A key trend in the last several years has been the importance of Environmental Social Governance (ESG) as we continue to weave the protection of the earth and its resources into our organizational values. Women have had a key role in this space; more female corporate leaders are found in sustainability governance compared to other corporate leadership roles. In honor of the intersectionality of Women’s History Month and Earth Month, Raise The Bar Leadership Coach Kimberly Flood, who has a lifelong passion for sustainability, talks to two prominent women leaders in the sustainability space about women’s contributions in sustainability, how to get involved, and provide tactical tips on how anyone can have a positive impact at their own organization.
Bridget Croke leads external affairs including investor partnerships, industry partnerships, communications and special projects at Closed Loop Partners, an investment and innovation firm working to accelerate a more circular and regenerative economy. Bridget has spent the last 20 years building movements to help drive a more sustainable economy – from the local food movement to the circular economy. This work has included a national campaign to improve quality of life with less consumption; building and executing campaign tools to move consumers to Buy Fresh, Buy Local; a start up turned growth company incentivizing consumers to recycle right and Purpose, a consultancy and incubator leveraging the tools of movement building to solve global challenges.
Megan Walters is a former environmental compliance consultant and environmental manager and currently leads the customer facing efforts and compliance research at Encamp as the VP of Compliance & Customer Success. With over a decade of experience in the environmental industry, Megan has incorporated sustainability practices throughout her professional career but also on a personal level. As a hazardous waste expert, Megan has worked with several Fortune 500 clients to find alternative treatments for large volume waste streams, avoiding landfill and finding more sustainable methods for disposal. In her current role, she helps further Encamp's mission to create a world where good for business equals good for the environment.
Raise The Bar Leadership Coach Kimberly Flood found joy in nature from a young age and continues to rely upon our natural world to ground her and bring awe and gratitude. Because our natural resources are rich, yet limited -- we need to be savvy about human development, to ensure we promote prosperity (for all) while protecting our planet. This is the basis of sustainability (social, environmental and economic sustainability): ensuring a viable planet for many generations to come. As a mom, Kimberly is even more passionate about preserving resources as she wants her great-grandchildren to continue to enjoy the prosperity she’s been blessed to experience, so she works diligently to reduce her impacts and promote social equity, and support businesses and organizations that do the same.
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Bridget: You don't have to become a chief sustainability officer. You don't have to be quarantined to the sustainability department or even in a sustainability oriented company. So if you are interested in marketing, if you're interested in policy, if you're interested in. In sales, whatever it happens to be, think about how you integrate sustainability into that. And that's where the real impact happens.
Aaron: I'm Aaron Levy. And I have this vision of a workplace where your manager doesn't suck; where instead your manager is your coach helping you to reach your full potential at work. I founded Raise The Bar, wrote Open, Honest and Direct, and started this podcast to help companies transform their workplace to a place where both the company and employee succeeds.
In this podcast, I get to interview leaders who built high-performing teams and learn from them on what it takes to unlock a team with potential.
We have a special episode for you today in honor of the intersectionality of Women's History Month and Earth Month. Our own Raise The Bar leadership coach Kimberly Flood, who herself has a passion for the environment and sustainability, sits down with two prominent women leaders in the field to discuss the role women leaders have played in advancing sustainability and how we can make an even greater impact.
One of our speakers today is Megan Walters, who leads the customer facing efforts and compliance research at Encamp as the VP of compliance and customer success. We also are lucky to have Bridget Croke, who leads external affairs, including investor partnerships, industry partnerships, and communications at Closed Loop Partners, an investment and innovation firm working to accelerate a more circular and regenerative economy.
We're lucky to have this amazing group of women leaders sharing and talking about sustainability. And I hope you enjoy this special episode and that it inspires you to help drive change towards a more sustainable world. Thanks.
Kimberly: In honor of Women's History Month in March and Earth month in April, I'm excited to engage you, Bridget and Megan, and highlighting the contributions of women and building a more sustainable future.
As we get started, I wanted to offer an opportunity to establish for our listeners what sustainability means to you.
And if you could give our listeners a brief version of your journey, kind of in sustainability leadership, I would really appreciate that. Megan, why don't you get started for us?
Megan: Sure. So to me, sustainability really means living within our means and being conscious of how your actions and lifestyle can really compromise future generations to live within their means. As far as my journey goes, I grew up camping and doing a lot of outdoor activities. And something that has always stuck with me is something my grandmother told us is, leave your campsite better than you found it. In high school, I really got kind of pinpointed into recycling and sustainability. I joined our school's Sierra Club that really fueled my interest into environmental science. And then from there I went to Purdue for undergrad. Really wanted to hone my skills in the environmental science world.
So I graduated with a degree in natural resources and environmental science and through college and now in my career, I really tie my day-to-day life back to what my grandmother taught me. I'm also a huge National Park fan. So my grandmother's motto really aligns with kind of a national park's leave no trace principle. So I carry that through really anything I'm doing, whether it's work, whether it's my personal life, but I really want to make sure that I'm, I'm leaving the world, but also these amazing national parks for future generations and, and leaving them better than I found it.
So anything I can do to really help in my day-to-day life, I try to make that an effort.
Kimberly: Thanks for that, Megan, Bridget, tell us a bit about you and what sustainability means for you.
Bridget: Sure. So I, I thought Megan's description was great. And I think maybe I'm a very much systems thinker in my work. So maybe I'll kind of level that up to the systems level where I say that there's ways to design the world, such that we're bringing out the best in humankind, such that we can achieve that goal that Megan mentioned to kind of live within our means and not take more than what than creating kind of what the ecosystem will allow us to be productive and to the future and ensuring that we're creating the political systems, economic systems and human systems that are kind of best for us and best for our planet and other creatures out there. So that's, you know, broadly how we're thinking about it. And my journey is fairly circuitous. I also was interested in high school and it was before they were curbside recycling programs that I forced the family to go and bring stuff to the drop off center.
And then in college, kind of, and I originally was interested in human systems around wellness and health and food. And then the food thing got me interested in sustainable food systems which again, was not really a thing then. And so I felt like little words here and there and a college syllabus and turned that into my own major, studying sustainable agriculture, and then realized very quickly that I was not a scientist.
I, everything I created would turn into bread mold. And so maybe the social kind of path was where I could be of better use and learned a lot about agriculture study. Went and lived on some farms and then went into the nonprofit space to work on policy and consumer behavior, how to motivate consumers to buy local sustainable food and support the ecosystem around that. And from there, I was connected to an entrepreneur who was starting a small company called Recycle Bank, which was another fledgling nonprofit. But what I learned is there's a world of business and startups. And so I spent eight years helping grow that into a company with 300 people; we raised a hundred million dollars motivating consumers to recycle through kind of a set of digital tools and technology that we had deployed in partnership with municipalities.
After that, I was doing some social impact consulting, leveraging the tools we’ve been building and then kind of reconvened with the founder of Recycle Bank after running recycling in New York city under Mayor Bloomberg; where we started Closed Loop Partners, which is an investment firm to help accelerate a more sustainable and circular economy investing in driving innovation and can speak more to that, but have helped grow that over the last eight years from one investment fund to about 10 and have about half a billion dollars under management.
Kimberly: We are honored to have both of you here today in celebration of women in sustainability and our role in sustainability leadership.
So you may or may not know that there's actually been research done to show females are represented at a higher percentage within sustainability leadership than other corporate leadership roles. So, yay us. That's amazing. And I'm curious, you know, for you. For the women in sustainability that you admire, who's most inspired you and why.
Bridget: For me, I'm really inspired by the people around me that I work with. And to your point, I don't know the stats, but that does definitely track with my organization. We're about 70% women at all levels of our organization. And I think I'm seeing that across kind of our company, but also our ecosystem of entrepreneurs and organizations that we work with beyond our own. And so I have the great fortune, not only of working and having peers in leadership positions at Closed Loop who have different skill sets from hard finance to recycling operations and procurement, and actual hard skills that I don't possess.
And I, I really value. And so I learn from them every day and they're such great thought partners that they're part of the reason I'm still here and, and what helps drive me in the sale. I get inspiration from them every day. And then we've invested in all these companies, many who have female entrepreneurs, who've built these businesses that are building the new economy, but also have a real environmental impact in shaping cultural norms in the future.
And those are kind of my driving forces. It's the people kind of in the present for me.
Kimberly: Awesome thank you Bridget. Megan, what about you?
Megan: Sure. I'm someone that really has stuck out to me over the last couple of years when I first got introduced to her is Janet McCabe.
So she's someone who I've really admired. I first ran into her at an environmental conference years ago and I sat in on one of her sessions. She's currently the deputy administrator of the US EPA; .but before that she was the director of the resilience, environmental resilience Institute, which partners with businesses and local governments to educate them about the vulnerabilities to climate change and assess how they're prepared to meet those.
Megan: So I've just kinda been following her career as she's just developed. And I think it's, it's really awesome to see someone from, you know, a local community, Indiana, where I'm at. And just I'm inspired by her local actions in our advocacy. And just knowing that she's making an impact now on the national level.
Other than her I would absolutely say I really admire Greta Thunberg too. Like just her amazing impact at such a young age has really been really cool to watch. I love that she's not afraid to call out politicians, CEOs, and big companies about doing their part and taking real action.
So I just love how fearless and kind of steadfast she is in her beliefs. So those are the two women that I've kind of followed through on the sustainability side of things.
Kimberly: Greta is totally on my personal board of directors. not as if I have a relationship with her, but just as someone I totally look up to and I think, you know, what would Greta do?
So that's so awesome. The other person I want to offer that's really inspired me is Rose . Marcario, the prior CEO at Patagonia. And gosh, there's so many reasons why, but one of the key reasons why is I observed her bravery in positioning the company, even through political advocacy and making choices around people first, rather than business first, that really inspired me.
And that leads me into the next question I want to ask you guys. I personally believe that business plays an essential role in driving towards a more equitable and sustainable world. You know, not everybody may agree with that, but I'm curious for your perspective on, you know, what are the challenges, the biggest challenges that we sort of as either society or specifically as women face in leading change through business, do either one of you have a perspective on that.
Megan: So I absolutely agree with that statement, consumers really can make a big impact on sustainability efforts. So, but to make major strides, I think businesses really need to incorporate sustainability into their top level strategy.
So totally agree with you there. As far as the biggest challenges that we face, one of those that I've encountered personally, is not being heard. So I've struggled with really taking up space in conversations when I have an opinion that's relevant. And so to combat that preparation for me personally, is really key and knowing, and really believing that what you're saying needs to be said and not writing it off as just like a flippant comment.
So I know others struggle with this as well. And so making it a point as a woman to really open up the space for other women is something I've been working on as well. The other challenge that I've seen is really the lack of resources for women to gather and talk about leadership and the challenges we face.
So I think we're really finally starting to see more and more leadership groups for women. And as well as we can tap into that support and actually potentially find mentorship in those groups as well. I have a couple of mentors that I reach out to whenever I have some questions that I need to bounce off.
And I've really found that valuable in helping me progress my career.
Kimberly: Bridget, I'm really curious -Megan brings up a really good point. I think about women, not only taking up space, but in that space, having a voice. And I'm curious what your experience has been. You mentioned that, especially in your current organization, that there's lead women in higher percentage than men, which is fantastic. But I'm curious what your experience has been in terms of this challenge that I agree, Megan, I think in general women struggle. And I don't know if it's something about us as beings in terms of societal expectations, how we've . been raised to be more polite or appropriate or what our role is.
If that's some of, what's going on here or what we as women need to be thinking about as we step into and play a leadership role in the sustainability space, I'm curious for your experience and insights, Bridget.
Bridget: Yeah, I, you know, I think it's probably a little bit of both and I think it's changing fast.
So what I see today is not what I saw three years ago. And the fact that in my world and I work with fortune 100 companies, I work with startups and innovators. I work with folks that. Very traditionally kind of male industries, like the recycling industry, pretty male industry, pretty white industry.
Like there's not as much diversity in some of the industries, whereas some of the emerging sales, you go into have tons of diversity, both in terms of gender, in terms of race and in terms of kind of many ways that you define diversity. So speaking kind of from the female lens, it varies industry to industry.
And so in the industries where. it might not have such a kind of large percentage of females were working there. Certainly I think what you guys are talking about is pretty present and the female leaders that I talk to in those industries are saying things like that, that those are challenges.
Whereas when I'm in a room, in my company or with some of these startups. You know, we're investing in often female led minority at led companies because we're somewhat diverse. It's like we think through our own lens and therefore kind of opens up the scope of opportunity for kind of who those leaders are.
And so I know this is a very current topic of just designing and again, speaks to my earlier comment about how do you design the system so that you're building what you're trying to create and versus if anything, to be sustainable. As I mentioned earlier, It needs to be relevant for everybody, or we're not getting anywhere, right?
Like if a cute little percentage of us thinks this is important, that helps us very little since we have such massive global goals that we're trying to achieve. So if we're not thinking about the different demographics and making sure that there's leaders across those demographics, we're not going to get very far in terms of the impact that we're having.
So, the challenge is that, you know, some industries are much further along than others. Also. I work in finance and that is an area that also can be very historically challenging for women. I've heard lots of horror stories. I've been in great fortune to not have those directly and kind of in my world, but the norms are changing as the presence of women in leadership positions change.
And so thinking kind of all across the company and making sure that for females, but also kind of, for other ways that we're defining diversity, that we're looking at that in leadership positions. And we're also looking at that kind of throughout the verticals within a company. And that will create its own change.
It's not fast, it's not easy, but I'm in the fortunate position of being in lots of rooms as female leaders and not experience some of the challenges and frankly not experiencing them for them from the men either. So there's many wonderful men that we work with. And so I do feel like it's very much a design challenge.
Kimberly: I am super heartened and hopeful, based on your perspective that even the last three years, you've seen a lot of change and that thrills me, especially cause I've largely been locked inside my house with COVID for the last three. And haven't had a chance to kind of see what's really going on. So the fact that you're engaging, you know, with these external parties, through partnerships and everything else, and you have visibility to that Bridget, it makes me really excited.
And Megan, I really loved your idea of, you know, where we do make progress, where there are women in leadership, you know, what role can we play as leaders to support and create that open space for voices? Fantastic. That there is progress happening and how can we continue to encourage that progress and be part of the progress. I think your idea was something about, you know, how do we create mentoring circles or opportunities? You know, I like to think even of succession planning, how are we thinking about that? When we have a seat at the table and that leadership space to ensure we're thinking about the diverse audiences of our customers and the solutions that we need to be providing.
Do you guys have any other ideas about how we as leaders can create more opportunity in this space for just for women in general?
Megan: Yeah. I think starting with the younger generation is where my thoughts go. I have several just through my networks through Purdue and just being where I'm located.
I get a lot of women in general, reaching out and asking how they can get into the sustainability space. And I usually point them in different directions. I know a few women in my network who do recycling in Indiana in Indianapolis, or they run the sustainability program for local colleges. So I usually get them in contact with that, but also just follow their career as they progress and look for those opportunities where, you know, potentially we have an opening at Encamp at my company. We can, you can slot them in, but looking for those opportunities so that they can really progress their career and really find those leadership opportunities for the younger generation is where my thoughts go.
Bridget: Yeah. And I would add a couple of things I think that's spot on and I would say that . We know what we see. So we need to have examples out there. And again, the more that people see women out there on the speaking circuit, kind of women as CEOs or in C-level positions, it just presents the like, oh, that makes sense.
That could be me. It feels like me. So we need the different kind of archetypes of humans in leadership positions, so everyone kind of sees themselves as potentially being able to access that and having at least an aspiration towards that could be done. Certainly I think that's been a big part of shifting any kind of demographic going into a certain field along with kind of helping young people kind of understand how to get into that field and creating the programs at an early age.
I guess my other piece of advice would be that you don't have to become a chief sustainability officer. You don't have to be quarantined to the sustainability department or even in a sustainability oriented company, it should be embedded into the business. And in success, you should use your hard skills that you're learning that are, you know, you have an aptitude towards.
So if you are interested in marketing, if you're interested in policy, if you're interested in sales, if you're interested in data, whatever it happens to be, think about how you integrate sustainability into that. And that's where the real impact happens. You know, the people in sustainability, like they usually don't have a budget, they're, they're an internal champion to the people who are running the different parts of the business. So to have people thinking to Megan's earlier point, in terms of integrating that into their core strategy across the business, it requires people who've kind of come from that lens. And so take it into whatever field is interesting to you.
Kimberly: I love that. And I think that leads us naturally into the next question I had for both of you guys, for the folks who are motivated to be part of this change, helping business, helping our world be more sustainable, right, across the people, the social, environmental side of impact to achieve sustainable development goals and social equity. For those who are motivated to be part of this, what steps can they take to help build a more sustainable future?
Bridget: I think there's no one path. So one is, I just say kind of educate yourself or try to identify opportunities to get involved in something that is the most interesting to you. Because again, sustainability does not sit in one pot in one part of the world.
You can go into the public sector. You can go into the private sector. You can go into the nonprofit world. You can be a scientist. You can be in business or social science. There's so many different things where sustainability comes in, you could be a writer and decide to integrate that into storytelling.
Storytelling is an incredibly powerful way to drive cultural norms that will impact the future. So identify what you're going to have the energy to do for some period of time and that's going to motivate. And whatever factors you might also think about in your career. I don't suggest that anyone thinks just about like the thing that's the most impactful, but also think about who are the people that you're working with that are going to motivate you.
What is the lifestyle that you need so that you can be in touch with the things that inspire you to continue to do this work? It's really hard. And it's a long career that you're probably going to have if you're early on. So, so take that long game. So I just don't think that there's kind of one thing to do early, I'd say be open-minded to learning and not being set in ways of thinking, because we're mostly all wrong. And you're going to learn a lot of things along the way that are gonna kind of open your mindset about how to have sustainable outcomes and identify mentors and partners and people that can be on that journey with you, who will continue to kind of keep you motivated over the years.
Kimberly: I love that. This concept of sustainability, you know, didn't really exist back when we were graduating from university Bridget, you and I in that same timeframe, it was, it was new.
And you know, even in that first job I had where I was doing corporate social responsibility work. It was a new thing. And I'm thrilled to see the shift that's happening. And like you said, Bridget, all the change it's been happening even more recently, especially in the last couple of years. With a language around Environmental Social Governance, ESG, right?
It's kind of like this new hot topic and the volume of jobs that I do see that have specific accountability for sustainability are massive, and this has changed a lot and it will continue to change in terms of what we continue to learn. What we know about what sustainability means, what it means for business, what actually works, what doesn't, for our customers, how do we continue to achieve the goals that we're seeking? So that's really exciting. Megan, I want to hear from you too, for those who are motivated to be part of the change, what steps might you recommend they consider?
Megan: I mean, I totally agree with Bridget. It really does start with education and keeping an open mind.
Personally, I would say start small so that you can really build off of that. If you create these small habits just in your day-to-day life, I think you can really add on to that. But start small. So you don't really overwhelm yourself at the beginning. And I really lean on kind of the community groups around my area.
So find out what your community is doing and see if you can get involved that way, whether it's, you know, cleaning up trash on a Saturday or maybe going to a school and educating younger generations about what sustainable practices you can really incorporate in your day-to-day life, but totally agree that it, it really starts with education and just keeping an open mind.
Kimberly: The last question I have for us is for folks who might be listening that feel their organization, right? Where they're currently working, isn't prioritizing sustainability. What guidance might you offer if they're maybe feeling a little frustrated or want to try to drive some change?
Bridget: So a couple of things. One is. you're not stuck anywhere for life. So think about what you can learn and your current position that can help you advance into something that you, where you feel like you could potentially make more of an impact. If you're not feeling like this is the ultimate place where your, your big impact is going to happen over, over the course of your career.
There's something to learn everywhere, including how to work with people who might not care about the same things that you care about and how to influence them. If you can influence other people, you can make a huge impact. And so to that, I'd say, think about what your sphere of influence is within your organization and therefore the type of impact that you might make.
So it doesn't have to be that you're influencing the whole company, but everyone has at least a small sphere of influence, even if you're just changing what's happening in your office, kitchen, and what's happening to the material flows. Like I find that, if you're proactive and you're taking action and signing up for things, people will let you; you might not need to ask permission. You might just keep doing things. And then once you've had a few achievements that might be small, you might be able to open up that web bigger and bigger and I think, that existing within a place that people don't care about, the sustainability, what about that is such a microcosm for the world.
And so it's a great way to learn how to be impactful in challenging environments. And you can decide whether that is your long-term goal of how you influence things now. And then think about the big growing world of sustainable jobs; I see more than I've ever seen before, and it's growing by the day.
Kimberly: Megan. Do you have any thoughts for us about this?
Megan: Yeah, I do. I think in regards to getting your leadership involved in sustainability and prioritizing it something that came to mind was really researching your customers, whether you're business to business or business consumer generally it flows down to those consumers or those businesses where they likely prioritize sustainability. Nowadays I think the brands and the consumers, if they're not aligned on issues, generally, you'll see consumers walk away. So really positioning it that it's actually good for business. And you can show that with, you know, statistics and showing your consumers really pay attention to how you position yourself in environmental and social issues.
I think that's a good way to really get your voice heard.
Kimberly: That brings up a thought I have, which is, you know, it's been fascinating seeing this growth in transition into conversations around sustainability, how it's showing up for business. I think it's becoming more and more common that customers are expecting businesses to have a sustainability report, right. To have insights around what their impacts are and make commitments to actually reduce those impacts. So the only other insight I might offer to folks who might be listening is depending on the size of your company you know, those expectations, for instance, publicly traded companies.
I feel very quickly if they're not already doing this they are going to be required to do this. It's going to be driven. It's a driven expectation of customers and of Wall Street, you know, in the stock markets are going to drive a demand for this. So if it's not yet happening and you're in that space of large companies, it's coming for sure.
So there might be extra opportunities for you to get engaged and to maybe even lead the way if your company is not currently doing some of this work for smaller companies, I think it might take a little bit longer, but totally agreed. This is coming; Like it's, it's a real thing. It's becoming part of the way we do business.
And that gets me excited because it's going to be the norm moving forward. I'm curious as we wrap up ladies, is there anything else you'd love to offer to our listeners?
Bridget: Yeah. I think that to build on that last point we are seeing some of the biggest CEOs of the biggest companies in the world, Walmart and others, like it's a main talking point for them.
So they're struggling with all of the drivers that you mentioned, Kimberly in terms of policy: consumers interests, the media drumbeat around climate plastics, kind of many different issues, social equity, all of these things are so visible today that their license to operate and also, their business costs are all integrated into this.
We're dealing with supply chain breakages. Global disruptions and wars and things that are impacting global supply chain. So we're in this moment where disruption is happening and everything is changing. And that's when innovation comes in and shifts systems in a pretty large way. So we're kind of chipping away, chipping away, chipping away.
And then a moment happens where everything gets shaken up. the snowglobe gets shaken and there's all kinds of really challenging things that come out of that. But there's also. new growth out of that new ways of doing business and new policies and new relationships. And so we'll have to deal with the downsides and the troubles that exist today.
I do think it opens up a gate towards you know, how business is done in the future. And so you can expect a lot of shifts to happen in the coming years. and that will happen in chunks over time.
Kimberly: Yeah, so exciting. I want to thank you both so much for your contributions to our world of sustainability and the work that you do day to day and the work you've done in the past and in the work that I know you're going to do in the future. Thank you so much for being with us today.
Aaron: Open, honest, and direct is produced by Raise The Bar, where we help organizations level up their leadership by empowering their managers with the tools, skills, and training to be better leaders of people you can get in touch with us at raisebar.co.
Thank you for listening and go put your learning into practice.