Interviewed June 2010
For Lysandra Gibbs, the president of the Kenan-Flagler MBA Net Impact Chapter, sustainability isn't only a career interest or a subject she is studying at Kenan-Flagler, it is a lifestyle. Just ask any of her classmates, family or friends about Lysandra's personal commitment to sustainability, and they'll probably start telling you about her worms. Yes, worms. Lysandra is a dedicated composter, and the happy owner of red wiggler worms, which were made famous during her first year at Kenan-Flagler when they escaped from under her sink at home while she was at school one day. The obvious humor of the situation provided a platform for Lysandra to educate her friends about the benefits and potential hiccups, of composting, a sustainable method of waste management. As a result, the worms have become infamous, and Lysandra's name is now synonymous with sustainability education at Kenan-Flagler.
Lysandra's initial interest in sustainability stemmed from practicing waste management a number of years ago while she was picking up trash at the campsite where she and her boyfriend, Adam, had spent a weekend enjoying the outdoors. While applying the "leave things better than you found them" mantra that her mother taught her at a young age, it dawned on Lysandra just how much work it was to collect up and carry out every scrap of food and trash that they had packed in for their stay. Lysandra recounted, "I started thinking about how much work it was to make sure we left it better than we found it, and I thought about how people don't understand that we need to live our lives that way in order to leave the Earth better than we found it. And that's when I realized I wanted to focus on sustainability."
Originally from Lansing, Michigan, Lysandra received her undergraduate degree at the University of Pennsylvania, before moving to New York to pursue a career in brand management at Brooklyn Brewery, a sustainable beer brewer and distributer. During her time at the brewery, she learned that being a green company doesn't mean you are green in everything that you do. Brooklyn Brewery is well known for its dedication to wind energy, which it uses to power much of its brewing process. However, it frustrated Lysandra that the company ignored a number of far simpler sustainability practices, such as recycling office paper. The experience prompted her to head back to school for an MBA with a focus on sustainability. "I wanted to learn the business case for why companies should practice sustainability holistically," Lysandra explains, "I decided to pursue an education in sustainability in order to make it my first professional priority, rather than a secondary project."
Through her studies at Kenan-Flagler, Lysandra discovered a professional passion for helping businesses align their marketing strategy with their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives. Lysandra says, "I discovered in business school that the things I respond to most quickly are sustainability issues dealing with social responsibility… basically the people aspect of the sustainability Venn diagram." In order to connect with the community-enabling side of sustainability, Lysandra hopes to work on the corporate side to help companies define effective sustainability projects that not only make investment sense, but are large enough to make a lasting impact on the community the company serves. This summer, Lysandra will be working for CSE Consulting in Chapel Hill, NC: "I hope to use my time this summer to develop leadership skills within the realm of sustainability in order to later be better able to influence management in future companies I work for. I want to understand how to talk about sustainability in a way that will motivate business leaders to commit to it."
Lysandra also wants to motivate people to embrace sustainability beyond the office, and believes education is the key to helping people be more sustainable in their personal lives. She is motivated to create what she calls "Sustainable Citizens" who are informed about the best ways to enjoy daily life while also being vigilant about living as sustainably as they are able. As President of Kenan-Flagler's MBA Net Impact chapter, she has already organized a number of events aimed at educating the business school community about the simplest ways to be sustainable.
No matter what Lysandra does after graduation, one thing is certain, she will leave Kenan-Flagler better than she found it.
Sustainability Reading Recommendation:
"Just Good Business: The Strategic Guide to Aligning Corporate Responsibility and Brand" by Kellie A. McElhaney
Lysandra read "Just Good Business" before taking Kellie McElhaney's Strategic Corporate Social Responsibility class, now one of her favorite classes at UNC Kenan-Flagler so far. The book opened her eyes to the potential benefit that both companies and communities can reap from well-aligned CSR strategies, which has since become a professional passion for Lysandra.