Katherine Neebe takes a hands-on approach to saving the planet. So much so that this MBA graduate from the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business can say that she once released a polar bear back into the wild while on a trip to near the Arctic.
When she’s not saving endangered wildlife, Neebe heads up the sustainability effort for one of the U.S.’s largest utilities as the Chief Sustainability Officer and VP of National Engagement & Strategy at Duke Energy, and President of the Duke Energy Foundation. Alongside working to “develop solutions to meet customer needs for continued reliable and affordable energy,” Neebe says that much of her time is spent working to achieve Duke Energy’s goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Since undertaking the Darden MBA, she’s worked with some of the U.S.’s largest companies, such as Walmart, the Coca-Cola Company and now Duke Energy to, as she puts it, “help accelerate positive impact and deliver shared value.” It’s a career that for many MBA students would be a dream come true, being able work with huge companies and make a real difference. Neebe is hopeful about the impact of future MBAs on sustainability and hopes many follow suit after their studies.
“We are at a unique moment in time and, particularly for an MBA student or alum, I think there is a tremendous opportunity to influence business towards sustainability and have an outsized positive impact on the world we collectively share.”
‘THERE IS NO PLANET B’
This confidence in the importance of MBAs as key players in creating change for the better in the business world is well placed if Alison Alvarez is anything to go by.
An MBA from Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business Class of 2016, Alvarez has committed much of her time, both professionally and personally, to having a positive impact on the environment.
The co-founder and CEO of Blastpoint, a provider of software that helps businesses to predict consumer behavior in the automotive and energy industries, her company is used by many “to find customers likely to sign up for zero carbon programs or energy efficiency programs,” and helps some of the U.S.’s largest brands to “predict and facilitate adoption of electrical vehicles,” she says.
Outside of work, Alvarez – originally from the Atlanta suburbs, but now Pittsburgh-based – is an outspoken proponent of walking where possible. In Pittsburgh, she and her family are able to get most places by foot.
And, according to the Tepper MBA graduate, she isn’t the only one in her household that has climate action on her agenda: “My daughter has a poster on her wall that she drew. It says ‘There is no Planet B’.” For Alvarez, like many others, climate action isn’t simply about the here and now, it’s about “the future: protecting the planet so that the next generations have a chance to prosper in a healthy, sustainable way.”
DIGITAL SOLUTIONS TO SUSTAINABILITY PROBLEMS
Alvarez and Neebe, much like the other alumni featured in this article, have taken the skills and understanding they’ve picked up during their time at business school to make a difference and do their part to tackle climate change. And so, in recognition of Earth Day, April 22, and in celebration of the many business school graduates across the globe that have dedicated their professional lives to being a force for good, we’ve handpicked a few outstanding stories to share with the readers of Poets&Quants.
When Jean Moreau, a graduate of ESSEC Business School, co-founded Phenix, he had a clear goal: to create solutions to bring an end to the waste of unsold products.
Much like Alvarez’s Blastpoint, Moreau’s start-up, a tech-for-good business, utilises digital solutions to find more sustainable ways of doing business. Via Phenix, Moreau currently fights food waste across five countries and has already saved more than 120 million meals from ending up in the trash.
For the ESSEC graduate, the importance of preventing product waste goes beyond simply the environmental benefits: “Fighting food waste involves challenges of two types: ecological – because it represents a significant portion of Co2 emissions in France – but also social because in France 8 million people suffer from food insecurity,” says Moreau, who resides in Paris.
However, while Phenix does a great deal of good, its co-founder is keen to leave no doubt that, first and foremost, it’s a business. “I manage Phenix as it is: a business for good, but a business,” he says. For Moreau, ensuring that the Phenix is succeeding is vital, and so his time spent at ESSEC and the skills he learnt have become invaluable:
“Of course what I have learned from ESSEC Business School is highly useful in my daily job. It provided me with a strong general business education and I gained a core set of skills that help me every day in running my own business, from building business plans to managing more than 200 employees.”
A SMALL BUT GROWING FIRM WITH BIG PLANS
Moreau isn’t the only one losing sleep over the mountains of food being wasted every day. Ricky Ashenfelter and Emily Malina, alumni from the MIT’s Sloan School of Management MBA Class of 2015 co-founded Spoiler Alert, a technology firm that supports major food and beverage brands to “cut waste from their supply chains”, for that very reason.
“We couldn’t be more excited to be helping industry leaders ranging from Kraft Heinz to Danone reduce food waste while boosting revenue and cutting costs,” they say.
Having worked for three years for the same company, in the same building only three floors apart, it wasn’t until they were admitted to MIT Sloan that Ashenfelter and Malina actually met. And now, only a few years later, they’re revolutionising the way companies approach product waste.
“We do this by helping sales teams digitize their liquidation processes for short-dated and excess inventory, and we feed this data back to supply chain managers and demand planning teams to better inform them which of their products aren’t selling effectively so that they can do a better job managing this volume in the future,” say Ashenfelter and Malina.
Looking back at their time at business school, the co-founders of Spoiler Alert believe that MIT Sloan was instrumental in their success: “It solidified our interest in entrepreneurship, armed us with the confidence to lead, and confirmed our desire to weave impact into our company’s very DNA. We applied just about every action learning course we could to our startup – including Product Development & Marketing, Pricing, and Technology Sales.”
And, turning to the future, the MIT Sloan alumni are confident that, for Spoiler Alert, the only way is up: “We’re a 20-person company at the moment and backed by some great institutional and impact investors, and we have a big vision to power the waste-free economy.”
EARTH DAY ‘AN OPPORTUNITY TO COLLECT ATTENTION ON HUMANS’ ROLE IN THE ECOSYSTEM’
Daniele Pes, a graduate of MIP Politecnico Di Milano’s Executive MBA, Earth Day is about action. He says that it’s “an opportunity to collect attention on humans’ role in the ecosystem and concretely focus on shortening the distance between talking about it and actually doing something effective to make things happen.”
As a serial entrepreneur, Pes is a man that is used to following through on his commitments and ideas. With companies across Italy, the UK and US, and spanning sectors such as renewable energy, special materials and AI-based waste management, the MIP EMBA alumnus has undoubtedly put what he learnt during his time at the Milan-based business school into practice.
“I have learned that I can contribute the most when I can translate the language of problems into that of solutions,” he notes.
Our Celebration of Earth Day 2021