that if you work for a big firm, you can't guarantee you'd have sustainability projects. An interest in and knowledge of the area helps, but doesn't guarantee anything.
  • NGOs: many of these look a lot like consulting groups now. All the big environmental NGOs have partnership or outright consulting programs with companies (CI, EDF, NRDC, etc). These are all relatively small, but growing.
  • Hybrids of the first two: Check out organizations like RMI, Ceres, and BSR.
  • In company, sustainability job: As I’ve said, this is still not that many people. Even with all the companies jumping in this, they may appoint a single person to handle this issue. And usually that's someone from the inside who knows the company well. Then they may need someone to help execute - but a couple people is not an unusual size for a pure sustainability group.
  • In company you agree with the values/goals on: This, frankly, is the largest path because it opens up all kinds of jobs. I often tell MBAs to go into a company they like and do something they like - marketing, product development, etc. Being someone who gets environmental issues will be valuable on the career path and you can build the resume and network to move into pure sustainability if that's what you want.

What challenges do you believe corporations will face in the next 5 years implementing sustainability practices within their organizations?

Making it a part of everyone’s job is where we’re headed, but that will be challenging. Large chunks of organizations don’t really believe green has anything to do with them. Getting execs on board from traditional roles - say, HR or marketing or product development - will take some time. It’s a long-term cultural shift that we may not have that much time to wait for. At the same time, I think companies will also feel pressures from their customers and their own employees (like all these new grads coming out with values in mind) that they try to keep up with. The change in views that we should go green will happen much faster than the hard realities of making it happen in big organizations.