Happy Earth Day! In celebration, we had the pleasure to chat with Lynelle Cameron. She is a business executive, investor, and board member with 20+ years of corporate experience helping large and small companies capitalize on market opportunities related to ESG, sustainability, social impact, and climate change. She was most recently VP of Sustainability at Autodesk and CEO of the Autodesk Foundation and is currently at a pivot point in her career.
Lynelle got a Master’s in Environmental Policy and Management from the School of Natural Resources and Environment at Michigan which enabled her to really double down at the intersection of people and the planet further. But after reading “The Ecology of Commerce” by Paul Hawken, she became aware that business is part of the problem but also part of the solution. And to effectively drive transformative change and change the trajectory we’re on, we need to work within the private sector and change how business is done. So, she literally applied to business school the following weekend. During her tenure at Haas, she led the student efforts to help establish the Center for Responsible Business.
In this episode, Lynelle shares a bit about her upbringing and how she got into sustainability, her extensive professional career that started at Hewlett-Packard, her first job right out of Haas, to Autodesk, where she stayed for 15 years, and how sustainability has changed over the years and the lessons she learned along the way.
Finally, Lynelle talks about the exciting next chapter of her career, focusing on supporting boards that share her ambition around climate, ESG and beyond.
Why she focused on sustainability throughout her career
“My dad always asked us about how we want to contribute to making the world a better place. I think those conversations really sunk in, and it’s become a north star for me, the idea that we do get to design careers that have impact at the forefront. I got degrees in cultural anthropology and environmental science. And throughout my career, I’ve been focused on, essentially, working with people on environmental challenges and thinking about how we can live more sustainably on the planet. That’s always been a passion.”
On choosing Haas
“I chose Haas because there were no programs focused on responsible business like there are today, but it was a school that was founded on ethics. Haas was one of the first institutions that taught ethical leadership 100 years ago. In addition, there were initiatives starting to emerge in the Bay Area around sustainable business. It turned out to be the perfect school for me because there was a significant community of classmates with an aspiration to use business to drive change and positive good. I didn’t know the first thing about business. There was some cultural shock when I got to business school and started to learn a whole new language. But it proved to be super important and catalytic in my career.”
How she got into Autodesk and started their first sustainability group
“I kept hearing about this relatively small company that makes design software that is used, quite literally, to design and make everything that’s built on the planet – from the building you’re in, electric utility grids, whole cities, even the phone in your pocket. What if we could embed the principles of sustainability into the design software so that companies in all these different industries wouldn’t need to have specific expertise in energy and materials? And so, I wrote Autodesk a letter and said, ‘You’re sitting on this incredible opportunity. The future of these industries is about sustainable design. And I’d love to help you get this program up and running. Fast forward a couple of months, I soon became a team of one at Autodesk. That was 14 years ago.”
Lessons she learned about leadership in terms of driving change
“A couple of lessons I learned along the way. One, your adversaries can become your biggest advocates if you use them wisely. That was a key learning insight, to pay attention to your adversaries so that you can learn from them and bring them along on the journey. Another is the importance of teams and building strong effective, what I call, healthy teams. I think teams that have fun together are high-performing teams.”
On where her focus is now after leaving Autodesk
“I’m focused on boards. I want to support boards who have an ambition around climate and ESG, but really, going beyond ESG. ESG is a useful framework that has helped people get on board, probably because there’s an E, there’s an S, there’s a G. It’s easy for our linear brains to think along those lines. But the real opportunity is to go beyond ESG and cultivate systems thinking in the boardroom and throughout companies, identifying patterns and interconnections across ESG.
The other focus for me is what I call regenerative businesses. Again, I think of regeneration as going beyond sustainability. If sustainability is about sustaining and doing no harm from an impact perspective, regenerative businesses are those that are truly in the business of regenerating social, human, or natural systems
And then the third area is health and resilience. And I think about health and resilience from personal to planetary. If we are at our best in terms of health and resilience, we can do better work in the world.”It’s these three vectors that are my focus for this next chapter—i
On finding value and meaning in your career to prevent mental illness
“There’s something interesting happening right now in the workforce with talk of the great resignation catalyzed by the pandemic. And to me, that’s really exciting. It’s exciting because people are starting to feel a sense of agency that they can create meaning and have purpose when they go to work, versus, I think, generations in the past. You had your work. You earn your money. And then you give back in your volunteer time or community service work. But now, you see more and more people that are really looking for that meaning and purpose every day in their work.
It’s when you don’t have meaning or purpose, you have this existential vacuum, that mental illness sets in. And so, I would say, if you don’t feel like you have that meaning and purpose today in your career, it’s up to you to create it. So, pay attention to what your values are and how you can live your values at work, and get paid for that. The world is shifting and we need businesses that are directly in the business of restoring health to the planet and the people on it. This is a decisive decade coming up, and I’m optimistic about what’s going to unfold.”
- LinkedIn Profile
- The Ecology of Commerce by Paul Hawken
- Plan C Advisors
- Indigo Ag
- Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frank
(Transcripts may contain a few typographical errors due to audio quality during the podcast recording.)
[00:00] Sean: Welcome to the OneHaas Alumni Podcast. I’m your host, Sean Li. And today, we’re joined by Lynelle Cameron. Lynelle was most recently VP of Sustainability at Autodesk and CEO of the Autodesk Foundation. She is at a pivot point in her career right now, which we’ll discuss throughout this podcast. And most importantly, you are a Haas alumni. Welcome to the podcast.
[00:30] Lynelle: Thank you. It’s great to be here, Sean.
[00:32] Sean: Lynelle, love to start the podcast every time learning about your background. Can you tell us a little bit about your upbringing and how you got started in sustainability?
[00:41] Lynelle: Yeah, absolutely. I was raised on the East Coast outside of Boston. Both of my parents were educators, which meant that we had summers off. So, we had lots of time to go explore. And so, as a family, we spent time backpacking every summer in different mountains around the country, around North America, and even overseas in Europe and other places.
And so, we spent a lot of time on trails in conversation. And my dad always asked us, what do we want to contribute? What’s our contribution going to be? And that continued through to college. Every time we’d come home for Christmas break, he’d asked us about how we want to contribute to making the world a better place. And we wanted to just relax and sleep. But I think those conversations really sunk in, and it’s become a north star for me that we do get to design careers that have impact at the forefront. And I am really fortunate for his influence in my career. It’s actually his birthday today.
[01:46] Sean: Yay.
[01:47] Lynelle: So, it’s timely that we’re having this conversation.
[01:49] Sean: Do you mind me asking, what did they teach? My parents were educators, too, so I’m always interested in families that are educators.
[01:55] Lynelle: Math. They both started as math teachers, but my dad then became a middle school principal for 20-plus years. And he really believed that those were super formative years, which I agree. And that’s what he chose to do. And then he went on to do all sorts of nonprofit environmental work in his retirement years.
[02:17] Sean: Were the outdoors just always part of your family’s custom?
[02:21] Lynelle: Absolutely. Church for us was hiking on mountains, if you will. And so, it was always instilled in us early on, this ethic of being stewards of planetary resources. And that is something that we carried through, not all of us, but most of us in our careers, as I have two other siblings in the family. And we’re all pursuing impact in different ways.
[02:46] Sean: What did you study in your undergrad and for your master’s?
[02:49] Lynelle: So, I went to Middlebury College and I might be one of those unique cases where I’m actually using what I studied in undergrad. So, I got degrees in cultural anthropology and environmental science. And throughout my career, I’ve been focused on, essentially, working with people on environmental challenges and thinking about how we can live more sustainably on the planet. And I should say I spent some time living in Malaysia in high school. And when I came back from that experience and people asked me what I wanted to study in college, I said I wanted to study people around the world. I later learned that was called cultural anthropology. But that’s always been a passion, is working with people to think about how we can live more sustainably on this finite planet. And that’s where I spent, really, what I think of as the first chapter of my career in the nonprofit sphere, working on those issues.
[03:50] Sean: So, I’m from Michigan, originally, so I have to mention that. I know that you went to University of Michigan for your master’s as well, right?
[03:56] Lynelle: Yes. So, I also got a Master’s in Environmental Policy and Management from the School of Natural Resources and Environment at Michigan, which just enabled me to really double down, actually, at the intersection of people and planet further, because policy is all about how do you work with people and influence stakeholders. And I would say, actually, my policy degree has given me a lot of skills that I use today that compliment the business skills that I got at Haas.
[04:24] Sean: And to that point, that’s a perfect segue, what inspired you to go then get a Master’s in Business Administration?
[04:30] Lynelle: So, I came out of Middlebury really wanting to work with people on this idea of sustainable development. And this was at the time of the first Earth Summit in Rio. And this idea of sustainable development was just getting coined, actually, by the Brundtland Commission. And it was defined as meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising future generations. So, it’s this idea of how do we sustain, quite literally, resources and be sustainable in our living?
And so, the only place to do that work at the time was in the nonprofit sector. There was no sustainable business back then. And so, I spent about 10 years working often with mountain communities on the intersection of conservation and community economic development. You think of mountain people and mountain communities as stewards of globally significant resources, whether it’s forests or watersheds or minerals, but yet, often, the poorest people. So, how do you reverse that flow in really thinking about resource economics?
It was while I was doing that work in remote places—Kenya, the Himalayas—that I got ahold of a book called “The Ecology of Commerce,” which is Paul Hawken’s book, which was published back in ’94. And he basically had the premise that business is part of the problem but also part of the solution. And to really drive transformative change and change the trajectory we’re on, we need to work within the private sector and change how business is done.
And so, I read that book one weekend and quite literally applied to business school the following weekend. And then I went to Haas the next fall. And I chose Haas because there’s no programs in responsible business and some of the things that exist today, but it was a school that was really founded on ethics. And they were one of the first institutions that taught ethical leadership 100 years ago, actually. And plus, there was a lot of things happening in the Bay Area starting to happen around sustainable business. That’s where Paul Hawken was based. And so, I decided to come out to Haas. And frankly, it turned out to be the perfect school for me because there was a huge community of people that are using business to drive change and positive good, as I’m sure you experienced as well. So, it turned out to be a really good environment for me because I didn’t know the first thing about business. There was some cultural shock when I got to business school and started to really learn a whole new language. But it proved to be super important and catalytic in my career from then.
[07:08] Sean: I’ve been learning a lot from fellow Haasies as well in this area how, even from a finance perspective, leveraging capitalism for good, having it make sense from a capitalism standpoint for sustainability and environmental initiatives. And I was like, “Wow, that makes a lot of sense.”
[07:27] Lynelle: I like that Haas has really tried to embed sustainability education throughout the curriculum. There certainly is the Center for Responsible Business and a lot of different centers that focus on this, which I think I might’ve mentioned I wrote a business plan for what’s now the Center for Responsible Business while I was at school. And super fun to see that take off and really flourish. But the idea is that it’s part of every MBA education, which I think is really fundamental, especially, today and becoming common sense, actually.
[07:58] Sean: So, you landed a job at HP doing sustainability back in 2001—definitely, very early days for the sustainability movement. What was it like back then working in sustainability?
[08:10] Lynelle: So, my first job out of Haas was with Hewlett-Packard. I had actually done a project with HP through the IBD program, International Business Development program, in Bangladesh, looking at telemedicine. So, I had some inroads to HP. And I really felt that HP, culturally, was a place that was ready for what I wanted to do, which is drive sustainability into the business.
And I remember meeting up with Paul Hawken after I had pursued a business degree. And I said to him, “I read your book. I went back to business school. Now, I’m going into the corporate sector. What advice do you have for me?” And he simply said, “Go, where you’re respected.” And what he meant was go to a company that’s ready for what you want to bring versus banging your head against a wall at a company with a really big negative impact. And that was really a formative advice. And I ended up going to HP, spent seven years there, really starting the sustainability program there.
And at that point in time, it was really shifting from an EHS—environmental, health, and safety—mentality to product design. So, from cleanup and superfund sites brownfields to the opportunity to rethink how we’re designing printers, computer servers at HP, so that we are looking upstream and downstream and minimizing negative impact and optimizing the design. And so, those years were really about what we call product stewardship and thinking about how we look at the inputs to the design, what kind of materials, what kind of energy, but also, how these products can snap together so that they can be easily recycled using single-source plastics—everything that now is talked about as the circular economy. Those were the early days back then. We wrote our first sustainability report in 2001. That was 20 years ago. And it was not a sustainability, it was citizenship report, because that was the comfort level of the company, was the idea of responsibility and citizenship. And it’s exactly the same kind of contents that you would find in an ESG report today—environmental, social, and governance. We’ll talk about how language has evolved over time. But it was really fun to get the company to start to embrace these new ideas.
And maybe, one fun story. I led a team that I called ESS (Environmental Strategies and Solutions). And I had two Ss in there, so that I could flip one of them to sustainability as soon as the company got on board with that, which happened. And the key there was shifting the mentality from one of responsibility and citizenship to actually using sustainability as a differentiator in the sales process. If we can design our products to meet energy and different criteria, that will give us a competitive differentiation in the hardware space. And so, we kept track of billion dollars of customer deals that required environmental information to really prove that this was an important piece of our growth strategy as a company, going forward.
[11:24] Sean: So, how did you go from hardware to software? Initially, when I was looking at your background, I was thinking Autodesk, design software, sustainability, how does this all piece together? And then I had some hints of it, because Autodesk is used in so many places, designing things. And it started to click for me. But tell us a little bit about that move.
[11:43] Lynelle: Yeah. So, I was at HP for seven years. And what I started to realize was that Dell was starting to compete with us on environment and environmental design. Apple came later, but they were quick to move once they got on board. But once I realized that these hardware companies were competing on sustainability, the flywheel was spinning. And so, it’s at that point that I realized this is a good time to go look for my next challenge. And I really look for systems change. So, I was at HP, not to change HP, but to really rethink hardware design phase.
And so, I kept hearing about this relatively small company called Autodesk that makes design software, quite literally, for everything that’s built on the planet. So, from the building you’re in, electric utility grids, whole cities, even the phone in your pocket. So, what if we could embed the principles of sustainability into the design software so that companies in all these different industries wouldn’t need to have specific expertise in energy and materials? And so, I actually wrote Autodesk a letter and said, “You’re sitting on this incredible opportunity. The future of these industries is about sustainable design. And I’d love to help you get this program off and running.” And so, fast forward a couple of months, I soon became a team of one at Autodesk. And that was 14 years ago.
[13:15] Sean: Wow. So, you started their sustainability group?
[13:18] Lynelle: I did, yeah. And it was quite a different experience from HP, in a number of ways. One, it’s a much smaller company, but still the same expanse of impact potential. But I immediately had direct access to the CEO and the executive team. Whereas, at HP, it was a bit of a telephone game up through the ranks of the company. And the executive team at the time was quick to really buy in to this vision and to understand that, yes, we do need to rethink how we design and make the world around us. And this does make intuitive sense.
And so, we got started pretty quickly and made a couple acquisitions early in my tenure at Autodesk for green building software. And the interesting thing is that I thought that I was going to be finished with that work in a matter of a couple of years. Autodesk has an incredible sabbatical program. Every four years, you get six weeks off. And I didn’t know if I’d make it to my first sabbatical because we were making such rapid progress. But what I realized is it’s one thing to embed this thinking inside a company, it’s quite another to drive change throughout industries. And so, in many ways, I think Autodesk, we were a little ahead of the market in regard to green building. This was right at the time when LEED certification was gaining momentum in steam and buildings. But it was still viewed—sustainable design was viewed as a thought-leaderly idea, rather than a business imperative, frankly. And so, it took some time to really work with our customers, educate the market, prime the market, demonstrate that this is a business requirement, not just a nice-to-have aspect.
[15:07] Sean: What are some lessons that you learned about management in terms of driving change during all those years? Because I can’t imagine it being as easy as you just made it sound to convince people.
[15:18] Lynelle: Well, it wasn’t easy. And that’s why I was there for 14 years. And I actually learned that at HP as well. And one of my mentors at HP, who I think is now connected to Haas, is Bar Waugh. And she had wrote a book called “The Soul in the Computer.” But it was really about positive deviance and looking for these individuals inside a company who are trying to drive change. And she took it upon herself to really help mentor and guide us. And one of the key things that she instilled in me is that change of this magnitude takes time, and staying power, perseverance, persistence is absolutely critical.
And so, a couple of lessons I learned along the way. One, your adversaries can become your biggest advocates if you use them wisely. So, I had a couple vocal executives early in my tenure, one of whom was a climate denier. And he was in a really prominent position. And he’s no longer at the company. He left a long time ago. But I realized that, if I could really listen and understand his perspective and find out where he is coming from and find that common ground, then he could be a really important champion for me to help influence others that thought on his lines. And so, that was a really key learning insight, to pay attention, especially, pay attention to your adversaries so that you can learn from them and bring them along on the journey. So, that was one key.
Another is the importance of teams and building strong effective, what I call, healthy teams. And that’s one thing as I look back on my time at Autodesk that I’m just so grateful for, is to have worked with such an incredible team, both the team that reported up through me, as well as the extended team across the company. And we invested a lot of time in team health. And I think teams that have fun together are high-performing teams. And that really helped us to build the kind of trust and rapport that we needed to drive influence across the company. A sustainability team, often, has very little that you have direct control over. It’s all about influence and relationships. And maybe, that’s another lesson, is my role as a leader, I hired lots of people who had deep expertise that I didn’t have, whether that’s in design, in carbon accounting, in impact investing. And my role was really about relationships. And my manager, I think, the first day I got to Autodesk, had said, “This company runs on relationships. So, you need to make sure that you’re prioritizing building those relationships. Sometimes, it is more important than doing the work that you want to do on climate and whatnot.” And so, I had to really focus. And I did this to different degrees over my tenure there, really prioritizing relationships and removing barriers for the team to, then, do what they needed to do to drive the business forward. But I would say it was very much two steps forward and one step backward throughout the time there. And that’s what it takes, I think.
[18:38] Sean: A question for you around patience and time. You were very entrepreneurial. I considered you to have done what you did, creating this group, creating sustainability within Autodesk. And you had mentioned earlier that it takes a lot of patience and perseverance to really chart new paths. How do you balance that with urgency or a need for progress? Because those are competing things. I need to feel like I’m making progress, like we’re doing something. But at the same time, there needs to be patience. I guess the big question sometimes is, and this is probably very hard to answer, is how much time is enough to be patient? How much time should you give yourself and allow yourself to?
[19:22] Lynelle: It’s a great question. I am, in many regards, a very impatient person.
[19:28] Sean: Same here [laughs].
[19:28] Lynelle: And those of us who spend time in this space, sustainability and climate, know that time is of the essence and we need to move fast. And yet, at the same time, what I often told my team is Autodesk has to be successful as a business for us to be able to do this work. So, we have to put business priorities first. We had some big transformations happening internally during my tenure there—business model transformation, from software to subscription business, now moving to a platform business. We, as a sustainability team, have to help the company be successful as a business to then be able to continue to do the work that we do.
And so, I was often doing the work with my team to remind them, which is contradictory because I am such an impatient person, but the business has to be successful. So, we were often asking ourselves, how can we help the business succeed? So, if the business is switching to a subscription model, how do we ensure that the customers that we tend to, which we give away free software to any entrepreneur creating positive impact that meets certain criteria, let’s have them be the first movers to move to subscription. Let’s have them be the first customers to use Fusion, some of our new technology we’re putting out there, so that we are delivering value to the business. And at the same time, quietly moving forward with all the work that we think is most important, like getting our green building software tool as good as it can be, working on embodied carbon calculators for construction, all of this work. Doing that on the side quietly so that when we complete a business model transformation and the market is ready for these tools, we will be ready.
So, it was always balancing the business need with the urgency of climate, and how do you communicate that effectively internally. And I’ll tell you a story, Sean, because I think this gets to that point. Maybe, five, six, seven years ago, our team, we’re focused on lots of different sustainability challenges that our software can address. But we decided to really narrow and focus on climate because that seemed to be the most urgent challenge of our time. If we can address the climate challenge from both mitigation and adaptation perspective, we can buy ourselves, buy our species time to address some of these other challenges.
And so, we had made a pointed decision that that was most important. And as the leader, that was what I needed to be spending my time talking about internally and externally. Well, that year, my 360 performance feedback—we get feedback across the company—from three different sources all in the executive suite was that Lynelle is a one-issue voter, and all she cares about is climate, and she doesn’t understand the bigger needs of a CEO or executive team. And that’s absolutely true [laughs]. That was my number one concern, climate. But I had to make a decision at that point. I could go somewhere else where a company was really ready to drive on climate, or I could change my approach internally. I really believe that Autodesk had, and has, one of the biggest potential to impact climate through the design process across these industries. And I wanted to do just that.
And so, what we ended up doing is really changing the language that we used. And I was fortunate, at that time, to have an opportunity to interact with Al Gore in a small group setting through World 50. And he explained that, for him, he had to stop using the “climate” word at one point as well because it was polarizing and it would effectively shut people down and just stop using the word “climate.” And so, that’s exactly what we did at Autodesk. We were going into a strategic planning retreat. It was about five years ago. And we were narrowing our focus on these three, what I call, impact opportunity areas.
And they are the following. First one was energy and materials, all about using better sources of energy materials and less energy materials. That is fundamentally about climate, low carbon materials, clean energy, etc. But we talked about it as energy and materials, which all of our customers could relate to because everything is designed using some combination of energy and materials.
The second impact area we called health and resilience, which really was confusing at first to some people. But when we explained that the decisions that you make around energy and materials directly impact the health and resilience of individuals and communities and entire cities, whether you’re designing a city be more walkable and have less pollution or you’re designing a product to not have toxic materials or be low carbon materials, directly related to energy and materials. Fundamentally, climate-orientation, too. We have to design cities to withstand climate impacts and extreme weather events.
And then the third area was working prosperity, which is about how do we help people create meaningful work and prosperity in the era of automation as we face the climate challenge. So, we were able to change our language without fundamentally changing our strategy, which enabled us to build bridges and find common ground across the company and, I think, be quite successful.
[24:52] Sean: Thank you for sharing that because, I think, for lay people sometimes, just the word “climate” just feels so abstract. And maybe, that’s why it’s difficult to connect. But when you’re talking about energy, things that we can understand on a day-to-day basis, that we can do, it makes a lot of sense.
[25:08] Lynelle: Well, that was the main pushback. It felt like such an existential challenge. It was too big for a company like Autodesk to take on. And yet, fast forward a couple of years, everybody’s focused on this, now including the SEC. So, timing is everything.
[25:23] Sean: Yeah. I love it. On my potato chips bag, it says, “This was produced by clean energy.” And that’s not only a selling point, but it makes sense. I was like, “Wow, well, I never thought about that.” The food that I’m eating, what is the energy that is being used to produce it? Never thought about that.
[25:39] Lynelle: Yeah, and food waste is one of the largest contributors to climate. So, yeah.
[25:44] Sean: One of the things I want to ask, you talked a lot about impact. I’m really curious what impact means for you. And a segue from that is, what’s next for you?
[25:54] Lynelle: “Impact” is an interesting and quite loaded word, actually, because for many years, we were trying to reduce our impact, our negative impact. And now, it’s all about creating positive impact, from the net zero mindset to net positive mindset. I think, today, the conversation around impact that’s gaining the most momentum is in the framework of ESG I mentioned earlier, environmental, social, and governance. This is gaining a lot of traction in the investor community and, therefore, in boardrooms and, certainly, in the executive suites. It’s no different than what we’ve been talking about, sustainability, over the last 20 years. It’s funny. I think, economist, Rudi Dornbusch, said, things take longer to happen than you think and then happen faster than you thought they would. And that’s exactly I think what’s been happening here in this ESG moment. It feels like we’re making credible progress all of a sudden in the last couple of years, thanks to Larry Fink and others. But yet, for those of us who’ve been in the trenches, it’s taken a long time to get here.
So, what’s next for me? I left Autodesk in January. I took 2021 as a transition year. I realized that, largely, the work that I had come to do was happening and, if you will, the flywheel was spinning, our executive team 100% on board. Even our board of director is deeply engaged on climate and our strategy. And I have a rockstar team that is in place with a leader ready to take over. So, actually, a lot of Haasies on the team, too, I should say, which I’m proud of.
And so, I am now at a really exciting next chapter of my career. An interesting thing is I didn’t take people’s advice as I was thinking about this chapter. Many people said, don’t leave Autodesk until you’ve got your next chapter figured out. And I did the opposite. I really wanted to finish Autodesk completely and then actually take some time to design this next chapter, especially, given how much momentum and movement is happening in this ESG climate space.
I’ll also add, my daughter is a freshman in college and she took a gap semester. So, I think I had gap semester on the brain. And I thought, kids can take gap years after 13 years of school. What about professionals after 30 years working full-time? So, I’m giving myself the luxury of a little bit of a gap semester at the moment.
But here’s what I’m focused on. So, I’m focused on boards. I really want to support boards who have an ambition around climate and ESG, but really, going beyond ESG. ESG is a wonderful framework that has helped people get on board, probably because there’s an E, there’s an S, there’s a G. It’s easy for our linear brains to think along those lines. But I think beyond ESG is really about instilling systems thinking in the boardroom and throughout companies and looking at the interconnections across ESG. You think of climate. Is climate an E or an S? Of course, it’s both. It’s a planetary situation, but it’s impacting people’s lives disproportionately and impacting businesses. So, one of the things I’m really excited about is working with boards on the challenge of climate. And I’m doing that through an organization called Plan C Advisors, which is an advisory consulting firm that advises boards on climate. And over the last number of years, this team has focused on climate education with board of directors, and now starting to move into the board rooms and help those board members who are at different stages of the learning curve. Some boards are just getting on board and just starting to understand. Others are further along the learning curve. But that’s been really exciting, working with the leadership team at Plan C.
The other focus for me right now, Sean, is what I call regenerative businesses. Again, I think of this as going beyond sustainability. If sustainability is about sustaining and doing no harm from an impact perspective, regenerative businesses are those that are truly in the business of regenerating social, human, or natural systems. So, probably, the best example for people to understand is regenerative agriculture. When you think about how the agricultural practices, the food system, of the years past has really eroded soils and soil health, what if we now start to think about putting carbon back in the soil, changing those practices so that we can create healthy soils, healthy farms, healthy farming communities? And so, I’m really excited to just be embarking on an advisory relationship with a company called Indigo Ag that is doing just this. And they’re using technology, building a platform, to really try to transform agricultural systems, which goes beyond food. You think of cotton and materials and whatnot. So, that’s really exciting. And I’m really paying a lot of attention to those companies that are in the business of creating net positive impact on human and planetary systems.
Ad then the third area—so, it’s these three vectors that are coming together in my next chapter—is health and resilience. And I think about health and resilience from personal to planetary. I also started a health and resilience initiative at Autodesk while I was there during the pandemic, which was probably one of the programs that engage more employees, than anything. And you look at the employee base writ large at companies but all sectors, and people are not necessarily super healthy right now, whether it’s mental health or sleep or nutrition. And that seems like a really big opportunity for companies to focus on health and resilience. And if we are at our best in terms of health and resilience, we can do better work in the world.
And I think of resilience as going beyond health. It’s one thing to be healthy and well today. It’s another to be able to bounce backward or bounce forward in the face of disruptions, such as a global pandemic. And so, I’m paying a lot of attention to this sector as well—health and wellness, health and resilience—and listening to podcasts like Andrew Huberman’s on neuroscience and really diving in on this aspect as well.
[32:17] Sean: That’s amazing. Thank you for sharing that. To tie things up, this episode is coming up on Earth Day, what advice or parting thoughts do you have for Haasies that are listening?
[32:29] Lynelle: Yes, Earth Day coming up. Every day is Earth Day for me.
[32:32] Sean: Every day is Earth Day, that’s right [laughs].
[32:35] Lynelle: But it’s great to have a point in time when the world celebrates this. And I was actually impressed with World Health Day which was April 7th. It’s not usually on my radar, but their motto was, “Our Planet, Our Health.” And it was nice to see the World Health Organization connect to planetary health because I think these are deeply entwined.
So, I would say, Sean, there’s something really interesting happening right now in the workforce. But people talk about the great resignation that’s happening with the pandemic. And to me, that’s really exciting. And it’s exciting because people are starting to have a sense of agency that they can create meaning and have purpose when they go to work, versus, I think, generations in the past. You had your work. You earn your money. And then you give back in your volunteer time or community service work. But now, you see more and more people that are really looking for that meaning and purpose every day in their work. And I will say I’m taking a class right now down at Stanford. I don’t know if I should say that on a Haas podcast.
[33:44] Sean: It’s okay.
[33:44] Lynelle: On designing your next life chapter. And we’re reading lots of different books. And one of the books we’re reading is “Man’s Search for Meaning,” Viktor Frankl’s book. And he was a psychologist who survived four concentration camps during World War II. And he had a hypothesis. Actually, before the war, he published as a 16-year-old that man’s quest for meaning and purpose is core to our mental health and wellness. It’s when you don’t have meaning or purpose, you have this existential vacuum, that mental illness sets in. And so, I would say, if you don’t feel like you have that meaning and purpose today in your career, you get to have it. So, pay attention to what your values are and how you can live your values at work, and get paid for that, because I think things are shifting where we need businesses that are directly in the business of restoring health to the planet and people on it. And I think this is a decisive decade coming up. And I’m really excited about what’s going to unfold.
[34:51] Sean: I love it. I am as well. What are some ways that Haasies can reach out to you and work with you in the area of ESG?
[35:00] Lynelle: The thing I love about Haas is that Haas alumni are doing really impactful work out in the world, truly, all of them. And I’ve got a reunion coming up. So, I’m excited to connect with those Haasies. Many Haas alumni are serving on boards, and they’re in the executive suites. And so, for those companies that are at the beginning of their ESG sustainability journey, or further along, I encourage you to bring these issues into the boardroom, into your executive conversations. Definitely, reach out to myself, to Plan C. I am advising boards right now. I’d love to serve on boards of directors. That’s a professional goal of mine, for the right company, for a company that truly shares my ambition to lead on climate and is in a regenerative space. And more and more companies are moving in this direction. So, I look forward to being of service to Haas alum and to collaborating in the decade to come. Go Bears.
[35:58] Sean: Go Bears. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast today. It was a real pleasure having you. It’s a really fun conversation.
[36:04] Lynelle: Thank you. And thanks for doing the podcast.
[36:11] Outro: Thanks again for tuning in to this episode of the OneHaas podcast. Enjoyed our show today? Please remember to hit that Subscribe or Follow button in your favorite podcast player. We’d also appreciate you giving us a five-star rating and review.
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