Traditional career paths? No thank you. I was never able to find one that suited my interests. My knowledge of sustainability and entrepreneurship allowed me to create my own career journey – and I feel forever indebted to UNC Kenan-Flagler for providing me with the skills and confidence to do what I want to do and enjoy the steps along the way to get where I want to be.
At UNC Kenan-Flagler, I learned that I could create my own career with the power of the skills I obtained – especially with the improvement of the for-profit world’s understanding that sustainability and the triple bottom line can drive innovation, progress and success. It has always been the people around me – and the teams I’ve had the honor of working with – that have made my career successful. Sustainable enterprise necessitates working with people – but more importantly, it enables learning from people.
The whole idea of sustainability concentrates on being able to talk and work with all stakeholders – companies, environmental groups, social and community groups, governments, thought leaders, institutions of higher education and more. Sustainability is not just about where economic prosperity, social equity and environmental integrity come together. It’s also about how each of those drives and improves the others. UNC Kenan-Flagler and the Center for Sustainable Enterprise (CSE) instilled this understanding in my approach and work ethic. I have always been interested in finding solutions and creating opportunity out of conflict. Sustainability is about finding that opportunity, improving and allowing for progress on multiple levels.
My path leading up to my time in business school included a passion for working with people, helping wildlife and the environment, and finding new solutions by looking outside of existing work behavior. UNC Kenan-Flagler helped me harness that energy and provided me with the skills to put it to work. While at UNC, I benefited from experiences working on social sustainability through entrepreneurial projects and working with companies on environmental sustainability projects through the CSE consulting program.
After leading a CSE consulting fellows project for Bank of America, the firm hired me to work for Lisa Shpritz (MBA ’05), recipient of the School’s 2013 Distinguished Alumni in Sustainability Award. That position was an incredible experience where I got to work with an amazing team on environment and sustainability issues related to Bank of America’s operations and corporate real estate throughout the country.
However, I had an entrepreneurial itch that I had to scratch. I left our incredible team at Bank of America to start a national sustainable manufacturing initiative from scratch at the National Council for Advanced Manufacturing. Through that initiative, I consulted with defense and aerospace manufacturers, worked with politicians and policy-makers on Capitol Hill, and was appointed by the Department of Commerce to the OCED’s advisory expert panel on sustainable manufacturing and eco-innovation. My background in sustainability, business and policy, combined with my undergraduate work in psychology, proved to fit together perfectly when I created this initiative. After all, sustainability is all about people – helping others reach their goals by applying the sustainability framework, and learning from people about how their world (business, life, etc.) works so we can help them.
I have to admit, I got sick of being indoors in conference rooms and offices and yearned to be outside. I also needed to learn how to take my communications to the next level. I love working with and learning from others and wanted to get their stories and the complexity of sustainability issues to a larger audience for an even larger discussion to help solve specific problems.
I decided to come back to UNC to earn a master’s degree from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. I treated this master’s program as a job – it was my job. While learning the skills necessary for documentary journalism and mass communication, I was also creating the business plan for WildSides, my nonprofit that creates documentary and educational media about human-wildlife conflict issues. This was key for my next step in sustainability: Communicating issues to the masses while trying to produce problem-solving discussions and help all of us learn from individuals’ real-life experiences.
All of these experiences, the triple bottom line sustainability framework itself and the people who continue to teach me, have led to my career dreams coming true. As the director of sustainability at my undergraduate alma mater, Davidson College, I get to put all of this to work every day and learn from the bright young minds of the next generations.
At Davidson, we created The Next Play, a business plan competition for ventures with sustainability benefits to pitch in front of investors and also practice pitching to an industry niche – sports industries (including facilities-related products and services), products (shoes, apparel, equipment and nutrition), and nonprofits who use sports to address social and environmental issues. In this role, I get to work on social sustainability issues such as food justice and access, as well as a whole gamut of environmental sustainability issues. And I get to apply the business skills and opportunity – which UNC Kenan-Flagler helped me develop – to every topic I address.
My journey shows the strength of the sustainability framework and the unique experiences UNC Kenan-Flagler offers in allowing someone to do what they want to do. I’m excited to continue learning from UNC faculty, staff, students and alumni.
By Jeff Mittelstadt (MBA ’07)