Global Lead on Sustainability at Uber
Could you please tell us what you do, and how sustainability intersects with your day to day responsibilities?
I spend 100% of my time thinking about the impact of the use of our product on the environmental goals of cities. I have 4 fundamental work streams: (1) developing metrics and measurement processes for the impact of the use of our product, (2) developing internal and external messaging about the impact of our product, and a fact-base upon which to base those messages, (3) magnifying best practices and pilot projects that can lead to improved impact, and (4) managing a portfolio of cross-functional programs, content and external stakeholder relationships to deliver (1) - (3).
What are the biggest challenges and opportunities that your sector faces with respect to sustainability?
While our business sits within the tech sector, our product impact falls within the transportation sector. Under business as usual for the next 30 years (to 2050), experts expect 30% population increase, 25% more urbanization, nearly 100% vehicle population growth, and 300% increase in demand for urban mobility. At the same time, risk managers and environmentalists believe the transportation sector has to shrink its carbon footprint by more than 60% to maintain progress toward 2 degree targets (Paris Agreement level goals). The transportation sector is desperate for more efficient mobility solutions and struggling with the overwhelming consumer preference for personally owned and used combustion vehicles, which account for more than 60% of the more than 23 trillion miles consumed globally every year.
What advice do you have for Stern students interested in embarking on careers related to sustainability?
You cannot underestimate your career development. You have to do two hard things at the same time: (1) know all the usual stuff MBAs are expected to know (e.g. finance, management, accounting, strategy, etc.) with some well-regarded experience to back it up, and (2) gain and demonstrate subject area expertise on environmental issues coupled with sincere passion. What's more, for-profit companies, social enterprises and even NGOs generally only have a few openings, every once in a while, for sustainability related roles that pay well enough to support your MBA loan repayment needs. The demand for those roles is far greater than supply for all the reasons you're interested in them: you get an incredible professional opportunity, that pays enough or even well, that aligns with your values, and may even give you the inspirational high of feeling like your contributing to things that are positively impacting the world. So you'll be up against candidates that are either way more de-risked than you (years of experience, maybe even at that company), have potentially greater bargaining power (e.g. ability to take lower salaries cause they already made money in the non-impact world prior to you), and were gaining more experience in category (1) or (2) while you were getting your MBA.
Fortunately, you're at Stern. You're surrounded by some of the best career development resources in the world and some of the most amazing people you'll ever know. So, in addition to accepting and following all of the guidance Stern can offer in career development, flex your network to get to know sustainability professionals actually doing the work. If you're weak in category (1), there will be no substitute for more experience - so find ways to gain it. If you're week in category (2), while some of the current hiring bars are lower (relative to category 1) and some companies earlier on the sustainability journey might take passion over experience, knowledge and skill ... that's rapidly changing, so err on the side of gaining solid experience. Surround yourself with a great group of Sternies similarly setting a high bar for their own careers; build strong relationships with them, provide to them and ask of them as much support as possible.
How do you recommend students use their time at Stern to be better prepared for a career in sustainability? Are there are any books, courses, podcasts, or other resources that you recommend one to read to understand the various themes and career options in sustainability?
You're at a world-class MBA program, and even the most liberal, sustainability-passionate NGOs that might hire you in the future will expect you to be a world-class MBA. So don't underestimate all the "standard" stuff Stern can provide. In addition, make sure to get some exposure - either through a few classes (at Stern or other schools like Wagner), clubs like SEA, MBA student competitions, or internships - to up to date thinking on social enterprise / ESG (environmental, social and governance) practice in business - so at least you understand trends and the latest language. This will be key for informational and actual interviewing. It will also help you separate good opportunities from lackluster ones.
What skills are important to have for a career in sustainability?
Don't underestimate the basics: writing, time management, preparing and giving presentations, project management, running teams, strategy, and a solid bit of quantitative skills. Then, for sustainability roles specifically: understanding of policy environment directly or indirectly affecting sustainability (particularly as it relates to your target businesses and industries), stakeholder relationships and management (especially NGOs and industry trade associations), and impact measurement frameworks and metrics (e.g. CDP, GRI, other industry-specific), social enterprise case studies (e.g. Wal-Mart packaging and stores shift toward green, Nike or Starbucks supply chain and labor issues, McDonalds supplier engagement and responsible sourcing, etc.).
What is your proudest career accomplishment?
Developing this evidence-based narrative on how new mobility technology can drive sustainability.
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