Human Capital for a Sustainable Economy


I. News

  1. WNSF’s welcomes new Board members Helle Jorgensen and Louise Raymond
  2. WNSF Executive Director and Co-Founder Ann Goodman wins Public Service Award
  3. WNSF welcomes new associate through its internship program
  4. WNSF Program Administrator Lana Zaman is judge of ‘green’ projects for Middle Schoolers

II. Peer Learning Session “Human Capital for a Sustainable Economy”
III. Key Findings
IV. Presenters
V. Questions for the Panel
VI. Next Events
VII. WNSF Mission & Vision


  1. WNSF welcomes two distinguished new members to its Board of Directors: Helle Bank Jorgensen, US Sustainability Advisor from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC), and Louise Raymond, Senior Director Global Corporate Responsibility from The McGraw-Hill Companies.
  2. WNSF Executive Director and Co-founder Ann Goodman received the prestigious Public Service Award from the University of Chicago for “pioneering efforts on behalf of women in business, corporate responsibility, and sustainable development.” On June 5, 2010, Dr. Goodman was recognized alongside two Nobel Prize winners, one two-time Nobel nominee and 11 other distinguished professionals for exceptional contributions to society and their professions. Read the article here!
  3. WNSF welcomes Shannon Sutherland as the newest associate in its highly competitive internship program. Ms. Sutherland has already contributed importantly to the organization, conducting grant research, maintaining and updating our newly launched website, and assisting in the preparation for WNSF’s upcoming Summits. Shannon is a recent graduate of Mount Holyoke College with a BA in Environmental Studies.
  4. WNSF’s Lana Zaman was selected to serve as a judge of Green Home Contest at Earth Day Green Expo, a partnership between New England-based utility National Grid, NYU-Polytech and the Urban Assembly Institute of Math and Science for Young Women in late April. As a competition judge, she participated in selecting superior green home designs developed by middle school children. Ms. Zaman, a former mathematics honors student from Brown University and math tutor for middle school girls, joined WNSF in February as its Executive Associate and Program Administrator.


“Human Capital for a Sustainable Economy” Hosted by Herman Miller in NYC on April 26

This luncheon panel explored what companies are doing to prepare for a “sustainable” economy, examining the leadership qualities current management at established companies looks for as it maps out a sustainable future. How do companies foster the skills, talents, and knowledge to advance their sustainability goals, while harnessing employee enthusiasm?


  • In moving toward a sustainable economy, systems thinking is crucial. Sustainability requires collaboration across departments, and any leader in this field must be prepared to bridge the gaps among silos.
  • Some of the most sought-after qualities in new employees include curiosity, flexibility, and innovation.
  • Companies best foster these features by encouraging them in day-to-day work practices and through personal recognition for employee achievements.
  • To most effectively implement sustainability, communication should come from the top-down, as well as from the bottom-up. While the most successful programs are those in which the CEO takes action, employees at all levels have the power to move sustainability goals forward.



Ann Goodman: Executive Director, Women’s Network for a Sustainable Future
Susan Heaney: Director Corporate Responsibility, Avon Products Inc.
Michele Kahane: Professor of Professional Practice, the New School’s Program on Social Entrepreneurship, Finance, and Innovation
Suzette Rhodes: LEED AP, Industry IIDA
Natalie Thompson: Vice President, Human Capital Management Division, Goldman Sachs
Melinda Wolfe: Head of Professional Development, Bloomberg

Suzette Rhodes: LEED AP, Industry IIDA

Ms. Rhodes introduced the topic of sustainability by welcoming everyone to the Herman Miller showroom. A chic and elegant setting, this room exemplifies sustainable design by a company that has won awards for its environmental efforts.

Ann Goodman: Executive Director, Women’s Network for a Sustainable Future

Dr. Goodman thanked Herman Miller, a pioneer in sustainable design and workplace advances, for hosting the event.

She then briefly introduced the Women’s Network for a Sustainable Future (WNSF), an organization committed three things: women, business, and sustainability.

Returning to the topic, “Human Capital for a Sustainable Economy,” Dr. Goodman explained that since the financial meltdown of two years ago, there has been a dual focus on rebuilding the economy and creating jobs. Pundits, policy makers and the public at large have been contemplating how to get the economy on the right track and create jobs for a better future. With increasing public awareness of environmental degradation, especially climate change, there has been a focus on ‘green’ jobs, especially so-called ‘green collar’ jobs, like installing photovoltaic panels.

WNSF sees the opportunity as far broader than ‘green,’ she said, envisioning a ‘sustainable’ economy, led by ‘sustainable’ companies, where ‘sustainability’ includes the triple goal of financial, environmental and social progress. WNSF encourages opportunities for professionals across myriad business functions to make sustainability a more viable business goal for any company. With that goal in mind, she said, WNSF put together a panel of experts to help participants better understand what established corporations and start-ups alike are looking for in their talent base.

Dr. Goodman then introduced Michele Kahane, Professor of Professional Practice at the New School’s program on Social Entrepreneurship and a WNSF Board member. Ms. Kahane formerly worked as a banker, a program officer at the Ford Foundation, director of special projects at the Center for Corporate Citizenship at Boston College, and director of commitments at the Clinton Global Initiative.

Michele Kahane: Professor of Professional Practice, The New School’s Program on Social Entrepreneurship, Finance, and Innovation

Before introducing the panelists, Ms. Kahane polled attendees on the industries they worked in. Responses ranged from business to non-profit organization, academia, and the public sector. She then asked participants whether they felt they knew which specific skills and talents would be necessary for the new sustainable economy. The room fell silent, highlighting the need for the discussion on human capital for a sustainable economy. This, Ms. Kahane explained, is the cross-section of corporate social responsibility and sustainability.

With experience in global business, non-profit organizations, and philanthropy, Ms. Kahane has spent much of her life developing human capital. As a professor at the New School’s Program on Social Entrepreneurship, Finance, and Innovation, she now trains the human capital of the future.

Natalie Thompson: Vice President, Human Capital Management Division, Goldman Sachs

Ms. Thompson introduced Goldman Sachs’s recent sustainability initiatives. Viewing sustainability from a corporate perspective, Goldman Sachs has had an environmental policy since 2005. Ensuring that this policy is fully integrated with the rest of the business has been an immense task, and one that the company continues to pursue. The firm prioritizes philanthropy by giving back to the community through programs such as the Charitable Services Group and Goldman Sachs Foundation.

Melinda Wolfe: Head of Professional Development, Bloomberg

As the Head of Professional Development, Ms. Wolfe said that her work in human resources is very closely aligned with Bloomberg’s sustainability efforts. The task at the moment is to bridge the gap between these two areas. Bloomberg has very ambitious sustainability goals, and hopes to reduce the company’s carbon footprint by 50% by 2013 from its 2007 baseline. A global company, Bloomberg works to ensure that its sustainability measures are carried out in all 72 countries in which it operates. For example, each office has a pantry full of compostable supplies. Beyond these practical sustainable measures, Bloomberg also puts great effort into producing metrics on the topic

Susan Heaney: Director Corporate Responsibility, Avon Products Inc.

Ms. Heaney briefly described Avon’s extensive Corporate Responsibility (CSR) programs. A global company, Avon is known for its worldwide CSR efforts that touch on many issues, including environment, breast cancer, domestic violence, and economic empowerment. The company raises funds and donates generously to support these initiatives and is currently one of the largest micro-lenders in the world.

Ms. Heaney emphasized that Avon strives to integrate CSR functions within the company. In that way, she explained, Avon’s Corporate Responsibility department functions much like the human resources department, in that the team supports and engages all other branches. While the department doesn’t necessarily “drive” sustainability initiatives, it sets policies, procedures, and standards, tracking the rest of the company’s efforts.

V. Questions for the Panel
Michele Kahane: What does a company need in order to be successful in the sustainable economy? For example, if the company were a person, what would it need to be good at doing to excel in sustainability? What characteristics and talents should it have?

Melinda Wolfe:
Ms. Wolfe responded, listing three key characteristics. Commitment: The company must have a clear idea of what it is trying to accomplish and commit to making it happen in a big way. Collaborative spirit: In order to affect sustainability in both the broad and narrow sense, employees must collaborate across businesses to achieve the company’s sustainability goals. Systems thinking: The company needs systematically execute across all business efforts to maximize the impact of its sustainable efforts. The company should consider how it affects employees, clients, business, and profitability, not only across one group or another, but also how it touches all constituencies.

Ms Wolfe said that the company is reflected in the qualities it seeks in its employees. One can gauge the value it places on being sustainable by looking at what it seeks in individuals.

Susan Heaney: Both company and individuals need to be nimble, Ms. Heaney said. Individuals should know how to work with or without official structures and be able to work cross functionally to further sustainability goals. The company also needs to understand that CSR is a long-term investment, one that may not show up in balance sheets on a quarterly basis. For example, the initial investment in constructing a building that meets LEED standards may look high, but in the long run, it may save money.

These long-term investments are business decisions that should be backed up by business criteria. She explained that metrics are important in evaluating such investments.

Natalie Thompson: Ms. Thompson described three qualities that she found valuable for a company to succeed in sustainability. Now more than ever, we need to be visionary in our approach. Employees and employers alike cannot simply accept things as they are. A sustainable economy requires that we think about what the future should look like and model our actions accordingly.

The company should have the capacity to connect the dots across the globe. Sustainability requires a lot of collaboration, so it’s crucial that companies approach problems through teamwork.

Lastly, the company needs to recognize that everything is interconnected, and one thing inevitably affects another. It must take on an integrated approach to everything.

Michele Kahane: Given the capabilities that the panel described, how do companies foster, nurture, incentivize these competencies? Are there any particular training programs? What is new in terms of thinking about how to foster and recognize these sorts of competencies?

Melinda Wolfe: Ms. Wolfe responded that it is not only important to develop the talent among those already working, but also to attract the right talent. Bloomberg does this by letting people know what its identity is through innovative programs, training, and a compelling employee value proposition.

One such sustainable practice at Bloomberg is removing individual waste baskets at each employee’s desk. Instead, there are several central areas with separate bins for waste, compost, paper, and bottles and cans. Making employees walk across the room to dispose of their garbage forces them to be more aware of what they waste. It also emphasizes the importance of recycling and composting. It takes a certain kind of employee to commit to collecting trash and taking it to a central location for disposal. Anyone who is not willing to buy into these practices does not share the company’s commitment to sustainability. Thus by implementing practices such as this, Bloomberg draws in the particular talent that it desires Ms. Wolfe said.

Another way that Bloomberg fosters human capital development is by rewarding employees for good work in sustainability. The company has a recognition program each year where employees around the globe are invited to submit nominations for efforts at work and outside of work where colleagues have demonstrated leadership in sustainability efforts. The winners are recognized and their ideas are shared. This kind of recognition makes employees feel valued for applying their skills to further the cause of CSR.

Natalie Thompson: Goldman Sachs develops human capital by creating a broader awareness either through environmentally sustainable practices or through opportunities to contribute to the community, Ms. Thompson said. The company finds that most people are at their best when they are giving something back to the community. For that reason Goldman Sachs provides employees with these philanthropic opportunities.

Susan Heaney: Ms. Heaney began by explaining that trying to find a job description for CSR positions is interesting because this is a field that only recently came into existence, and the industry requires a diverse skill set. Some of these skills include a working knowledge of environment, ethics, and sustainability. Innovation and flexibility are also key. In order to make progress in the field of CSR, employees need to have passion for what they do and a thick skin against trying circumstances. They must never take no as an answer because in order to effect change, CSR employees need to convince the C-Suite to join their cause. Without support from the top down, attempting to push CSR is like pushing water uphill, she said. Players at all levels must commit to the sustainability goals, but support from the top is a necessity.

Avon encourages sustainability at all levels of the company through the Hello Green Tomorrow Program. This program harnesses Avon’s unique ability to educate and engage people through its woman-to-woman network in order to empower a global women’s environmental movement. If the company builds up the framework for a sustainable employee mindset, the employees will quickly become engaged, she explained.

Another matter to consider, Ms. Heaney said, is what specific environmental initiatives are most meaningful for a particular company. Currently, Avon’s biggest opportunity to effect change is in the paper and forestry industries. Without physical stores, the company uses many print materials to sell products. For this reason, Avon has comprehensive initiatives in the fields of paper and forestry.

Michele Kahane: How is the pipeline of the recruitment process affected by the shift to a sustainable economy? Is recruitment evolving to seek the qualities described earlier?

Melinda Wolfe: Ms. Wolfe found that the best way to pull in employees with desired qualities is to put forward the company’s values and intentions. This will automatically attract employees whose values coincide. For example statistics have shown that women value sustainability in their work. With that knowledge, a company that seeks to amplify its corporate responsibility initiatives may create a woman-friendly work environment.

Natalie Thompson: Ms. Thompson explained that the way to find the best employees for the new economy is to ensure that the company implements sustainability. There is not necessarily a direct correlation between a particular quality in an individual and his or her potential CSR capability. However, the company should advocate sustainability in order to instill a heightened sensitivity toward to the issue and to effect the changes it desires to see.

Michele Kahane: It appears the field is still evolving, Ms Kahane concluded. While companies may not know exactly what they are looking for, a commitment to sustainability is important. Beyond commitment, however, what capabilities and characteristics do companies seek? How are these characteristics influencing new recruits and potential leaders?

Susan Heaney: Ms. Heaney addressed this point by explaining that while passion is important, it needs be backed with skill. Companies seek workers who can be realistic in their sustainability efforts and who truly understand what sustainability is. That said, Ms. Heaney continued, since it is a new field, there is no given formula for a company to become sustainable, and no one knows exactly which sustainability initiatives will be the most successful.

Ms. Heaney explained that while students studying accounting likely know what they will be doing in their careers, anyone working in sustainability or CSR must be flexible and innovative in order to succeed. Solutions in this field are never black and white and a strong employee must be prepared to be flexible.

Natalie Thompson: Ms. Thompson explained that the characteristics a company seeks in new employees are complex and varied. It depends in part on the cohort. Those coming in at the analyst level bring have a very different perspective on economics and sustainability than more senior employees. She said that the so-called “Millenials” approach work very differently, in part because of technology. With laptops enabling employees to work from anywhere, many “Millenials” have higher demands for flex-time and vacation time. This drastically varies from many companies’ traditional values, and it brings into question what makes a good employee.

Michele Kahane: What types of leadership training do companies give employees to harness the capabilities you describe. Given that some of them require nurturing, what kind of professional development opportunities do companies provide?

Susan Heaney: Ms. Heaney responded that 70% of what employees learn, they learn by doing. Avon encourages employees to take action through its Green Ambassadors program. The Green Ambassadors are employees who drive the day-to-day grassroots green initiatives and engagement programs in Avon facilities worldwide, a coveted role at Avon. (Note: The Green Ambassadors are distinct from the environmental team whose fulltime role is the environmental impact of Avon’s business.)

In terms of skills-training, Ms. Heaney explained that companies are basically applying leadership skills to the world of sustainability. The same skills that make a strong leader in any department can make a good employee in sustainability.

Melinda Wolfe: Ms. Wolfe said that Bloomberg nurtures employee enthusiasm by fostering the company’s philanthropic and green initiatives. A company born on innovation, Bloomberg encourages constant idea generation at all levels, including those pertaining to sustainability.

Natalie Thompson: Ms. Thompson added that curiosity is valuable in new recruits. An environment that fosters innovation training will generate powerful ideas, she said.

Michele Kahane: It appears that experiential training and encouragement of innovative thinking are valuable in fostering employee enthusiasm.

What kinds of incentives and performance metrics do companies use to foster these values in employees?

Susan Heaney: Ms. Heaney responded that personal recognition is a valuable tool in driving employee enthusiasm. As an example, Avon’s “Green Innovation Challenge” is open to employees at all levels of the company and the winners receive recognition in New York where they have the opportunity to present the ideas to CEO, Andrea Jung and the Executive Council. This sends the message to all employees that Avon values new ideas from all possible sources, Ms. Heaney concluded.

Natalie Thompson: Ms. Thompson said that many of the behaviors valuable for a sustainable economy receive assessment through Goldman Sachs’s performance review. This is a rigorous top-down process, she explained, and in checking employees’ core competencies, the company can measure many of the important qualities it seeks.

Melinda Wolfe: Ms. Wolfe concluded that the best way to encourage the competencies a company seeks is through effective performance evaluation as well as employee recognition.

VI. Next Events
1. Register now for WNSF’s seventh Annual Business Womens’ Sustainability Leadership Summit: “Sustainability: We get it, now what?” October 5 With expectations for sustainability higher than ever, we’ll examine how to harness this heightened awareness to deliver a higher level of performance for ourselves, our organizations-and the world at large.
2. Stay tuned to for details on WNSF’s upcoming West Coast Summit, November 12, 2010.

VII. WNSF Mission and Vision
Mission: To advance sustainability through the commitment, talent, and leadership of businesswomen.
Vision: A sustainable future-financially, environmentally and socially-driven by businesswomen worldwide.

For more information, please contact: Tel: 212 497 3534

The Women’s Network for a Sustainable Future is a 501c3 organization. This issue of Net Notes was compiled by Lana Zaman.

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