It's great to connect with people in industry who are making a major effort to move the needle. Seeing what social and sustainable venturing look like in practice really grounds the concepts we're covering in classes and provides important perspectives on what it takes to make an impact. - Wolfgang Reichard (MBA ‘23)
Over the past several weeks CESR has hosted a series of small group conversations for business students with professionals working in roles that align with our three priority areas: business solutions to environmental challenges, ethical leadership, and diversity, equity and inclusion. Our guests have come from the natural and organic industry, the clean energy transition, and the world of social justice and community impact. This program, called CESR Explores, offers students a unique opportunity to learn from the experience of trailblazers, and to reflect on their own career goals and trajectories.
Meet this year’s CESR Explores guest speakers
Cullen is founder and “Chief of Good Thoughts” (aka CEO) for DoneGood, an online platform where you can shop with sustainable brands that pay fair wages, use eco-friendly practices, and invest in social impact. All products on DoneGood are made ethically and sustainably. And DoneGood users can further filter product searches based on more specific issues important to them—like finding products that are organic, non-toxic, vegan, Made in the USA, and more. Cullen started DoneGood because he believes the world’s most powerful force for change is the dollars we all spend.
As a public benefit corporation, DoneGood has a social mission baked right into its company charter and is legally obligated to pursue that mission. For Cullen, business success and impact are tied. “We operate on conscious capitalism principles; from a place of love,” he explains. “DoneGood is for people who want to use their purchasing power for good. In the long run, if you are creating value in a real way you make money.”
Cullen’s vision is to inspire and support people to make more conscious choices. His goal is “to help increasingly large numbers of people move large sums of money [away] from companies that keep people in poverty and destroy the planet, and demonstrate aggregate consumer demand for sustainable products.” Michele Lishnevsky (MBA ‘23) appreciated Cullen’s focus on “being mindful and conscious about where your money is going as the thing that leads to socially responsible shopping.”
Cullen believes that moving business toward doing good, and having a moral foundation, is “the most important shift in the world. We need to act ethically and morally in the business world, not just in our private lives,” he argues.
KeHE Distributors®, a natural, organic, specialty and fresh product distribution company, is the second largest B Corp in the USA. They work with over 8,000 brands, of which 100 are B Corps. As Laura McCord, Executive Director of Sustainability & Corporate Responsibility at KeHE, says, “it's kind of a big deal.”
Laura drives environmental stewardship, employee engagement, and community involvement within the company. She started her career as a zoo keeper, and worked as a grocer and merchandiser before shifting into sustainability. In her current role, Laura co-founded KeHE’s CAREtrade® and DIVERSEtrade™, to support suppliers that share KeHE’s mission to make a difference in the world, and celebrate women, veteran, LGBTQ, disability, and minority-owned businesses. Laura is in the process of launching a new program that identifies companies making a significant climate action commitment. She is trying to create a “race to the top” so that more businesses want to be part of this movement. At the center of Laura’s approach is the question “how can we better serve brands that align with our commitment to making lives better?”
Christine Mondry, a recruiter for KeHE, joined the company because of its commitment to social and environmental impact. In addition to their B Corp status and commitment to DE&I, Christine was attracted to the KeHE Cares program, which uses service trips to give to the causes and communities their employees are passionate about, and to develop leaders within the company. On these trips they remove titles and stay focused on “remaining relational, acting like your best self, and returning to joy,” explained Laura.
Even though KeHE sells to retailers, not to consumers, the company’s commitment to environmental and social sustainability positions them as thought leaders, Christine said. They have a platform from which to inspire retailers to support sustainable brands.
Laura’s advice to those building a career is to “be humble and collaborative and help people with their objectives.” She looks for people who share their good ideas with their teams to lift everyone up, not just people who hit all their targets.
Dr. Ryan Ross serves as the Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, Equity, and Inclusion for the Colorado Community College System, owns a boutique speaking and consulting firm called Stirred UP Enterprises, and serves as President of the Urban Leadership Foundation of Colorado. Ryan’s passion for community, leadership, and education is related to his experiences growing up and desire to pay it forward to. His many roles are all focused on investing in people and using an equity lens to look at ways that work can be more impactful.
Ryan focuses on the business world because, he says “the world of work brings people together and is the most diverse place we have in our country. When we give work purpose, act intentionally and with integrity, and stand up for change, that ensures everyone thrives.” Ryan also believes that we need diversity to be successful. “Business is about results,” he explains. “What a business wants to do doesn’t always work in the target community if you decide for the stakeholder. Businesses have to listen and ask about the experience others are having.”
One of the central tenets of Ryan’s work is that to achieve social impact, you must start with understanding people. Michael Bortnowski (B.S.B.A. Business Analytics, Economics Minor ‘22) says he was struck by Ryan’s comment that "As leaders, we have to pause and take the time to think ‘What role do I have? What are the strengths of my teammates? How can I build an offense around their talents and natural strengths?’”
“Talk to people everywhere you go,” Ryan says. “Everyone you meet knows something you don’t know, or has an ability you don’t have.” Ryan continues to live by his own words “Achievement waits ahead so never look back, besides why settle on being good when we are designed to be great!”
Amy Haddon, Schneider Electric
Amy Haddon drives thought leadership and client communication services for Schneider Electric’s (SE) Sustainability Business, where she is responsible for elevating market awareness and corporate storytelling on climate change, sustainability, decarbonization pathways, renewable energy and clean technologies, and the energy transition. She tracks trends, educates clients, and consults with experts inside SE to ensure the company has a voice in the larger conversation about the clean energy and climate transition.
She has watched the private sector shift from considering energy management the responsibility of plant managers, to more and more centralizing these functions within business operations. She attributes this shift to increasing outside pressure from competitors and financial markets as climate impacts become more tangible. But Amy believes sustainability is a systemic issue that requires working not just at the individual or organizational level. “We could all as individuals live our best, most sustainable lives but without systems change we won't get where we need to go,” she argues. At the same time, she is optimistic that transitioning to a predominantly renewable grid is inevitable.
Amy sees opportunities to improve access to affordable electricity as the grid transitions for underserved and minoritized populations. She believes that we can make progress by focusing on a “just transition” that marries economic viability and job creation to clean energy infrastructure.
“Two billion people don’t have access to electricity today,” she points out. “It's outrageous, and we can fix it. Because no electricity means no digital, and that has huge ramifications for education and economic development.”
The key skill, Amy says, for being successful in her field is the ability to understand data. Second to that is managing complexity, and negotiation and influencing skills. “The field is growing exponentially and there is a need for people focused on action and impact,” she says.
To learn more about CESR’s upcoming events check out our website.