Interviewed March 2006
Elena is a first year MBA student and newly elected chair of the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School Net Impact Club. Originally from the Philadelphia area, she developed her formative interests through exposure to an entrepreneurial father and her own work with a local environmental education center.
Elena obtained a bachelor of Business Administration degree with a concentration in Operations and Information Technology and a minor in Spanish from College of William and Mary. She worked for several years as an environmental systems consultant at CGI-AMS Inc in Fairfax, VA before returning to school for her MBA. Of her decision to pursue an MBA with a concentration in sustainable enterprise she says, "I knew that I wanted to move into a job where I could really make a difference, but wasn't sure how to articulate exactly what I was looking for. Because the field of sustainable enterprise was new and developing, I felt that I needed to learn from whatever examples were available before searching for a new a career. I was enthusiastic to learn what was going on in the field and where past attempts had failed or been successful. Most importantly, I viewed an MBA program as a safe environment in which to explore my interests and to develop them into a competitive advantage."
In choosing a business school, Elena started with a list of schools with an established and acclaimed focus on sustainable enterprise. UNC Kenan-Flagler was close to the top of this list. When she visited Chapel Hill during the Experience Weekend for newly admitted students, she was incredibly impressed by the opportunities provided by the Kenan Institute and particularly the Center for Sustainable Enterprise. "I also met with several student members of the Net Impact club and got a sense that students at UNC Kenan-Flagler were really concerned about corporate social responsibility. UNC Kenan-Flagler had the most impressive record of providing classes related to sustainability and placing students in sustainability-related internships and jobs."
Her time at UNC Kenan-Flagler up to this point has taught her how to use sustainability as a lens through which to view all traditional areas of business. The school has helped her understand how to make the business case for sustainability through the analysis of several practical and important case studies of situations where sustainability could be used to reduce costs, improve brand image, and create a competitive advantage for corporations.
Elena's passion for sustainability can be traced back to an early age. As a 12 year old, she attended an environmental education summer camp in Pennsylvania and was thrilled by the importance and awesomeness of our natural environment. She returned as a counselor for several summers thereafter and helped to teach children about the environment. With an entrepreneurial father, she was also attracted to the innovation and creativity that business resources allow. Through her college and early career she sought for ways to merge her passion for both business and the environment. She firmly believes that the private sector will provide the resources and innovative spirit required to solve today's social and environmental problems.
On the importance of learning how to incorporate social and environmental impact management into general business practices, Elena says "Among all of the entities functioning in the world, private enterprise has the greatest access to financial resources and human creativity. The influence of business on governments and the public sector is undeniable, and only continues to grow as marketplaces become global. For these reasons, business has the incredible power to cause great harm, or do great good. That is why I believe it is vital for today's business people to consider the footprint of their business decisions on the global community."
Elena's goal for the future is to be a key figure in leveraging the human and financial capital available to businesses and using these to improve environmental and social conditions around the world. Most importantly, she hopes to be in a position where she can help prove that sustainability and profitability are no longer mutually exclusive corporate goals. Down the road she would specifically like to focus on the development of public-private partnerships for sustainable international development.
Over the summer Elena will be interning in Bangkok, Thailand; through a partnership between the Kenan Institute Asia and the Thai Government. She will be working in a team to diagnose and solve the export logistics issues of small Thai businesses in their attempt to increase connectivity across Asia.
Sustainability Book Recommendation:
Collapse: How societies choose to fail or succeed By: Jared Diamond
Takeaway lesson: Developing society without awareness of, or concern for environmental issues can eventually lead to the falling down of the society. The book provides an interesting view of the histories of ancient society and the current state of our society, highlighting the potential for future greatness or collapse depending on the decisions made today.
Nominee for Sustainability Superstar:
Hunter Lovins - Author of 'Natural Capitalism,' founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute, and consultant for sustainable development to several public entities.
Hunter Lovins truly believes that sustainability can positively effect business organizations and their bottom lines. Hunter works with both private and public organizations to advance the understanding and acceptance of sustainability in both sectors.