On Earth Day 2021, Meet The B-School Sustainability Graduates

Name: Erica Kostense

Hometown: Bussum, Netherlands

Fun Fact About Yourself: If you would have told my 18-year old self studying at Wageningen Life Science University and imagining a career in sustainable science that I one day would also study general management at Nyenrode Business University and have worked in a broad variety of companies including a Big-4 and International NGO, I do not think I would have believed you.

Business School Degree Program: Part-time MSc in General Management, Nyenrode Business University 

1. What do you do? And how do you impact sustainability through is?

I work for Rainforest Alliance as a Strategic Account Manager for global Traders. I mainly work worth with the larger Cocoa & Coffee Traders of this world and help them in their sustainability challenges. We help them in growing their certified supply chain, we work together on innovative projects and we identify challenges, for instance in legislation. Rainforest Alliance has several intervention areas, Reimagined Certification is one of them but we also have advocacy, tailored supply chain services and landscape & communities that we are active is. It is a complex job, working with an NGO in a global setting with global companies in global supply chains that face an array of sustainability challenges that are complex and systemic. And the scale of which can sometimes be overwhelming. But it feels good to make a positive impact through the work we all do on topics like deforestation, child labor & living wage.   

2. What does World Earth Day mean to you?

Well, in my job and also my private life, every day is earth day so in all honesty I do not do anything special on this day. However I think it is a great initiative to create awareness with consumers & policymakers throughout the globe and inspire action for more environmental protection. Small changes on an individual level, can make enormous impact for our planet. A small change in meat consumption is a good examples thereof.

3. What is your top tip for living a more sustainable life? 

Buy more products with a Rainforest Alliance seal on it. But seriously, I believe we are all capable of making a huge impact on sustainability through small choices we make every day and if we all do something this can totally add up. 

So pick whatever suits your lifestyle and start consuming more sustainably through things like Rainforest Alliance certified products, less meat, less dairy, less fast fashion & more public transport. Buy less & recycle more. We all know the drill and most likely can name many more examples. You should just do it, don’t think it does not make an impact. Start small and continue from there.  

And think about how your company can stimulate a more sustainable world. And remember sustainability should not be “greenwashing”. For instance showcasing your electric cars, marketing for the sake of image building or investing in a few isolated “sustainability” projects is unfortunately still happening. But does a company really make a positive impact on society? What impact does it & its supply chain have on people & nature? And how could they influence a more sustainable world? Through their purchasing practices? Their supply chains? Their employees? Their products? In other words: is a company sustainable to the core? Using the SDG’s (Sustainable development Goals) for that purpose could really help pinpoint that impact. Till date some companies still report on topics like the electricity use of their head office, whilst their actual carbon footprint or Human Rights issues for example lie in their global supply chain and remain hidden or are simply unknown. But companies will only change if stakeholders like shareholders, employees & customers demand that change and improved technology & data provide us with way more possibilities than ever before. So start demanding it!

4. Has climate change affected your life? If so, how? 

Climate change is effecting everybody’s live. However the impact of that change depends highly on your circumstances. For me as a European office worker, the current impact on my life is negligible. However for a cocoa or coffee farmer just to name an example the impact is potentially much higher. Their livelihood depends on a good crop year. That is for instance why Rainforest Alliance invests in solutions and training for climate-smart agriculture and will of course continue to combat deforestation as unfortunately deforestation is still linked  

I think it is positive that more and more companies have embraced this topic of climate change and really have started taking steps in combating this. Through the use of technology like GIS and big data and through linking climate change to financial parameters we are capable of seeing more and intervening more. It is a fascinating topic and to work for an organization and with companies that really make a tangible impact on climate change and people through their work is very important to me.   

5. How has your business school experience helped your career in in this area?

Yes, absolutely. As I have stated above I believe we as consumers can make a huge impact. But companies can also be a true driver for change. So knowing how companies operate, how business work is key in understanding how we can change things. Not only from the outside but from within. I do not believe in portraying the business world as “evil” or people that only want to work “in the sustainability domain” without having a clear idea what that means or what their role would be. Companies serve a demand and whilst doing so have to make a profit. That is the way it works. Of course you can debate the excessive incentives, profit margins or systemic issues but in the end these companies drive economy. With that being said I of course already had a Master, but that one was way more technical and Nyenrode was a great addition to that arming me with business knowledge and a network as well. I am sure I landed my job at Deloitte partly because I did Nyenrode. So yes, my business school has learned me to better understand what I am good at, how companies work and ultimately how I can use that knowledge to drive sustainable change from within and help organizations incorporate sustainability in their processes. 

6. What is the biggest/most important lesson you have learned during your studies?

Besides all the knowhow of basic business topic like marketing, finance and supply chain I think the biggest lesson I have learned is through all the assignments we have worked on in different teams. Always under time pressure but never boring. Experiencing how other professionals work, how they approach a problem or envision a solution. Learning from their experience. I think on top of the additional knowledge I have more of an open mind now with regards to possible solutions. I can see value in people with other ideas, other approaches and adding people with different backgrounds to the team really helps in getting a different perspective on things.  

7. Where do you see yourself in five years? 

Truthfully? I have no idea and like to keep an open mind. But I am convinced I still work in the “sustainability” domain in one way or another. 

8. Finally, what are your hopes for the future? 

My hope is really that we start making a shift for a more sustainable future and I mean that in all definitions of sustainability. That we for instance support sustainable agriculture and do not tolerate child labor in our supply chains. 

In essence I want us to talk less but act more when it comes to our own role in that. 

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