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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : May/Jun 2004 : Special Section

Special Section

A Student's Perspective
Connecting Business and the Environment

By Lisa Gomes-Casseres, Yale School of Management and Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies

Special Section

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Sustainability on a Large Scale
Opening New Opportunites
Useful Insights About Effective Leadership

I grew up on a small idyllic island in the Caribbean with beautiful scenery and beaches. At age eight, I noticed the black smoke emanating from the local oil refinery’s smokestacks. Downwind, I saw that the trees were brown and unhealthy. I began to see how pollution can damage communities and nature. The refinery, however, was this tiny island’s largest employer. I quickly realized that its economic power meant that the government was not about to regulate it. I also knew that it was not about to invest in cleaner technologies unless it was forced to do so by the government.

From that moment, I became passionate about “saving the world.” At the same time, I knew that business, environment and law are intricately connected. As I got older, I discovered that there were a lot of people doing environmental law, but there seemed to be few people who were experts at connecting the dots between business and the environment. After exploring this connection for a couple of years at Environmental Defense, I decided to pursue an MBA. The environment is a business issue. As an environmental professional, it was my duty to speak about the issue like a businessperson.

Yale has far surpassed my expectations. There are few places where you can go to a talk by the CEO of GE, discuss marketing strategies for birth control in Bangladesh, and watch a top manager from one of the largest insurance companies in the world announce their intention to invest $100 million to promote the development of carbon markets— all in one day. There are few other places where an entrepreneurship professor with 30 years of experience at a top Wall Street Bank will team up with an environmental science professor to teach a class on writing business plans for environmental ventures—and then help us bring these business ideas to fruition.

I have not only learned a tremendous amount in the last three years, but I believe that I have gained a significant amount of credibility. Many people still believe that shareholder value and environmental protection are at odds with one another. My dream is that some day a company’s CFO will be just as knowledgeable about environmental issues as the EH&S director . . . and that I will be that CFO.

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