Soap, Biodiesel & Lawns: Partnering for Sustainability in Higher Education

Contributed by D. John Mascarenhas, MBA

Picture this. College students creating a way to use the sun’s energy to recapture and then reuse methanol from caustic water. That water is an unwanted byproduct of taking the waste grease from campus dining and making biodiesel, which is then sold to the campus shuttle bus operator. All part of a student-run sustainable enterprise — “intrapreneurship” in action.

Is this a snapshot of a more sustainable future? Yes, it is. And, it’s happening right now at Loyola University Chicago.

The story above comes from Nancy Tuchman, PhD, Founding Director of Loyola’s new Institute of Environmental Sustainability. During a Spheres of Influence Virtual Fireside Chat on April 2, 2014, she talked about the principles of sustainability that students learn, and how Loyola then empowers students to design and build innovative sustainable solutions that have value in the marketplace. In other words, students have a structured way to become sustainable entrepreneurs.

The primary goal of the Institute of Environmental Sustainability, says Dr. Tuchman, is to raise awareness through education and experiential learning about issues of environmental sustainability that threaten our planet. The Institute is focused in the areas of sustainability that line up well with Loyola’s environmental academic expertise, including the loss of biodiversity, the broken food system, and climate change.

In particular, the Institute considers problems caused by our current linear resource-to-product-to-waste system and looks to circular natural systems that thrive on a waste-eliminating loop. As it’s often said, “nothing is wasted in nature.”

Tuchman enthusiastically talks about how the students want to go further to close the product loop. Seeing that they had more biodiesel than they could sell to the campus bus system, Loyola did the heavy lifting to become the first school to be EPA certified in manufacturing and distributing biodiesel. (And, it published a manual on how to do that.)

To further close the loop, the students learned and applied chemistry to extract the methanol from wastewater and, after much trial and error, to make soap from lye — another biodiesel waste product.

The fireside chat also included a discussion about corporate-higher education partnerships. Loyola has a career development program with Baxter International. They are developing internships at Baxter’s Chicago-based labs as part of the corporation’s industry-leading sustainability initiatives.

The second guest featured in the Spheres Fireside chat was Marc Goodman, MBA, a consultant who has spent approximately two decades in corporations such as Alcatel-Lucent and Motorola promoting innovation and creating strategic partnerships between higher education and corporations.

Asked about how both parties benefit from partnerships, Goodman says that corporations receive good PR and a ‘halo’ effect across their brand. Colleges and universities learn what is happening today in the market, from experts who are seeing a changing world. And students’ experiences with corporations guide their thoughts on jobs and career opportunities.

Our host, Dr. Sarah Warren, asks Goodman to advise Loyola on a potential partnership. Nancy Tuchman introduces a case study: In Loyola’s community, there are hundreds of the small urban grass yards that are familiar to us all, but are in fact unsustainable. Solutions would include native landscaping and edible gardens, resulting in better biodiversity and less storm water runoff (the kind that leads to basement flooding).

Goodman suggests getting small teams of students to create sample plots of land on campus. Once there are a few different successful samples (size, types of plants, etc.), then they might partner with the City of Chicago to market the solutions in different communities. The City gets to forward it’s “green initiatives” through the partnership.

And now, the value of the fireside chat format comes into play, through an open discussion of challenges and opportunities. Out of this conversation emerges a potential collaborative approach among universities: Several Chicago-based universities could partner with each other and with the City to test and then implement sustainable yard solutions in each school’s hyper-local community. Best practices and learnings can be shared. Impact could be broader and more efficient.

Goodman sums the conversation up by remarking that today’s students are very interested in giving back and in being entrepreneurial. Students may even want to connect across universities, and longer-lived teams could solve the ‘semester timeline’ challenge. Students can make an impact, and gain experience that future employers will value.

This session resonates with me as the blogger. I have been working in sustainable management since 2007, and was on the founding teams of three start-up ventures before that. There are many names for what’s happening in Chicago, the US and around the globe: “Social entrepreneurship” and “sustainable ventures” among them. What matters is that by whatever name its called, there is a willingness to create a long-term sustainable vision, and to get to work: to take risks, to innovate by exploring new approaches, to learn in a real world setting, and to get solutions to scale. This is part of a movement that we need to lead us to a more equitable, sustainable prosperity.

About the Author

D. John Mascarenhas, MBA guides businesses, non-profits and entrepreneurs as a sustainability and business growth consultant. As a Partner with Sustainametrics, John works closely with clients to develop sustainable strategy, prioritize goals and initiatives, and develop clear measurement-based implementation plans. In working with clients, John actively listens, tailors and applies proven methodologies, adds insight and guidance, and supports them in setting and achieving ambitious goals.

Since 2007, John has worked in the evolving field of Sustainable Management. He specializes in project management; sustainability strategy, planning and implementation; analysis and prioritization of sustainability initiatives; stakeholder engagement; financial analysis, business cases and funding; and GHG quantification and emissions reduction strategy.

Previously, John had strategy, business development and operations roles on the founding teams of three start-up ventures. His entrepreneurial work included strategy, business development, financial model/projections, and marketing strategy with FullAudio (digital music service, later sold to AOL), Second Cycle (web-based process improvement software) and Digital Senseworks (design and integration of smart home systems).

John’s education includes an Executive Certificate in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School, an MBA from Cornell University’s Johnson School, a BA in Economics from Bucknell University.


April 14, 2014 at 9:36 pm Leave a comment

From Tinkering to Transformation: Wisdom From Julie Newman of MIT

Contributed by Ilsa Flanagan, JD

Julie Newman– featured guest in a recent Spheres of Influence Virtual Fireside Chat– has been launching and leading higher education sustainability offices for a long time, almost 20 years.  So when she started her new position as Director of Sustainability at MIT last year, she was of a mind to do things differently, to figure out how to create what she calls “the next generation sustainability office.” As a pioneer in this field, Newman stays engaged by being in a constant state of inquiry.  Are we using the most effective approach?  What impact are we really having? Newman is employing her own brain trust of MIT colleagues and friends in the field to pose and answer such questions.

Sustainability offices in higher education have taken off in the last several years, as evidenced by the burgeoning membership in AASHE and the proliferation of offices on college campuses.  They’ve been successful in addressing a wide range of environmental issues, tracking data, and leading engagement and awareness building activities.   These days on college campuses you’ll see community gardens, compost bins, solar arrays, ubiquitous recycling containers, and various directives telling you what you should (“throw your plastics here”) and shouldn’t (“don’t leave your office lights on”) do.

But Newman wants us to think beyond these incremental changes, to think about transformation and to consider what the “next gen” office should look like.

Newman has some ideas. For one, it’s not waiting to be called to the decision-making table. By “moving into the core of the institution,” Newman plans to position the sustainability office as a nexus of connectivity with the intellectual capital to create a network of faculty, students and staff. This network will consider the complex issues of sustainability as a system, not stand-alone concerns.  To get to next gen, Newman is reflecting on a number of questions:

Are we having the societal impact that we have set out to have?
Are we merely doing less bad, or are we transforming?  Are we being regenerative?
If we need new models, what kind do we need?
Do the incremental steps, the tinkering, eventually lead to transformation?
Is the narrative we created years ago still relevant?
What role does science play? Have we set goals that align ourselves with the science regionally and globally?

Newman knows that there are some sustainability offices already engaging in this level of inquiry.  In fact, it’s the very nature of sustainability staff that can create the space for these conversations to happen.  As Newman says, they tend to be “multilingual” in that they can connect with and relate to a diverse mix of people:  building managers, engineers, administration, faculty and students, and community leaders.  “This is a unique characteristic we bring to these positions [that allows us] to transform the way we make decisions, our ability to take risks, our ability to frame a new future.”

All these questions can keep Newman up at night.  Ultimately, she is concerned that sustainability offices remain more risk-averse than she’d anticipated when early in her career she helped launch sustainability efforts at the University of New Hampshire.

And it leads to more questions:

What do we have to do next to expedite the adaptation of new design and technologies?
How do we make our institutions more comfortable with risk, and possibly failure?

For now, Newman is happy to be exploring these questions.  But at MIT she is adamant that her office not be defined by incremental change.  She senses that this is making people uncomfortable, so she must be on the right path.

Listen to the MP3 of February 2014 Spheres of Influence Virtual Roundtable:

About the Author

Ilsa Flanagan, JD is an accomplished organizational strategist and visionary leader with over 15 years of experience designing and leading environmental and social programs across sectors.  As president of i flanagan consulting, she provides mission-driven leaders with the expertise and tools to create high performing, purpose-driven organizations that are addressing the critical issues of our time.

A pioneer in the field of sustainability, Ilsa uses a data-driven, relationship-centric approach to create institutional change and long-term value. Within the context of the organization’s culture and ethos, she makes connections among people and systems to successfully build and implement strong programs with meaningful results.

Most recently Ilsa was the University of Chicago’s founding executive director for its Office of Sustainability where she developed a transformative campus-wide program with a focus on faculty, student and community research and partnerships. Before joining the University, Ilsa was the founding director and senior vice president of Sustainable Development at LaSalle Bank/ABN AMRO. She led the company’s efforts to develop a North American Sustainable Development initiative aligned with its global program.  As the associate director at SUSTAIN, a nonprofit environmental communications group, she was an early advocate in the good food movement.  Ilsa also spent over a decade in Washington DC and was head of public policy for the United Way of America.

March 7, 2014 at 12:00 pm Leave a comment

Mandela Passes the Mantle: How Will You Play Your Bigger Game?

Contributed by Dr. Sarah

When my father died unexpectedly 11 years ago, a friend of his said “The old trees are falling.” I had just given birth to my first son. My brother and I nervously acknowledged to each other that we weren’t quite sure we were ready to become the elders. But we didn’t have a choice.

In Mandela’s passing, an old and graceful tree has fallen.

Mandela died the day after the Spheres of Influence virtual fireside chat on Playing a Bigger Game, about challenging ourselves to expand our impact.

Many people have been writing and speaking about leadership lessons from one of the greatest leaders of our times. His courage.  His wisdom.  His grace.

As I’ve listened to many people share their memories, I’ve been particularly struck by his sense of humor, which he used to engage, to disarm, and to challenge.

Those of us who are involved in causes, including the cause of environmental sustainability, are often afflicted by an excess of earnestness and self-righteousness. I am guilty of this myself at times, in spite of my best efforts. And although I can be playful, humor isn’t my forte.

Mandela’s passing has made me reflect on what my father’s death has meant for me. And it has reinvigorated my sense of calling to use my talents to the greatest extent possible, to live into the responsibility of an elder.

Few of us have the grandeur of a Mandela. Yet we can all learn from the many leadership gifts that Mandela embodied.

How will you step up your use of your Spheres of Influence? How will you play your Biggest Game?

How will you assume the mantle that Mandela has passed on?

Post a comment about how you are answering the call to action!

December 17, 2013 at 4:26 am Leave a comment

Wisdom from Patagonia’s Jill Dumain: Passion Meets Talent Meets Purpose in CSR

Contributed by Susan Camberis, MSHR, SPHR

In a recent Spheres of Influence roundtable on leadership and career paths, Jill Dumain, Director of Environmental Strategy for Patagonia, shared career and leadership insights from her tenure with one of the nation’s most well-known sustainable brands.

One of the questions Jill addressed was how to integrate Corporate Social Responsibility and sustainability into any role, regardless of whether “sustainability” is part of one’s job title.  Jill offered the following wise advice:

  1. Choose an industry you’re really passionate about to sustain you through your career journey.  Jill is passionate about textiles.  After graduating with a degree in Textiles and Clothing from the University of California – Davis, Jill chose Patagonia to pursue this passion and grew into her position as Director of Environmental Strategy.
  2. Seek out companies with progressive values.  Many organizations have a decentralized structure, which means the sustainability team is always looking for people who want to help.  Find the people who are working on sustainability initiatives and offer to help – your efforts will be appreciated.
  3. When you start working in a department, look for ways to integrate sustainable practices.  Think about the work.  Figure out how it can be done in a more sustainable way.  In time, you can become the resident sustainability expert in your department.

Jill’s advice resonated with me on two levels.

First, as a Human Resources professional who’s coached current and prospective employees who want to move into sustainable jobs and careers, I see Jill’s counsel as providing a practical pathway that can create momentum.  Picking an industry you’re passionate about can increase your engagement.  Picking an organization whose values match your own creates alignment and momentum.

Second, as someone who’s been on a journey to increase my own sustainability knowledge and have a greater impact, I find that Jill’s advice correlates with my experience working for a large, public, impact employer.  When I initially expressed interest in learning about sustainability, I was welcomed by the sustainability team to contribute in whatever way I could.  Some of the ways I contributed with an HR background included: helping to educate HR colleagues about the company’s sustainability priorities and goals; participating in our cross-functional sustainability working group; participating in headquarter’s environmental education efforts; and connecting the company’s sustainability team with local Net Impact student members.

The lesson which life constantly repeats is to ‘look under your feet.’  You are always nearer to the divine and the true sources of your power than you think.  The lure of the distant and the difficult is deceptive.  The great opportunity is where you are.  -John Burroughs from Studies in Nature and Literature

Start where you are today.  Determine where you can have an impact.

I look forward to the next Spheres of Influence virtual roundtable when I will share my insights on talent management and CSR alongside Melissa O’Mara on December 4, 2013.  Join us for a lively and rich discussion!

About the author:

Susan Camberis, MSHR, SPHR is a Talent Management and HR thought leader with expertise in career development, employee engagement, workforce planning, change management, internal consulting, organizational development, and employee relations.

Since 1999 Susan has held various HR roles with Baxter Healthcare Corporation, a global, diversified healthcare company headquartered in Deerfield, IL. Baxter’s commitment to sustainability spans more than three decades. In her most recent role as Director, Talent Management, Susan served on a Baxter’s cross-functional sustainability working group.

Susan is passionate about CSR and sustainability, and is particularly interested in how companies are engaging employees and developing talent while becoming more sustainable.  Interested in educating other HR professionals, Susan led the planning for a 2010 HR Association meeting entitled, Sustainability and Going Green: Impacts and Opportunities for HR.  Susan is a member of the Chicago Professional Chapter of Net Impact and serves on Net Impact’s Corporate Advisory Council.  Her Career Story is featured on Net Impact’s career site.

Connect with her on LinkedIn.

November 24, 2013 at 2:30 am Leave a comment

“You Think You’re Too Small to Make a Difference?” Leadership Wisdom from Jill Dumain of Patagonia

Contributed by Dr. Sarah
Jill Dumain, Director of Environmental Strategy at Patagonia, is an unlikely leader in that her college degree was in textiles.
On November 6, 2013, Jill joined us for a Spheres of Influence Virtual Roundtable in which she shared her down-to-earth insights into how we can all become leaders.
She shares her insights into the value of perseverance and collaboration in working with stakeholders who don’t want to change– and resistance to change is human.  She also offers her pearls of wisdom about launching a career in sustainability, with the recommendation that we find opportunities in whatever field we feel passionate about, and then find ways to make ourselves valuable sustainability resources within that role.
Jill wisely  quoted the Dalai Lama: “If you think you’re too small to make a difference, try sleeping in a room with a mosquito.” Thank you, Jill, for reminding us that we all have spheres of influence, however big or small.

We also hear from emerging leaders at NetImpact and Bard’s MBA Program as well as seasoned leader, Melissa O’Mara who has championed sustainability first at IBM and how at Schneider Electric.

Sustainability guru Gil Friend, CEO of NaturaLogic, adds his wisdom as well, and reminded us that the three pillars of leadership are “curiosity, love and courage.” When was the last time you heard love invoked in a business context?
When was the last time you heard “love” being talked about in connection with business leadership?
Listen in to be inspired by Gil Friend of NatuaLogic and Jill Dumain of Patagonia!
Click here to listen!
We’d love your thoughts on sustainability leadership! Post a comment!

November 8, 2013 at 11:30 pm Leave a comment

Connect! Reflections on the Role of Social in Sustainability Leadership

Contributed by Kryie Bock

The question for today’s blog post:
What did I take away from the recent Spheres of Influence Virtual Roundtable on “Why Social is Key for Women Leaders?” Connection.  To gather and truly “fireside chat” about two topics we are most passionate about–Sustainability and Connecting– leads to connection!
“Connecting” in ways that are often seen as “disconnected” because they’re virtual was a challenge successfully overcome in this inspiring and engaging forum for conversation.
There were several great takeaways, but one stood out above all others. “Confidence is key. Having a voice is the start…” said Andrea Learned, social media strategist and author of  Don’t Think Pink.  And it turns out that social media can help people build not just relationships but confidence. For those of you who are just starting out, or who are introverts, this is for you, too. Social media participation can allow you to put your toe in the water, before going “all in.” You can start on which ever social media platform seems most accessible to you, whether it’s Twitter, or Google+ or LinkedIn, and expand from there as you get more comfortable. Or maybe you’ll just decide that one platform really works for you and stay there.
I posed this question to Andrea Learned: “As V.P. of Membership Engagement for the Net Impact Chicago Professional Chapter, with over 600+ members, with our members having various backgrounds from students, with professionals in business, CSR, Non-Profit,  Engineering, Architecture, and Higher Education, tell me about appropriate strategies for an organization like ours.”
Andrea’s answer. “Focus on sharing what is exciting,” what are your members sharing with you, and use those themes to give back variety! And frequency, yes to that, too. In any new relationship when “connecting,” aren’t you always wanting more? Yes. Also, give the new and tenured members the connection they are looking for by providing quality information– serve as a resouce! Have the Board of Net Impact Chicago exercise its leadership by having its passion and voice heard through  social media outlets. And, Andrea gave a great suggestion which is that chapter-based organizations can share each others’ successes via social media, creating a broader, national network that is supporting and learning from each other. And it can be fun!
The experience of participating in this conversation added value to me personally and professionally. And most all, this has certainly moved my needle so that I can add more value to colleagues, and I got some great news resources and channels for doing so!

Thank you to all and look forward to “chatting” with you on at the next Spheres of Influence roundtable on November 4th when we learn from Jill Dumain about her career path and leadership insights at the great sustainable business Patagonia!

October 18, 2013 at 8:36 pm Leave a comment

Why Social is Important to Women Leaders: October 2nd Virtual Roundtable Series Event

Contributed by Dr. Sarah

We recently had a great Spheres of Influence virtual roundtable on the topic of Why Social Is Important to Women Leaders.

The roundtable featured social media strategist Andrea Learned ( , author of Don’t Think Pink. 

Listen to the conversation here: Andrea Learned Conference Call MP3 October 2nd 2013

What are your “take aways?” Post a comment!

Please join us for our upcoming events in the Fall 2013 series!

Register here to sign up for events in the series

November 6th

2-3 ET/ 1-2 CT/ 11-12 PT

Jill Dumain, Director of Environmental Strategy at Patagonia

Career Pathways & Leadership Competencies

December 4th

 2-3 ET/ 1-2 CT/ 11-12 PT

Susan Camberis Director of Human Resources, Baxter Healthcare &

Melissa O’Mara of Schneider Electric (formerly with IBM):

Playing a Bigger Game

Register now!

October 5, 2013 at 3:58 am Leave a comment

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