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Alumni in Action

Badger Alums Discuss Sustainability, Profitability, and Career Insights

By Haley Tollison

February 29, 2024

Planet, People, Profit: Careers in Corporate Sustainability 2024

Consumers and stakeholders are placing significant value on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investments. That’s inspiring business leaders across every industry to ramp up their efforts to create an ecosystem where profitability and sustainability can thrive.

Additionally, business professionals from all career stages are looking to break into this in-demand field and make a positive impact of their own.

Five UW–Madison alumni joined the Wisconsin School of Business and the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies for a virtual event on Thursday, February 27: Planet, People, Profit: Careers in Corporate Sustainability. During an engaging panel discussion, these sustainability experts discussed industry and career insights in the emerging corporate sustainability field—and fielded a few questions.

How have you fostered both sustainability and profitability at your company?

According to Ben Mand (BBA ’97), chief executive officer of Harmless Harvest, many of the things you do for people and planet can also have a positive impact on your profit and loss statement. For example, investing in regenerative organic farming—a practice that both increases wages and reduces Harmless Harvest’s carbon footprint—is also driving better yields for the business.

Aaron Magness (BBA ’00), chief marketing officer at Thistle, shared a similar experience. By raising his company’s minimum wage to $20 an hour, he’s experienced less turnover, benefitted from an easier recruiting process, and garnered more positive experiences with customers. That’s helped contribute to a healthy bottom line—and create opportunities for sustainability success. “You can’t have a positive impact on the planet if you’re out of business,” says Magness.

What skills or experiences are employers looking for in the sustainability space?

When it comes to the sustainability industry, it’s not about what specific experiences you have, but rather, the breadth of experiences that you bring to the table. Alexandra Rossen (BA ’20), senior associate for sustainability and ESG at PwC, also emphasized that experience doesn’t necessarily mean jobs or internships. For individuals still in school, participating in sustainability clubs, consulting teams, and capstone courses are just a few ways to show interest in the field to boost your résumé.

Kimberly Blundy (MS ’04), foundry operations manager for Caterpillar Inc., also recommended community volunteer opportunities—especially those that allow you to flex your leadership skills.

Despite working in different sectors and having unique sustainability practices and goals, all panelists agreed that breaking into this industry starts with one thing: passion. To truly succeed, Cindy Bohlen (BBA ’88), chief mindfulness officer of Riverwater Partners, says passion “should be in your DNA.” 

Watch the full conversation above or on the Wisconsin School of Business YouTube page.