Skip to main content

Reflecting on GreenBiz 2024: Insights from Yale's Future Sustainability Leaders

By: Natalia Espinosa and Daniel Gonzalez

A few weeks ago, 11 Yale University students attended GreenBiz, a corporate sustainability conference held in Phoenix, Arizona. This experience gave students a real-world opportunity to be immersed in the sustainability world as soon-to-be Yale graduates. 

Below you’ll catch a glimpse of their unique takeaways and perspectives from the conference. 

Reporting, Accounting, Auditing. Thank You, Next?

The most used acronym at GreenBiz? CSRD, the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive. It quickly became clear that the biggest focus of GreenBiz would be on compliance and disclosures. Navigating such changing discourse and regulations underscored the dynamic nature of the sustainability field. 

We spoke to Lauren Phipps (YSE ‘24) after the conference. “Compliance has returned to prominence as a core focus of many corporate sustainability roles. Companies are bracing for the growing number of climate-related financial disclosure regulations —CSRD, SEC’s proposed climate disclosure rule, California’s S.B. 261 and S.B. 253, ISSB IFRS S1 and IFRS S2, among others —and many sustainability practitioners at large organizations are working hard to navigate the emerging disclosure landscape. It reminds me of where sustainability began in most companies: through compliance and within the environmental health & safety function.”

Nick Page (YSE/SOM ‘25) also echoed that the heavy focus on reporting didn’t leave much room to discuss real environmental action. 

Spotlight on Food and Agriculture

Without a doubt, the conference emphasized the need for a business case when it comes to sustainability, especially within food and agriculture. According to Kelsey Niehoff (SOM ‘24), speakers highlighted three ways to drive progress in the agriculture value chain: Technical assistance to growers, data collection, and aligned financial incentives. For Lucia Castellares (YSE ‘25) there was a growing importance to place farmers at the forefront of regenerative agriculture initiatives. Without creating a market demand for the regenerative products farmers cultivate, sustainability efforts may fall short.

Other conversations surfaced nuances around carbon credits. “A company representative explained how paying a premium for regenerative practices to farmers already doing those practices, which could be considered as non-additional, benefits the cause,” noted Lise de Maere (SOM ‘24). “Those farmers are the most trustworthy spokespeople within their community. It highlighted that achieving real change does not always follow theory.” 

Charting the Path ofSustainability Professionals

The conference mobilized thousands of professionals working in many different sustainability functions. Christina Shaffer (YSE/SOM ‘25) was struck by how attendees landed their current roles from a myriad of backgrounds. “Many senior sustainability leaders inherited sustainability-related responsibilities or were promoted into their roles with limited environmental management experience, which demonstrates a significant opportunity for internal education and upskilling from a human capital perspective,” she noted.

In a sense, the conference bridged the gap between their academic learning and the realities of implementing sustainability in business. These professionals were an inspiration to Yale students. As noted by Emily Lin (YSE ‘25),“It was fascinating to interact and engage with diverse individuals of all levels, functions, and backgrounds. They added perspectives I wouldn’t have learned otherwise.”Engaging with professionals across a spectrum of industries expanded students’ perspectives on sustainability and emphasized the importance of meaningful discussions and connections.

The GreenBiz Conference illuminated the complexities and opportunities within the sustainability landscape, from emerging carbon markets in business cases to the power of stakeholder engagement and the urgency of addressing Scope 3 emissions collaboratively. 

Our collective experience at GreenBiz 2024 was not just about absorbing knowledge but also about reflecting on the impact we can have as future leaders in sustainability. Alisa Reiner (YSE ‘25) puts it best, “I was so proud to say I was representing YSE as part of the Yale University group!” 

The conference served as a powerful reminder of the urgency and complexity of our shared mission and the creativity, commitment, and collaboration that define this vibrant community.

As we move forward, we carry the lessons learned, the connections made, and a renewed sense of purpose. We look forward to applying these insights to our studies and future careers, driven by the optimism and determination that GreenBiz inspired in us. In the words of Courtney Megerian (YSE ‘25), “we’re excited to see what comes next in sustainability.”

To our peers, mentors, and the broader Yale community, we're excited to share these reflections and to contribute to our collective journey toward a more sustainable and equitable world. 

A Sincere Thank You to CBEY

We extend our gratitude to CBEY for sponsoring our attendance. It is only through their generous support that we were able to attend. It underscores their profound belief in the importance of bridging academic insights with real-world challenges, a principle that deeply resonated with each of us throughout the conference