Interviewed May 2009
Before starting his summer internship with Duke Energy, Dan Sowder (MBA 2010) spent time supporting an international defense exercise somewhere in Southeast Asia. From Naval Officer to sustainability advocate, Dan's journey has taken him all over the world with his latest stop being Kenan-Flagler Business School here in Chapel Hill. It was during his career as a nuclear submarine officer in the U.S. Navy that Dan first encountered the triple-bottom-line approach to solving an economic problem.
"While I was stationed in Europe, my job involved finding ways to use military partnerships to create long-term stability in historically unstable parts of the world," Dan said. "For one assignment, I travelled to the recently independent Balkan country of Montenegro. After years of warfare and economic stagnation, Montenegrins were rebuilding their economy and looking around the world at other free-market economies for examples. It was clear to them that a free-market economy was the most effective and fastest way to improve their people's quality of life. But there were risks involved: could the pristine Adriatic coast remain a draw for tourists despite rapid free-market development? Could viable industries be established that provide jobs and livelihoods in their country without exploiting the workforce? The world offered few good examples of developing economies that had achieved a balance between economic success and social equity and environmental conservation. It was clear that businesses would provide the economic engine for advancement, but it was uncertain what the cost would be."
"Understanding the Montenegrin perspective really helped me see how businesses- not governments or militaries- are the most effective at improving people's quality of life, but they must do so in a responsible manner that takes into account profits, social equality and environmental conservation. Without these types of businesses, Montenegro and the rest of the world will not achieve the long-term prosperity that we all deserve."
Dan's understanding of complex issues was greatly influenced by his work with the U.S. Navy in Europe and this new perspective helped convince him that a career course-change was needed. "An Admiral I worked for made the analogy that we [the military] were a football team, and we're really good at football, but we're at a baseball game, so we need to learn how to play baseball… building partnerships and allied navies is our mission, not sinking them." Dan admired this Admiral's courage to recognize the need to use our energy for a more constructive end so he got off of the football team and joined the baseball team! "It was clear to me that business has the most potential to bring improvements to many areas of the world and business school seemed to be the right place to learn how to improve people lives most effectively. I chose Kenan-Flagler because of its strong reputation in Sustainable Enterprise and because people at UNC think about business not only in a functional sense but also in terms of how it could be used to improve the world."
This summer Dan is interning with Duke Energy in Charlotte, N.C. His career goal is to advance the implementation of renewable energy into the mainstream energy infrastructure. "Renewable energy addresses the root cause of many of today's problems, including energy security and environmental concerns," he said. As one of the largest regulated utilities and the third largest carbon-dioxide emitter in the United States, Duke Energy delivers reliable and affordable energy to millions and has a huge opportunity to change the way we impact the environment through electric power generation. Duke Energy is largely a coal-based utility but recognized the need to promote several progressive methods of reducing its emissions, including energy efficiency initiatives, investment in renewable energy generation such as utility-scale wind and solar projects, and with paradigm shifting ideas such as dispersed generation, smart-grid technology, and infrastructure supporting electric cars.
"I believe that a large utility like Duke Energy has a great potential for shifting our energy paradigm to cleaner, domestic sources on a large scale," he said. "Someday in the future, when we think of energy, we'll think of renewable sources as 'normal' rather than an exception." In addition to pursuing his MBA, Dan has taken on a leadership role with Net Impact as the 2009-10 president. "Business school is an opportunity for each of us to identify and explore what values are most important to us and how we can achieve them through our careers," he continued. "Net Impact serves as a catalyst and a guide in this process… I want all students to feel empowered to pursue a career that embodies their ideals. Dan's overarching goal is for sustainability to be so ingrained into all businesses that it will be a central part of everyone's business school curriculum, even without the Net Impact Club. "The sooner we help put sustainability into business, the quicker that Net Impact will be out of business!"
Sustainability Reading Recommendations:
"Collapse" by Jared Diamond — "An anthropological look at how humans over the course of thousands of years have systematically destroyed the environment in which they have lived and brought about the downfall of their own culture and how our current society is equipped to break this pattern."
"Ishmael" by Daniel Quinn — "As a turncoat from conventional thinking to sustainable thinking, this book was one of the first that caused me to question how mankind is running the world. Far from being a business book, this novel is told from the perspective of an enlightened gorilla and helped me verbalize some of the tension I felt between our culture and the natural world."