Once you have your MBS and certificate, how do you translate that knowledge into the working world and make some lasting change? Today we are joined by a couple of very special Haas MBA alumni that have developed their careers in sustainability with very different paths.
We will hear from Tracy Gray who is a Haas MBA alumni class of 2007. She is the Founder and Managing Partner at The 22 Fund, the Founder of non-profit We Are Enough focused on educating women on how to invest, and Lead Partner at Porfolia Green and Sustainability Fund.
She tells us about her impressive career path that ranged from space engineer, band manager, mayoral advisor to finally entering the sustainability space, as well as her perspectives in the early stage impact investment.
We will also be joined by Evan Wiener. He is also a Haas MBA alumni class of 2014 and currently Head of Circular Economy at H&M with past experiences in Nike and Adidas. He tells us about his work in corporate sustainability.
Privileges and Environmental Intersectionality and Venture Capital (Tracy)
13:21 – Especially in venture and private equity and climate investment. Once again, like crypto, like everything, they are not thinking intersectional or holistically about, you know, women and people of color experience the worst of these impacts more than anyone in the world yet we’re not given the capital to come up with a solution.
We know the solutions because we experience it. So we’ve got, you know, privileged white guys who are telling us, here’s how you’re going to fix your problem. And it’s not the way it should work.
Different types of jobs in corporate sustainability (Evan)
35:52 – Thinking that you want to work in the world of corporate sustainability is still so, so broad, right? I mean, you could be a specialist in an analytics department, you could work in supply chain. You could be building products, working in innovation. You could be a materials expert.
Circular economy (Evan)
45:17 – Sustainability is often I think most effective when you break down silos. When you connect dots between supply chain, logistics, product, innovation, marketing, and circular economy allows companies to break those silos down.
It also allows companies to break down silos outside of their four walls. To think about how to collaborate on things like material innovation on supply chain disruptions, new manufacturing technology. Things that previously had been considered competitive, circular economy is saying, hey, we all need to solve these problems.
(Transcripts may contain a few typographical errors due to audio quality during the podcast recording.)
[00:00] Adriana: Welcome to Sustainability at Haas Mini Series, a podcast series looking at how the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business is shaping the next generation of sustainable business leaders. I’m Adriana.
[00:10] Olivia: And I’m Olivia.
[00:12] Adriana: And today, we’re accompanied by a couple of very special Haas MBA alumni that have developed their careers in sustainability with very different paths.
[00:21] Olivia: We’ll hear from Tracy Gray, who’s a Haas MBA alumni from the class of 2007. She is the Founder and Managing Partner at The 22 Fund, the Founder of a nonprofit called We Are Enough, which is focused on educating women on how to invest, and Lead Partner at Portfolia Green and Sustainability Fund. We will also be joined by Evan Wiener who’s a Haas alum from the class of 2014 and currently the Head of Circular Economy at H&M, with past experience at Nike and Adidas.
Tracy, you have an incredibly impressive career, which I’m sure you hear all of the time. And your career is especially interesting, in the diversity of twists and turns. It looks like you have spent time as an aerospace engineer and working in city government and spending time in the music and entertainment industry, and then getting into economic development and nonprofit work. And more recently, you started your own venture capital fund. So, I am really curious, can you speak to some of the forces or motivations or guiding forces that led you through each of those career moves?
[01:38] Tracy: First of all, thanks for having me, ladies. I really appreciate whatever interest you have in me. There is no plan. There was no plan. I am one of those people that I don’t dip my toes in, I just jump all the way into anything. And so, if something sounds interesting or pique one of my passions, I’ll try it.
I thought I was going to be an astronaut. Up until I was in my 20s, I wanted to be an astronaut. And I applied to be an astronaut, but because the technology for the shuttle program was based on technology in the ’50s and ’60s and no one envisioned women to be astronauts and you had to be a pilot and no one envisioned you to be a pilot back then, I was too short, for one, because no man would be this short to them. And you got to be able to reach the controls. So, you had to be 5’7″ and you had to have perfect eyesight, because pilots are to have 20/20 vision, because they didn’t know what would happen with LASIKs or, I guess, contacts. So, I was not able to be an astronaut. And I ended up working as a systems engineer—not an aerospace engineer, but a systems engineer—on the space shuttle program.
I love that. But what I didn’t love was it was during the time when mainly the payloads were defense department payloads. And I’m anti-war, pacifist, progressive. I went to Berkeley, so that’s a given. But I also went to Columbia. But I was investigated for being a subversive by the FBI and the Defense Department when I worked there. So, I have my file that’s all redacted and stuff from the FBI. And I was just like, so, I can’t work for my government if I didn’t believe in everything in my government. That’s pretty much what they were saying to me. They didn’t fire me. They didn’t think I was subversive. They were like, this is ridiculous. But it was my first job and I was very naive and it opened my eyes. And I love technology, but I didn’t love sitting at a computer fixing computers. And I just didn’t enjoy that.
I loved music. I used to play the drums, clarinet, flute, French horn. I played a lot of instruments. I loved music. And so, I ended up being a band manager because a friend of mine, who is still one of the top managers in the world, you will know every band he manages, and I would go backstage with him. And I was like, “This is all you do every day, just sit backstage with bands?” It wasn’t what he did every day. It’s a really hard job. It’s hard to make money. But I thought that looks easy and fun. So, that’s why I did it. That’s a long way to say that, if someone presents an opportunity to me and it seems interesting, I will do it.
And venture capital, that came from my time in the music industry when I worked for a music manager, music label, and publishing company. The owner of that company, the founder of that company, became a VC because his frat brother at Stanford didn’t know anyone else in LA. So, I asked him to come in. As white men do, you don’t have to have any credibility. You don’t have to have any background. They just let you in.
So, he was writing this fund, and I would criticize him without knowing the rhetoric and the language. Like, what are you investing in? Is this a business or a product? I don’t get it. And then he asked me to come in and be their analyst associate and stop criticizing them from afar, but “let us pay you.” And I was like, “Okay. Well, I’ll do that. That seems interesting.” And then I loved that. So, I run the venture capital. That was going to be it for me, except what I found out, and this was in 2000, that they were just giving $2 million-check to white men and an idea. And I saw very few people of color, very few women. And my engineering brain, that just didn’t make sense. It was illogical to me when the majority of the country and the majority of the city of Los Angeles are women and people of color. Yet, you can’t find any to invest in. So, after that, when they wanted me to help them raise their third fund, I was like, “I’m not going to—” And a lot of it was public money, too, with private and public money, a lot of our tax dollars. I’m not doing that for you. That led me to economic development because I wanted to see that nexus between public, private capital, like really do some good for communities of color and communities that are under-resourced.
And so, did that. Didn’t like being a nonprofit. I’m just not a nonprofit gal. I’m a social capitalist. So, there’s actually parts of capitalism. And that’s when I went and got my MBA, because when I was at this economic development nonprofit, the CEO of the nonprofit, we did a lot of agreements with real estate developers. And they always talked down to her. Before we had this term, it was a lot of mansplaining to her, and what she didn’t know about real estate development. But they would say all that without asking her background. She was a top corporate lawyer at a real estate development company firm, but they never even took the time. So, they’d sit there and explained to her. And then she’d let them do it. And then she’d go in with it with them. They were so shocked that this woman could know all this, that then she was able to get everything she wanted from them. And I was like, “That’s her superpower. I need that super power.” And that’s what I felt like an MBA would give me. I wanted to go to a top 10 school. I wanted to be in California. And I wanted to be in New York. And they had a perfect program called the Berkeley Columbia Executive MBA program. And that’s how I landed there.
[07:44] Adriana: So, before we go into that space where you wanted to land into the MBA world and all these things, I’m just curious to know, are you always looking for the hardest challenges? Going from deep engineering into activism, into music management, into VC fund as a woman, and all of these crazy things, it is hard. So, what do you measure against in order to say, is this high enough for me?
[08:19] Tracy: Well, one, I’m notorious. I’m stubborn. And if someone tells me I can’t do something, I’m going to prove them wrong. So, when I was in the music industry I was not on the rap and soul music where they thought black woman should be. I was on the rock side, what we call alternative rock. I don’t know what you kids call it now, but it was alternative rock back then.
And then venture capital, again, there’s no women and people of color in professional investors or entrepreneurs. And it didn’t make any sense. And so, it’s not the challenge. It’s the injustice coupled with it not being logical from my engineering mind and I feel like I have to fix it. And the bigger the barrier, the more I want to fix it because it’s just not fair. And that’s where that all comes from. So, there’s not like “I like big challenges.” No, I am actually lazy. And I would like it to be a lot easier. But as we know, nothing is going to be easier for women and people of color until we all have control over these systems. So, that wasn’t it. It’s my stubborn side.
[09:29] Adriana: It is fascinating. And I, being the system thinker, like I see you as a systems thinker, how can I impact beyond myself and how can I see beyond my eyes? So, that’s fascinating. So, I read something in your LinkedIn posts that you posted three days ago. And a part of the quote said, “Even when everyone else told me for years not to lead with diversity and impact/climate, just finance returns,” you asked, “Why not both?” How do you get this idea? And what are the critical moments in your path that made you realize the value of this intersection between diversity, impact, climate, and financial returns?
[10:18] Tracy: Well, once again, it wasn’t rocket science. And I know what rocket science is. It was just I never understood why I can’t like my job and then love the results of my job. Eckhart Tolle, not quoting him exactly, but he was like, “The best life is when your greatest desire and the best good to the world is combined,” or something like that. Like, the way you make money and your passion is combined. And I’m also a Buddhist. And so, there’s something we call right livelihood, meaning you are living your life in a way that doesn’t hurt planet or people or any kind of living thing, mineral, animal, all of that.
And so, I just got tired of living two lives. And when I figured out, well, there is a way for me to make money and to make good or have an impact. Why do I have to have that selfish choice? Why do I have to choose one or the other? Why do I have to lead with one and pretend the other one doesn’t exist and bring it up? It just didn’t feel authentic. And we all want to live an authentic life. And as women, and especially as women of color, there’s something called switching where you show up one way, and then you’re with your friends, you’re other way. And I am just not capable of doing that. I don’t have an internal editor. I don’t know how to switch it on and off. I’m comfortable with everybody in all spaces. I really never feel uncomfortable. And so, it didn’t make any sense. It comes back to logic. It didn’t make any sense why couldn’t I live with both? Why do I have to choose one? And that’s all it was. Like I said, it’s not rocket science. There’s nothing that I’m going to come back with some amazing thing that someone’s going to quote me. It’s just how I operate.
[12:25] Olivia: I love that. I think, more and more, that thinking is taking hold. Just as an MBA student looking for perspective jobs in impact and climate, I see so many more firms and companies talking about and highlighting the intersection of DEI and climate change. Sounds like you were at the vanguard. I love it.
[12:54] Tracy: Yeah, but they’re not really the intersection of diversity, equity—I don’t use the word “inclusion” because it sounds like I have to be included in their spaces instead of them coming to my space. And so, opportunity, maybe. I don’t know. I haven’t come up another word with inclusion, but I don’t like it. But I haven’t solved that problem, yet. But I don’t think there’s a real—if you look at what’s happening in the climate, especially in venture and private equity and climate investment, once again, like everything, they are not thinking intersectional or holistically about women and people of color experienced the worst of these impacts, more than anyone in the world. Yet, we are not given the capital to come up with a solution. We know the solutions because we experience it. So, we’ve got privileged white guys who are telling us, here’s how you’re going to fix your problem. It’s not the way it should work. So, it’s still very few people are talking about climate justice and environmental justice or intersectional, environmental, that isn’t happening. Or, it’s a drop, like a drop in the bucket.
[14:15] Olivia: I think, sadly, that’s the case.
[14:18] Adriana: Yeah. And these are particularly just fascinating to me, because I’m Colombian, I’m from South America, and one of my passion is how can I drive the climate agenda, not only for development of new technologies but for development of business models that can help the Global South? So, again, thinking of that balance of environment and positioning companies in the emerging economies to a better space that can develop from an industry 1.0 to an industry 4.0. And it happens locally and it happens globally, but how do you go beyond and look like that? So, I just wanted to hear your take on the global perspective.
[15:03] Tracy: Well, that’s why our fund invests in manufacturing hard technology, to help them increase their international sales or go globally. We do not have time, unfortunately, do not have time to create all new technologies all of the world. And the US, for better or for worse, a lot of technologies coming out from here. But how can we help the Global South leapfrog from the existing technologies, to the old technologies to the new technologies? And that is what I see. I don’t live in those countries. So, I don’t want to say you should do this. But we have some technologies here that might help. And that is why we help with exports. Plus, exports creates jobs faster. And so, we’re helping low and moderate income here in the US create jobs and new technologies to help other countries, especially the Global South, leapfrog.
And I got into a slight little, not an argument, on LinkedIn, but not an argument, it was just a discussion, because what’s happening with the war in Ukraine, we’re backsliding on our sustainability goal, and these oil and gas folks are just pushing oil and gas all over the world. And so, this woman, I said, well, you’re not really talking about—she was from, I don’t know, some investment company. And I said, you’re not talking about sustainable investing in the Global South in a way where they have agency. And she said, “Well, we talked to some of the companies, like the oil and gas companies, and they say, Indonesia wants our oil and gas, what are we supposed to do? They want it.” And she just accepted that. She accepted it and said, “It’s just so hard to do this.” Well, they say it’s so hard to have more women and people of color in investing. They say it’s so much hard to find entrepreneurs in women and people of color. It’s just another excuse to say no and to not change.
So, I pushed back on her and said, “Well, you just accepted this.” And I said, “Was it a white guy?” She said, “Yeah.” And I said, “You just accepted that it was hard. And it’s not hard if you give the agency to the people who are experiencing this, and you give the capital.” And she said, “You’re right. I just accepted it was hard because they said so.” I said, it’s hard for them because they don’t have this network. They don’t have these people. And it’s hard because they don’t want to change. If you don’t want to change, it’s almost impossible to change. They’re making money hand over foot. So, we just accept it’s hard and we don’t question it. And so, I just think that’s one reason we’re focused on international and exports from the US—to help leapfrog that.
[18:12] Adriana: So, is the push because it’s hard coming from the LPs, from the limited partners, saying, “10 to 20% of our investment is the max limit that we’re willing to risk it to emerging economies?” Or is it more the managing partners making decisions that are not including perspectives from the Global South?
[18:37] Tracy: I think it’s both. I know women and people of color who want to invest in Global South and want to invest differently. They just don’t have the capital. So, it first starts with the LP, always starts with the asset allocators and asset managers around the world, because 98.7% of them are white men. So, there we go. And then they put most of their money into GPs that are white men. And then we expect it to be any differently. So, it’s both. The existing, the traditional legacy GPs, and all of the LPs pretty much just accept this as fact. But there’s enough GPs around the world that want to change this. What are you going to do, take a magic wand to change it? No, you need real capital. And so, it all starts with the LPs, I have to say, rest their hearts.
[19:37] Olivia: Well, shifting gears a little bit to talk about your MBA experience. I know you did a dual MBA with Berkeley Haas and Columbia Business School. I’m curious if you could take us back a little bit to your headspace when you were just starting your MBA program. What were you hoping to learn or get out of the experience? Did you come in with a singular focus, “I want to accomplish—I want to learn X, Y, Z, and I want to come out of this experience entering this type of role?” Or were you in more of an exploratory mode?
[20:14] Tracy: I wanted to get my MBA for the reason I wanted the super power and then credibility. So, the most educated demographic in the country are black women. But we’re the least seen as credible. And so, one, if you’ve talked a lot of black women, we’re going have lots of degrees. I have three and a half degrees. A half because I was getting my master’s in applied math and on my way to my midterm. I was like, “Why am I doing this?” And then I turned around and didn’t go back. So, I never finished that. So, I just felt like I needed more credibility. I think I fell into that cliché that we women think we’re never enough. We always have to get more. We always cross our teeth in dollar our eyes. We let the perfect be the enemy of the good. And I fell into that same thing.
And now, I think about someone have this quote and said this prayer. May I wake up every morning with the same amount of confidence as most mediocre white man? And it’s true. They just like, woo, straight from the trenches, I can do that. I might have 3% of the requirements, but I’ll be able to do it. Where we think we need to have 110%, and then we feel like we’re not enough. So, I fell into that same trap.
And then I was going to do my full-time, but I was told I was too old to do the full-time because I was 40 at the time. And then I thought I’ll go, I want to go to New York, but didn’t want to do that. Because I wanted to go to Wall Street. I wanted to know that enemy. I wanted to know how they thought. I didn’t want to go to some schools that just focus on CSR or something more what I used to call woo-woo. I wanted to know what they knew. One, so I could change it, and so they couldn’t mansplain or talk down to me.
And then, when I saw I could do both of them, be a Berkeley with my progressive social impact side and caring about people, and then my Columbia side, Wall Street money, all that, that was a perfect combination for me to do what I wanted to do, which was to start my own fund. That was a different type of fund.
[22:31] Olivia: What was your ambition going into the program on day one? What were you hoping to learn or get out of the experience? With an interest in going to Wall Street, were there any particular roles that you were interested in?
[22:50] Tracy: No, I didn’t want to go to Wall Street. I just wanted to know what they knew. I wanted to be in venture capital. That was my goal. Little did I know you couldn’t just be an analyst or associate and then you can start your own fund. Well, I didn’t know that because, I don’t know, I didn’t think I needed to do that. So, I wanted to be in venture capital. I love venture capital. So, that’s what I wanted to do. I don’t like working for people. And I always tell people, if I come to you asking for job, run. I’m a really bad employee. You’re going to think I know more than everybody else, or I get bored really easily, or I just don’t like being in a box and told what to do. I like to be able to be autonomous and be able to shoot for the moon.
And so, I knew I wanted to work for myself. And I just didn’t know it. Before I went to venture capital, I didn’t know what it was. I have an entrepreneurship intuition deep in my soul. But really, I was never around that. So, I thought I need it. Like I said, I wanted to come out to start a venture capital fund. That’s what I wanted to do. But I wanted one that was impact. And my impact at the time was diversity. So, back then, I was going to start a fund. I actually launched a fund and received some capital to invest in early stage tech in women and people of color, what people are doing now. But back then, the impact investors didn’t believe we existed. They said, are there women and people of color in cap? And they literally asked if I existed because I’m a woman person of color in tech, and they didn’t believe there was enough for them to invest. And then we got out when the world fell apart. The great recession started right when we got out. So, I really couldn’t raise a fund. But that was my goal to go to business school, was to raise a fund and get the credibility behind me.
[24:47] Olivia: I’m curious, were there any experiences that you had while at Berkeley or at Columbia that, maybe, more directly informed your fund today and your nonprofit work?
[25:03] Tracy: So, the fund, yes, because of the international. I’ve been a traveler and love the world since I was a child. My dad was in the Air Force. And so, we’ve lived outside of the country. We travelled a lot. I always felt itchy if I wasn’t on a plane. And then I focused on international business when I was at Berkeley, Columbia. And my professor was a woman for international business. It was Laura Tyson. And I just loved her class. I don’t know if you guys do that, but we did 10-day classes in different markets. And I figured out, if I do two international trips, that’s two classes. And I have one less class. So, I went to India, and I went to Argentina to study Latin America and Asia.
And I knew I was going to do something in international markets. But that helped me when the recession happened and I had to do my get my recession job, which was at the mayor’s office. I knew the Los Angeles mayor for a long time. And I know for a fact he hired me because I had Berkeley and Columbia and international. And I ended up being senior advisor for international business. And my job was to increase exports in Los Angeles and then help them find regions around the country with the Obama administration and the Brookings Institution to increase exports at a city level. And that all came from being at Berkeley and Columbia.
[26:46] Olivia: That’s fascinating. The international business development class is, I think, still one of the most popular classes here at Berkeley. Although, unfortunately, during Adriana and my time at Berkeley, we haven’t been able to participate because of COVID.
[27:05] Olivia: But I think they’re starting it back up.
[27:08] Tracy: It’s great.
[27:08] Olivia: Maybe this year.
[27:10] Tracy: They should let you guys go if you can, all of them. You become close to your classmates anyway, but on that trip is really where I saw people cement the relationships. And we did it with Berkeley, Columbia, and the London School of Business. And it was not just the Berkeley, Columbia, or they had their global program. It was also the full-time and the part-time fully employed. All of them went on these trips. So, we all went together. And so, that network, that’s what I tell people you’re paying for, is that network in business school. And I feel bad that some of you got gypped out of it because it’s pandemic.
[28:00] Adriana: I think everything got back on for these semester. So, I went to Copenhagen with my class. And it was fascinating. Some of us went to Africa. But it was a little bit limited going through MBA school through COVID. But I just wanted to get from you, maybe, one piece of advice that you want to share with the current and future alums that are part of the Haas community and beyond. Is there something that you wanted for all of us to know?
[28:32] Tracy: This is what I tell everybody. I was just actually speaking to the Wharton School. I was in Philadelphia speaking at Wharton. I say this to everybody. Don’t start with fear, because we just don’t get anywhere from fear. Whenever you’re afraid, you shrink, you collapse, you don’t grow. If you’ll start with the biggest possibilities, what could happen? You could reach the biggest possibility. If you start with fear, that’s where you’re going to stay. So, I always tell people, instead of thinking of its failure or something going wrong, just think of it as practicing. And if you can make it through business school and leave it with your sanity, really, you can do anything. It’s not as hard as the medical school or getting your JV, I will say that. But it’s more expensive. So, that’s a problem.
But I think everyone should do that and not start with fear. Just go for it. So, both of you, go for it, whatever possibility, be ready. Because when you’re fearful, you’re not ready for opportunities that present themselves. But if you start with abundance, not to sound like New Agey, but if you start with the abundance, sky is the limit. And that’s why we spend all this money on business school, so we can reach those heights.
[29:50] Adriana: Fascinating conversation. Thank you so much for being here today.
[29:55] Olivia: Thank you, Tracy.
[29:57] Tracy: Thank you, ladies.
[29:59] Olivia: All right. Let’s transition now to our conversation with Evan Wiener, Haas class of 2014, where we’ll talk about his career in the world of corporate sustainability. Welcome, Evan.
[30:10] Evan: Hi, thanks for having me.
[30:12] Olivia: Thanks for joining us. To kick us off, I want to start with your career background. It looks like you spent the first nine-ish years of your career at Adidas. And you started in Portland, but spent most of that time living in Germany and England. And then you moved to San Francisco, started your own consulting firm, working with consumer brands on sustainability, and went to business school. So, I’m curious, after nine years at Adidas, what inspired you to make that transition, move to San Francisco, go to business school? I would love to hear more about that.
[30:51] Evan: Well, it definitely was a transition and a clear pivot for me after spending, as you said, nine, 10 years in, basically, one brand and primarily in marketing-driven roles. I jumped around a lot. And I did that intentionally. I really enjoyed learning and seeing a company the size of Adidas from many different perspectives. But I also knew my functional area of expertise in marketing and brand and product was still pretty narrow. So, it was one of the reasons why I was interested in going back to school to get my MBA because I knew it would broaden my skillset and exposure beyond what I had experienced at Adidas.
The other big reason is because I think we all go through this process at some point, whether it’s in the first few years or the middle point in their careers, or maybe we’re always doing it, it’s probably the right answer, but I felt that after eight or nine years I started to think about what I really wanted to do, what I was passionate about. And while I loved marketing and brands because it’s so interesting work, it’s very dynamic, it’s consumer-facing, you’re always in the eye of the public, and you’re influencing how millions of people think about a product and tangible thing like a brand, I started to say, well, how can I leverage that interest with some other things I’m interested in, like sustainability and bigger causes that I knew were out there looming? It seemed very strange to me to spend all my time helping a company essentially grow and make money and be more profitable but then ignore the realities of what was going on in the world. And so, I thought, well, how can I work in sustainability and also work for a brand? And it led me to the space of corporate sustainability to explore further, to see if it was something I wanted to work in.
[33:01] Olivia: Awesome. I’m curious, did you have your eye on the Bay Area for any particular reason, or Haas, specifically? And had you moved back to San Francisco before applying to business school? Or was this concurrent?
[33:19] Evan: I did not move back before I applied or started. I was still living in Europe at the time. To me, San Francisco is just such a dynamic place to live that is really unmatched in the world. And so, I went to business school pretty late in my career, or a little bit further on in my career. So, I knew that being somewhere I really wanted to live versus just be in a place where the school was important to me. But I also did, to the point of wanting business school to be a platform through which I could explore my interest in sustainability, I knew I needed to go to a program that not just had those courses but it was really integrated into the values of the school and the program. Haas, as we know, is that. With the Center for Responsible Business at the time, most programs didn’t have something like that. And I had the chance to meet with the leader of the center at the time, Kellie McElhaney. And it was only a couple of conversations in where I was like, “This is good place for me to explore these interests and to be,” because of the network, because of the values, some of the electives and curriculum that I was able to take advantage of.
And something I probably didn’t even know at the time was how many consumer brands and experts in sustainability that were Bay Area-based. And so, I tell people when I talk about the value of the MBA, a lot of it was that time to network to go out there and learn what people were doing. And that was all in the backyard of Bay. So, I was grateful for that, to have all those connections right at our fingertips there.
[35:08] Adriana: Let’s transition a little bit into your time at Haas. So, one question that we hear a lot from our MBA students is that, sometimes, you enter with a very singular path or have an idea that you want to dive in and explore deeper, so that you can use the time to the fullest. Do you come with one single idea? Or do you explore a lot and then focus in what you wanted?
[35:37] Evan: I know, for me, I did come in with a very clear mission and leave with a clear mission that were connected. And I know a lot of people come in and pivot, but it’s still evolved in a way that I wasn’t expecting. Thinking that you want to work in the world of corporate sustainability is still so, so broad. You could be a specialist in an analytics department. You could work in supply chain. You could be building products, working in innovation. You could be a materials expert in consumer-facing brands that are making products. There’s just so many pathways that you could go. You could also be on the consulting side and work in corporate sustainability. And so, very early on, I was exposed to the breadth that I didn’t realize was out there. Also, then, the differences between industries was very big. And so, I really had to think, do I want to stay in consumer brands, consumer products? And then, if so, which function? What specialization?
And so, I went through a lot of that process of exploring these different pathways. I will say, in general, a few conclusions. After my first year, I really was nervous about working in sustainability because I hadn’t quite found the work that I thought was truly inspiring to me. And some of the classes and even just my exposure to people at work in sustainability had tended to be people with very specialized backgrounds in analytics or they knew how to do LCA assessments. Or, perhaps, they were on more of the ESG governance, policy, and regulation side. And that is so fundamental to any corporation, but it wasn’t what I was passionate about.
And so, it actually wasn’t until I went to a speaker series. There was a few speakers on the topic of sustainability. I can’t remember which lecture series it was part of. But they brought in some speakers who were actually talking about sustainability as a driver of innovation, as a driver of growth, thinking about it beyond risk, beyond compliance. And it was a moment in my Haas experience where I was like, that’s it. That’s what I want to do. It’s sustainability through the lens of innovation and how you help companies grow through sustainability, drive deeper relationships with their customers, solve customer problems, solve growth problems. It’s that intersection between growth and sustainability that really is where I found my calling in this space.
So, it wasn’t what I thought, or it wasn’t even what I knew. I went into Haas not knowing much about any real jobs in corporate sustainability. And then I went down that path of going, wait, I thought I was here to work in sustainability, but none of it’s very exciting to me. But then, again, as I kept down that path, I found this area that was really inspiring to me. And so, I knew even as I entered my second year, targeting consumer-facing brands, one I believed were really about looking at sustainability as a driver of innovation and growth, but then also roles that were in that capacity.
The final thing I’ll say on it is it allowed me also to leverage my background prior to Haas in marketing. Not everyone needs to do that, but when you’re making a pivot, and everybody’s heard it a million times at Haas, change your function or change your industry. And so, I really knew that I was changing my function. So, I tried to stick with the industry, and then also leverage my past in marketing to at least make myself as attractive as a candidate as possible when I started pursuing jobs.
[39:34] Olivia: That sounds really familiar. I think a lot of Haas students are most interested and come to Haas because they want to work at the intersection of strategy and sustainability, and they want to use sustainability, as you said, a driver of innovation, but also a driver of strategic differentiation for brands. I’m curious, I think your path into sustainability at Nike makes a lot of sense. Did you, at all, consider going into sustainability consulting?
[40:09] Evan: I did. And I think, right now, it couldn’t be a better time, if you’re listening to this and thinking about the corporate consulting side for sustainability, big firms, small firms. This was not the case, I think, when I was leaving Haas. I think there were some niche consulting sustainability companies. And actually, I think one of them, when I was at Haas, folded, and then a couple of others. And there were a few that were more on the marketing angle, like how to build purpose-driven brands, which, Olivia, as you mentioned, that’s what I started my own consulting practice around when I was at Haas, was helping brands identify their bigger purpose and how to integrate sustainability into that purpose.
But yeah, it was hard, I think, to be a consultant in sustainability at the time. And now, I think you could be, again, big, small, medium firm, or even independent on your own, and do quite well, because a lot of sustainability projects are now finding their way into different functions or areas of a business and not limited or stuck within a core sustainability department. And even as you talk about companies that are really progressive in this space, in my opinion, it’s the ones that are starting to really integrate and move sustainability out of the core sustainability team and embed it and have the accountability for it into the various functions. And therefore, those are the teams now, even leading sustainability projects, asking for consultants to come on, even needing support on an ad hoc basis. I think a lot of corporations can leverage consultants really well in this space. They don’t necessarily need to build large resource-intensive sustainability teams. They can bring in contractors and consultants when the work is needed. So, I think that’s an excellent path to explore, particularly now.
[42:16] Olivia: So, you are at H&M as the GM of Circular Economy, a role that is, I’m sure, playing an active and defining role in the next generation of corporate sustainability in apparel and consumer brands. I’m curious, what are you seeing in the space that makes you really excited, either from a technology perspective or just the way that companies are starting to approach and integrate sustainability into their business strategy?
[42:45] Evan: Well, apparel and footwear is a unique industry because it’s an industry where shoes and shirts, textiles, have been made in a very linear supply chain for hundreds of years. And the supply chain really hasn’t changed much. So, what we’re starting to see in apparel and footwear is a true transition from a linear to a circular system, where we’re not just taking raw materials and turning it into products, selling them, consumers use them, throw it away. But thinking about how to reinvent that whole supply chain to reduce waste, increase efficiency, and then, from a technology standpoint, create an industry where we can use textiles and turn them into new textiles.
It is a level of innovation that doesn’t exist yet at scale. And most people don’t even know that. Everything you buy and wear is not really truly a sustainable product, because it is pretty still resource-intensive, and there’s no good way to recycle it or turn it back into itself when we’re done with it. So, it’s one of the reasons why the industry, I think, is so ripe for innovation in all areas of the supply chain. But it’s also why I’m motivated to work in this space and in this role at H&M, which is because sustainability, again, it’s not just about sustainability in some traditional ways that, maybe, were popular several years ago. But circular economy is an entirely new way to help a company transition to a more sustainable and to rethink the supply chain, the products, the processes, logistics, consumer engagement, and also take responsibility for products after they’re sold and used. That’s new. That’s just starting. So, that’s what’s exciting about things like circular economy, is it’s really pushing the boundaries of how companies think about sustainability.
[44:46] Adriana: So, what is one key takeaway on circular economy that you want to make sure everyone knows about, like circular economy, you can transform supply chains or you can transform the Global South? What is the one critical aspect of circular economies that trigger you?
[45:07] Evan: One is tough, so I can give you two. To me, the most systemic way to think about sustainability. So, sustainability is often, I think, most effective when you break down silos, when you connect dots between supply chain, logistics, product innovation, marketing. And circular economy allows companies to break those silos down. It also allows companies to break down silos outside of their four walls, to think about how to collaborate on things like material innovation, on supply chain disruptions, new manufacturing technologies. Things that previously had been considered competitive, circular economy is saying, hey, we all need to solve these problems. In my industry—textiles, apparel, footwear—we all need to work on technologies to break down fibers and turn them into new fibers. That’s industry-wide. So, in my opinion, circular economy really helps to break down these barriers.
The other thing, because I couldn’t give you just one, circular economy is a great way to quantify the environmental and the financial impact of sustainability at the same time, because, at its core, circular economy is thought of through the lens of how to reduce waste and increase efficiency. Any expert in circular economy will tell you, well, that’s just scratching the surface. But in its simplest terms, I find it a great way within a business to show that there’s an environmental impact and a business impact can go hand-in-hand and to find the ways or the projects, the things that can bring those two aspects of sustainability together.
[47:00] Adriana: Thank you. So, another question that we hear a lot is, how do you avoid greenwashing? And what is the purpose of the corporation in this whole sustainability journey? I just want to hear your take on it, and how do you make it move faster, maybe.
[47:19] Evan: It’s really hard. I won’t sugarcoat the whole aspect of greenwashing. Greenwishing is another way to think of it. Most people that work for consumer brands are a part of the supply chain in some aspect are doing good things to make real changes. And they might be incremental. They might be transformational on a small scale. But we all want to show and be proud of progress.
And so, I think that, actually, a lot of greenwashing or greenwishing comes from that good intent of, “See what we’re doing, world. It is meaningful.” But I think we also need to bring in realism to the progress, and we need to take accountability for engaging with the public and our customers and anyone that works inside out from a corporation to the rest of the world, and be honest about progress, because it doesn’t help to, I guess, maybe, make things seem better than they are. But know that it comes from a place of there is something really happening with most of the things that might get labeled as greenwashing.
A great example I thought of the other day, I was getting on an airline. And in the boarding area, there was all this sustainability, green. Well, of course, it was under the typical green banner of let’s make airlines and this airline green. But I get on the plane. And they handed out to the 200-plus passengers on the plane these tiny little 8-ounce plastic bottles of water. And I just thought it was great. I’m like, we’re still in this world where that company is working really actually hard. They’re doing things. They’re probably investing a lot in renewable energy. Huge technology plays around how to make air travel more efficient. And so, that’s what they’re promoting in the airport, but then you get on the plane and it’s like, well, you’re still serving single-use plastic bottles.
And so, there’s a lot of that where it’s, hey, we’re making good moves, but we still have a lot of progress. So, I think it’s better when companies own that progress, that they’re very transparent. But that often goes against how corporations are governed. Opening yourself up, being transparent is oftentimes a way to increase your risk as a company. But my approach always is invest in things that are transparent. Try to be as transparent as possible with the progress you’re making.
And then, from a consumer engagement standpoint, make it as simple as you can. These topics are hard to grasp for everyone, for me included. How often do you see this initiative translates to X million tons of carbon emission reduction? I don’t even know that. And I work in the space. I don’t know how to translate that. So, as a principal, I always try to communicate things in a way that consumers will understand and to make that simple, because part of this work is about education, about increasing awareness. So, I think that’s one way to get over greenwashing.
[50:38] Olivia: Well, thank you so much, Evan, for sharing your time with us. We are running out of time, so I have just one last question. What advice do you have for current or prospective Haas students who are trying to figure out how they want to make a difference?
[50:55] Evan: Well, like I discovered in my time at Haas, there’s so many different pathways that you can go. And so you might have a thought as you’re coming in, or even as you’re navigating your second year or your time there of what you want to do, but I think my advice is to push yourself to expose yourself to as many different possibilities as possible, because in that way you’ll find what you’re most interested in. And this work, it’s so important to feel a personal connection to it, not because you think you should or it looks good to work in a purpose-driven space. Those things are all true. But to really find the area that’s going to motivate you, because the work is hard and the work takes a lot of patience and persistence and meeting people where they are, your stakeholders, again, within a corporation. They’re often not where you want them to be. And so, coming from a place of you’re really interested in, you’re in it for the long haul, and you’re willing to meet people where they are is just so important to this work. So, that’s my only advice, is take the time to really go as broad as you can to explore the different industries, the different specialties, the different ways in which you can participate in this work.
[52:20] Olivia: That’s great advice. Thanks, Evan.
[52:22] Evan: Yeah, of course.
[52:23] Olivia: A big thank you to Tracy Gray and Evan Wiener for sharing your stories and your wisdom with us, especially, the importance of following your curiosity in building careers with meaning.
[52:33] Adriana: And to our audience, thank you so much for tuning in to our fourth episode of Sustainability at Haas Mini Series. Remember to join us for our last episode to listen more about how Berkeley Haas is driving the development of sustainability leaders to our curriculum, faculty research, alumni, and career perspectives.
[52:53] Olivia: Thanks for listening.