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  • Episode 12 – Maureen Hart – Exec. Dir. Int’l Society of Sustainability Professionals

Maureen Hart, Executive Director of the International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP), discusses the importance of systems thinking (vs. narrow, short-term thinking) and balance in both environmental and social systems as fundamental to sustainability. In her discussion with Aaron Perry, she makes the business case for sustainability – especially with the rising tide of Certified B-Corporations. Maureen also shares a bit from her personal life, and how cycling, eating organic food, and walking in the woods instead of shopping are key aspects of her personal stewardship and sustainability practice! She reminds us that “you can’t repeal the laws of nature!”

Listeners can enjoy a special $25 discount on their ISSP membership fees – act now as this is only available to the first 25 who respond!

Transcript

(Automatically generated transcript for search engine optimization and reference purposes - grammatical and spelling errors may exist.)

Hi friends, welcome to another edition of the YonEarth Communities Stewardship and

Sustainability Podcast Series.

We're so excited to be with you today and to share with you our guest who is Maureen

Hart, the executive director of the International Society of Sustainability Professionals.

She's been in that role for four and a half years and has been in the arena of sustainability

generally speaking for about 25 years, in fact more than 25 years, and brings an incredible

diversity of expertise, including an expertise in data management and working with sustainability

indicators, and Maureen  is the author of the Guide to Sustainable Community Indicators.

Maureen, it is such a pleasure to be with you today.

Thank you for joining us in this discussion.

Thank you, Aaron, I'm delighted to be here, really looking forward to the conversation.

You know, I'm struck that through ISSP, you are working with professionals in a variety

of industries and sectors all over the world, and what seems to be emerging there is

truly a network.

We can almost think of it as an ecosystem of practitioners and professionals, and tell

us about that, what does that look like?

You know, it actually is wonderful to have all those connections.

It does mean sometimes I have to get up really like this morning.

I had a meeting with people in Europe, it was at 7 a.m., and sometimes I have meetings

with people in Asia Pacific and at the 10 p.m., so, but it's wonderful because these people

are doing such amazing things in so many different industries in different countries and different

aspects of sustainability, so some people are working in product design, you know, how

do we make packaging that works better and it's not plastic and it's not going to end

up in the middle of the Pacific Ocean?

Or how do we make our buildings more efficient?

Or how do we generate less waste?

How do we make our social systems more sustainable?

So it's an incredibly diverse group of people and skills and it's really wonderful when

they get together and share it, so we actually now have a what we're calling regional learning

networks where people are getting together virtually, sort of like this, where they get

together, in fact, the meeting this morning was a group of ISSP members in Europe.

So with somebody in French out, somebody in Switzerland, somebody in Greece, somebody

in the UK, and they're all having a conversation about something and sharing best practices

with each other.

So it's a really wonderful, diverse and very engaged group of people.

It's absolutely amazing and just to flesh this out a little bit more for our audience,

you're working with professionals that are in the private sector and corporations and

industry individuals in university and educational sectors, the NGO sectors, and governmental sectors,

is that right?

Absolutely.

So in people who work in hospitals or people who are trying to make municipalities more

sustainable, you know, working, we have some members who work for port authorities.

So they're working on how do you make airports or, you know, the wire ports more sustainable.

So it's an incredibly diverse, you know, we have people working in private schools, you

know, helping, you know, ten-year-olds figure out how they can make the world more sustainable.

So it's, it's, it is an incredibly diverse, you know, some people are working on communications

and we get people to understand that we need to be changing way we're doing things and

improving our systems, you know, so it is really diverse group and I guess one thing I'd

like to say to your audience is regardless of what you do and what your interests are,

you can be contributing to sustainability and should be.

Yeah, you know, I absolutely love and resonate with that point and want to mention something

along those lines, but before I forget, I want to make sure to tell our audience that

ISSP runs a certification, a credential program and Maureen, you have been kind enough to extend

a discount to our listeners, the first 25 people who sign up and join the ISSP will talk about

the details a little bit later on, but just want to make sure that you all know about that special

perk from today's discussion and thank you for that, Maureen, that's wonderful.

Absolutely, absolutely.

So, yeah, to your point about how important it is, essential really that we think of the

sustainability functions in all sectors really, it's something I wrote about in, in why on earth

and specifically in that section, that third section that dealt with work and earning and our

engagement with the economy and really thinking about how we create more cyclical and circular

and regenerative economies and economic behavior in the broad sense of the term in that many of us

regardless of whether we're accountants or communications specialists or educators or

manufacturers, whatever it may be that we're doing in terms of technical skill sets, more and more

of us are engaging in sustainability and stewardship through all those different channels and it

seems that you are at such an amazing nexus point of that fast emerging and growing phenomenon.

Absolutely, and our members are engaging in a key part of what they do is work to engage others

in their organizations or in their communities and try and figure out how to get everybody

involved in this because it's not something that one person in an organization can solve but

everybody has a hard to play with their, you know, in a business if you're the purchasing

manager then you need to be thinking about where are the products you're purchasing coming from,

how have they been sourced? Are they renewable products? Are they compostable? You know,

what happens to them at the end of their life cycle? How are they being produced? Is there

slave labor or child labor being used to produce them? Is there a lot of pollution generated when

they're produced? The purchasing person has to think about it but also the HR person has to

think about it because they have to make sure that everyone in the company is trained on

sustainability and understand how it fits into what they're doing. You know, everyone has a

piece that they can play and so what's really wonderful is the training courses that we have

help people understand where they fit into that but also what they can do. So right now we're

running a course on sustainability planning. Next month we're doing one on sustainability

management systems because it's one thing to do with plan but if you don't have a system in place

to actually implement the plan and make sure that you then any plan that you put in place you

then have to do it and then at the end you have to check to make sure that you've had some results

and revised it. So there's a whole process for that and then the next step we have is on

leadership skills how you can be a change agent within your organization or within your municipality.

So it's very, you know, that's part of what we do is empower the professionals to be able to make

change. It's so beautiful and to be able to provide expertise and methodologies that

help folks really up their game, up level their capability is obviously such a huge value.

It's clear that the market is shifting more and more in this direction and that folks who have

not only the credentials but the access to the additional resources and capabilities are

going to have additional competitive advantage out there basically. Yeah, absolutely. In fact,

on our website we have recordings of webinars that we've done recently with different

with potential positions in different industries. So we have one for people that are in higher

education, one for credential holders in local government and two that are for consultants.

Would they talk about what they see as the value of the credential in furthering their

career but also in how getting the credentials helps them to better understand

what they were doing and have better skills to do it. And actually they also talk a little bit

about their journey, how they got to those points in their life. And that's actually a lot of

fun to listen to as the predictor is that we have one person who got a degree in philosophy

and now we've a facilities manager. We have someone else who got a degree in religion.

It's just amazing. Then there are people that got degrees in engineering or in journalism.

And so it's really an amazingly diverse group and it's just fun to listen to how they

got where they are today. Because I think it inspires everyone to see that they can do it as well.

That's so beautiful. Well, I guess we could quip that perhaps all roads can lead to sustainability

and hopefully will, you know. Yes, and they all need to.

Absolutely. I agree. Let me ask you about your journey, speaking of journeys. How did you

how did you end up as the executive director of ISSP? Tell us about that.

You know, I started off an information management and was doing

database work for the USEPA, particularly in the area of hazardous materials management.

So they had a database on that. And I decided I needed to go get a degree in that area because I

didn't really, I know it was bad stuff, but I didn't really understand all the issues with it.

So I went back to school to get a master's in hazardous materials management in civil and

environmental engineering. And while I was there at Tufts University, there was a group of people

working on sustainable community indicators. And I thought, oh, indicators, I do data. I know how

about that. And what I wanted to do is, you know, the problem with data and indicators is people go,

oh, we've got to measure everything so we know what to do next. And the problem is, you never

have enough data. And if you spend all of your time collecting more and more data, you know,

what I call feeding the data monster, you'll never actually make a decision. You'll never actually

start doing anything. So I said, you know, I could help communities that are working on sustainability,

help them think about why they want to measure something and help them define the real goals they

want. And then what's the least amount of data that they want to collect? So I ended up writing

the guy, the sustainable community indicators. And then did a lot of work. He with the USEPA,

I did a bunch of training trainers around the country on, you know, what is the sustainability

indicator and how do you use it and, you know, how do you decide what's the right ones for your

community, how to work with the US Forest Service. And then I got involved with, I was a member

of ISSP and I got involved with some work that two of the founders put together, a sustainability

assessment tool that was very high level. And I called a cross between a Myers-Briggs

for organizations and a reading readiness. Because what it does is it looks at an organization and

says, you know, of all the different functions you have in the organization, you've got senior

management, HR and purchasing and facilities managers. They're all doing something and they all

have different roles to play. And each of those roles has different levels that they could be at

and they could be at, you know, not even starting or they could be really, you know, well along the path

it's sort of a maturity model. And so I started using that model with a bunch of my clients.

And it was really wonderful because we could benchmark and say, okay, you know, in this particular

area on say purchasing, you're doing really well because you're thinking about it. But you know,

in terms of educating your employees or having a vision for the corporation, you're really not

that far. So it was a wonderful way to help organizations figure out where they could really have the

most impact or what they really needed to work on. And the point was not that everybody would get

every one of those things to be perfect, right? You know, the example I always use is, I'm never

going to be a good basketball player. I'm too short and I'm really not that coordinated. But there's

some things that I do really well, right? And so that's what sustainability is about. Every organization

has different ways that they're impacting the world in terms of sustainability. And that's

what they should focus on. So if you're a law firm, your water use is probably minimal.

But you may have a lot of paper use or you may have a lot of travel. Whereas if you're a food

processor, your water use and your food waste is probably really high, you may not have a lot of

travel, right? So it helps. So this is actually a longer story, right? So I got involved in that

and use that tool. And now that's actually one of the tools that I, as she has. And then it's

one and a half years ago, one of the founders who was the executive director at the time decided

to step down. And I threw my hat in the rain. Here I am. Wonderful. Well, I want to ask you a

couple of questions getting a bit more into some of the details around the value and the services

that you offer. But before I do that, I just, I have to ask. And I do this with some of my

consulting clients, whether they're executives of larger companies and organizations or

entrepreneurs with early stage ventures. Outside of your work, part of your life, in your personal

part of your life, how do you incorporate some of the opportunities for stewardship and sustainability

that perhaps reflects what you're doing professionally? In other words, if we were to take a walk

with Maureen on the weekend or something, what does that look like? Well, actually, you'd have to

have a bike. Okay. Because what I like to do is take bike rides. And I actually do try to

have a bike to work. I also, I'm more apt to be walking in the woods than going shopping.

And one of the things that I've been doing over the last few years is downsizing.

So hearing out looks at least I need in terms of material goods to really survive. Because in fact,

you know, it's the people you have around you and the friends and families that you have that

really makes life worth living. You know, this idea of, you know, seeing who has the most

toys wins when they die, it's like, no, it's not it. That's the friends and family that are around you.

So, you know, that's the end, you know, obviously things like reducing water use, reducing waste.

I try to only buy organic food. And although it don't, the moment has my own garden.

I actually just moved to Pittsburgh. And when I was living in Connecticut, I was part of a CSA.

I was one of the managing organizers of the CSA. It was providing organic food to the local community.

Oh, that's wonderful. That is just wonderful. Thank you for sharing that. I can, I can form a picture in

my mind as you're describing that. Beautiful. And of course, in Pittsburgh, there are plenty of

wonderful forested walking trails. I understand it's one of the more forested park

rich cities in our country. There are some great parks. Yes. Yeah. Very fairly. The bike riding is

not as easy as it was in Connecticut, but it's still a lot of fun. And they actually have

wonderful rail trails here. So, that's a really great advantage. Beautiful. Well, cool. Thank you.

And there's actually a lot of sustainability going on in Pittsburgh. There's a group called

Sustainable Pittsburgh that I actually happen to do some consulting for about 10 years ago before I

had this job on a headlight consulting company. And they have a sustainable restaurant program.

And one of the things that just recently they started putting on the bus stops, you know,

then they had to add on the bus stop. They have a picture of a person eating something. It says,

you know, Aaron eats at like sustainable food. And so he's a sustainable restaurant.

This is just advertising around the town. Love it. It's just wonderful what he's going on here.

Well, there's certainly a particular power that food holds in connecting us more

and more with soil and sustainability stewardship. I want to ask of the many, many, many leaders

and projects you're familiar with through leading the ISSP, are there a couple that jump out at you

as really wonderful example success stories that we might share with our audience?

You know, I wouldn't want to say oh, there's one or two because there are hundreds.

Yeah. But I think there are some wonderful examples that I would love to give.

One of them happens to be the president of the board. He works for a company called HoloFresh,

which is one of these food kit delivery services. And what they're doing is trying to figure out,

you know, you get the box and it's got cold packs in it. And, you know, it's got this packaging.

And so what he's working on is how do we reduce the packaging so there's less impact there?

But then also how do we make sure that the food that's being provided organically grown responsibly sourced?

So, you know, there's a whole lot of work going on around that.

You know, we have another member who works for Procter & Gamble. And she's working to make their products more sustainable.

Of course. We had. I'm sorry. I was just going to mention, of course, for folks who may not be aware,

Procter & Gamble, P&G is one of the largest consumer package goods companies in the world.

So that's a place where that individual is hopefully able to have substantial impact.

Right. Right. Yeah. And so actually, you know, there's another member who was working in packaging

and has some great stories about how how do we make the packaging more sustainable?

But the reason you have the packaging is so that the food stays fresh, right?

So because if you and coffee is a really great example to use, you know, those little coffee packs and,

like, the curing machines, it seems really wasteful. And it'd be great. We actually,

in this co-work space that I mean, we have a little pod that are mostly fabric, not the plastic thing.

So that's an improvement. But her point was that growing coffee and then shifting it all the way

to the U.S. takes a whole lot of energy. If you end up having to throw coffee out

because you're wasting it, then that's an unsustainable process. So that's, you know,

it's one of these sustainability is a bad balance. How do we figure out the best way to do it?

I mean, we could all just give up coffee, right? Because then we wouldn't have to transport it.

But then the people in those areas that are growing it wouldn't have jobs. You know,

sustainability is about the system. We have to think about all those features. The other

example that she gave me was bananas. You know, at one point, the company decided to wrap their

bananas in plastic. And everyone was up in arms. It's like bananas don't need plastic. But in fact,

this plastic kept them from overwiping. Yeah. And so the food waste, that way, it was a wasted,

right? But that's one of the issues about sustainability. You really have to think about

how do you work with all the stakeholders? In that case, they haven't worked with consumers

to get them to understand why having plastic would work. So they ended up not doing that anymore.

So, you know, sustainability is really complex. And there's a lot of education that we need to do.

And we need to really bring in all of the different stakeholders to make sure that the solutions

we come up with are going to work. I love that through the International Society of

Sustainability Professionals with you and your colleagues, you are bringing together so many

experts and expertise. And it seems like it's one of those must-have relationships and resources

for more and more of us who are engaged in this sustainability work. And I want to mention

that to our audience, as a reminder, you're tuned into the why-honourst communities, stewardship

and sustainability series, our podcast series. And today we are speaking with Maureen Hart,

the Executive Director of the International Society of Sustainability Professionals.

And Maureen has shared a very special offer to us for this podcast episode, which is

a code why-honourth. If you go to sustainabilityprofessionals.org and click on the button to join

the first 25 people who do so will get a $25 discount using the code why-honourth

as they engage and look at becoming members and potentially getting the credential

to certification as well. I also want to mention that on the whyhonourth.org website, specifically

why-honourth.org slash market. We have a whole bunch of books and other products, printed books,

audio books, ebooks. And for those of you tuning in, if you want to use the code there, the code

podcast, you can get a nice discount on the ebooks and audio book products that we have available

for you there. So just want to make sure everybody knows about those resources. And Maureen,

thanks again for that generous discount. It's wonderful.

Absolutely, and I just want to clarify, it's why-honourth, but it's a capital Y in the rest of the

letters you're in the lowercase. Oh, good to know. Okay, I'll make sure that's clear in the show notes

as well. I want to ask, you know, as you're building this global network of experts, practitioners,

and folks who are upping our games, what are one or two of the biggest challenges that you're seeing

for us professionals as well as for our society's generally speaking?

You know, the biggest, we actually just did a survey of all of our members and this is one of

the questions we asked them. And one of the biggest issues they said was the lack of awareness.

Of the size and the scope of the sustainability issues and the need for action right now, and this is

particularly a problem given the current political climate. You know, what we really need is more

collaboration and cooperation in order to solve some of these problems. You know, and on the

environmental side we've got massive hurricanes and wildfires and floods and you're in

Pittsburgh we're having lots of landslides because of torrential lands. And so all of those things

are are caused by the climate change. But we also have other things happening like declining

pollinator populations, you know, honeybees. And the things that we need to pollinate the food that

we eat. And so this is changing our whole food ecosystem, which is going to be a problem.

And then on the social side there are issues with increasing income inequality and lack of trust

and cooperation. And that's what makes a democracy function. And so we really need to start working

on those and so getting awareness out to people and finding ways to talk to each other. So that's

really one of the biggest ones. The other issue is that a lot of people think that sustainability

is all about the environment. Right. And what I like to tell people is, you know,

Mother Nature is going to be around long after we're gone. Sustainability is really about our

economic and our social system. And we have to understand that it's a system. And so we have to

figure out how do we make our social system and our economic system work within the environmental

system that's there because, you know, it's it's the laws of nature that are really you can't

repeal them. Right. Gravity exists. You can't repeal the law of gravity. And you can't change

the way nature works. So we really need to think about how do we change the economic and social

system then. One of the important things is to realize the social aspects of it because poverty

and income inequality are really driving a lot of the issues that we have. You know, we in the US

have a very high standard of living. And it's not right for us to turn around to someone in a low

income country and say, no, no, no, you can't you can't have any of the things that we have.

Especially if these people can't, you know, feed their families. If you can't care for your

basic needs, take care of your kids, you're not going to care if the factory starts up that's

polluting the environment. Right. Because that's a longer term issue and you just want to feed

your kids so you want a job. Right. So we need to think about how do we make the economic system

and the social system fit together. So, so that's the other thing is that people not realizing

social and economic issues are really the sustainability challenge. Another one is short term

thinking. Yes. And a lack of a systems view. Right. Understanding that these things are connected.

You know, for example, in our in the corporate world, many most companies are driven by quarterly

earnings reports. And that means it's really hard to make a decision that if we make this change

to our process, which is going to have a really great reduction in, say, carbon emissions are waste.

But it's going to be an economic payback that will take 10 years. Then they may not do it because

the shareholders are going to say, wait a minute, we need more profit. Right. So there's that short term

thinking that we need to step back from and say, you know, it's okay. And that's actually one of

the things that's happening is there are companies called B-Corp's that are benefit corporations

that are being created where they're actually now, I don't know, it's something like 40 states have

a legislation that allows them. And that's allowing companies to be set up so they can say,

yes, we need to give benefits to our shareholders, but we can also think of social

and environmental benefits and that will come as well. So that's another interesting change

that's happening. And then finally, the last really major challenge that the sustainability

professionals have is making the business case for sustainability. You know, I was just talking

about how do you, you know, put in some program in place that's going to have a 10-year payback.

Well, part of the problem is, you know, we have these hurricanes and floods and landslides

and the cost of fixing all of that doesn't get factored into the price of oil or the price of energy,

you know, or the cost of goods. Right. So any pollution that's created in China to create low-cost

goods that we then buy doesn't get factored into the price, but you know, there are now some poor

air quality days in California that are caused by pollution in China. It's a system and we need

to think about that. So how do we create these business cases and be able to factor in what

those are called externalities, how those costs that we don't usually think of. So those are

really the biggest sort of global problems. The individual problems for the sustainability

professionals themselves, you know, what is sort of isolation because a lot of companies have

one sustainability professional that's known to talk to. And that's one of the reasons

ISSP is a great organization because you can network with other people. You can talk about issues

you're having and someone will say, oh, yeah, you know, I tried that. It didn't really work. So I

did this instead. And so there's being able to work with other people. Expanding responsibility

for sustainability, you know, getting it. So it's not just, oh, you're the sustainability

director. You fix the problem. It's everybody's responsibility. So how do you expand it and bring

in all of the stakeholders and all of the people within the organization. And that gets to changing

corporate culture. And so that's another big challenge that the individual has. How do you manage

culture change within organizations? And then there's just resources, you know, getting the

resources to put new projects in place, but also to maintain projects that you've already had

going for a few years. And this is actually something that we here in the US have a lot of

problem with, you know, all of our infrastructure is starting to crumble because we put a whole

lot of effort, oh, you know, put a whole lot of money into building this bridge and then didn't

think about how much it was going to cost to maintain it. So we need to be better at thinking

about this. Again, that gets to the long-term planning. Yeah, long-term thinking. It's building the

road is great, but then what's it going to cost to fix it? So those are a lot of the issues that

figure issues and then individual issues. Thank you so much for walking us through that. And

I'm just going to encourage our audience, whatever it is you're doing, maybe you're an entrepreneur

maybe you're working with a large corporation or a university. Check out the ISSP sustainability

professionals.org and be sure to take advantage of the discount code that Maureen has offered. You

know, as you were describing Maureen the perspective that says sustainability is about our economic

and social systems, I couldn't help but hear some unspoken words threading through this.

Words like empathy and care and dare I say love. I'm daring to say love more and more actually.

It's curious to me looking at what the largest corporations are beginning to show in the way of shifts

and changes certainly where consumer demand is shifting in a dramatic way. It seems to me that

although the last 20, 25, 30 years have been marked by some deep institutional challenges to some

of the positive changes we're describing now, it's very clear that the companies and organizations

that don't start moving rapidly in the direction of sustainability are actually potentially exposing

themselves to enormous risks, risks of market share loss, risks of loss of relevance, risks of

not looking like they're taking their responsibilities as fiduciaries, their responsibilities vis-a-vis

diligence, their leadership responsibilities seriously and as the world's waking up to this I believe

we're at such a potent nexus point. It's very exciting and it means to me that more and more of us

are going to need resources like ISSP to get the jobs done that we have in front of us.

Yeah absolutely and companies need to look at the risks because as we have more sustainability

problems like huge hurricanes you have problems with your supply. Your supply chain is going to

get broken. You're not going to be able to create the goods that you're trying to survive to use it

to manage your company and so it's really important that companies look at all of those sustainability

aspects and you're absolutely right. Yeah absolutely Maureen well I want to thank you for joining us

today for this discussion and I know that there's a whole lot more we could be talking about and

I hope we have the opportunity to engage more deeply over the coming weeks and months and

I'll give you the opportunity if there's any final message or thought you'd like to share with

the audience before we wrap up please do. You know I definitely want to encourage people if they're

in any sort of professional area to think about becoming a sustainability professional or thinking

at least about how you can incorporate that into what you're doing because there is something

in your job that you can make better and also think about how you can do it within your community

because that's important getting the word out there and getting people to speak more about how

do we make better communities and get involved. Just get involved. Beautiful love it. Well

thank you so much for joining us today. It's been an absolute pleasure talking with you.

Thank you Aaron. I've enjoyed it very much.

Y On Earth - Podcast Cover
Stewardship & Sustainability Series
Episode 12 – Maureen Hart – Exec. Dir. Int'l Society of Sustainability Professionals
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