In honor of April being Earth Month, I thought it’d be fitting to bring the environment to light in a business setting. To do this, I discussed how sustainability ties to the business world with Dr. Betsy Stoner, a Natural and Applied Sciences assistant professor. Dr. Stoner has been teaching at Bentley for six years and has a background in marine ecology. As an environmental science and oceanography professor, she enjoys research questions, exploring how human activity affects coastal ecosystems, and coming up with ways humans can catalyze positive environmental change. In conversation with her, I discussed how companies had implemented sustainability into their business activities and how business majors can get involved in sustainable practices even if their degrees are unrelated to STEM.
Could you summarize the role of science and sustainability in business?
ES: “I think that, increasingly, businesses are aware that science and sustainability play a significant role in business and business operations. It’s no longer mutually exclusive to think about being a successful business and being successful in sustainability. So there are a lot of companies that are increasingly getting into thinking about environmental sustainability and actually incorporating environmental initiatives into their companies. For example, the SCC recently announced that publicly traded companies have to start reporting their Scope 3 emissions, basically like indirect emissions from the company. Scope 3 is the most significant bin of greenhouse gas emissions that a lot of companies don’t account for, so the fact that the SCC is saying they have to start accounting for these, companies are taking notice of their greenhouse gas emissions and starting to do a lot of internal auditing and accounting for their carbon footprint, their environmental initiatives, or lack thereof. So [companies] are starting to figure out how they can improve because it’s something they will start thinking about that will affect their business operations. Businesses are no longer thinking about it from a philanthropic standpoint but more from a resilient perspective.”
What would you like to change about companies’ current relationship with the environment? Do you believe a majority of companies do performative activism?
ES: “I think a growing number of companies have been taking sustainability seriously. On the one hand, you have companies doing excellent work related to the environment. But more and more companies, including major ones, recognize they have some things to tackle related to the environment. And these can be legitimate issues that could save them money if they embark on them. For example, thinking about larger companies shipping many things worldwide, they’re thinking: “If we shorten our supply chains and reduce how we ship things, we’ll save money but also reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.” So I see more companies think this way, which is excellent, but a lot of brainwashing still happens. And I think that it is a problem because consumers get tricked pretty easily. There are a lot of companies that lie about doing great things. However, they need to be held accountable for pulling the wall over consumers’ eyes, which is massively problematic and unethical. So until there are more stringent regulations on how that is even allowed, companies will continue to claim they’re doing great things but not affecting any significant environmental change.”
What misconceptions have you heard regarding science/sustainability in a business setting?
ES: “I think one of the things I commonly hear from students, as someone who gets a lot of non-STEM majors, something I get a lot is “I’m not good at science, so it’s not something I should really think about or care about.” And it’s too bad that people come in thinking this way when the environment is everyone’s concern. It is not a science vs. business vs. policy or anything; we’re all stakeholders in wanting to take care of our environment because we wouldn’t be alive without it. Everything we need to survive comes from the environment. So one of the things that I work with my students on is the idea that you don’t need to want to be a scientist or STEM major to want to be an environmental advocate. For example, you can be an environmental advocate as an accounting major or an Eco-Fi major, some of our most prominent advocates. So one of the things that I talk a lot about with my students is that coming from a more traditional STEM background, I’ve trained many other scientists and taught many different students looking to become scientists. Still, at Bentley, I’m so excited about teaching a lot of business students because I genuinely think business will be the most significant driver of environmental change that we have. People in business are pushing and driving the most momentum right now related to the environment, so honestly, I think it can be frustrating to hear the words, “I’m not good at science.” Still, I reframe people into thinking I don’t need to be good at science to understand and care about the environment.”
How can college students actively implement science and sustainability practices regardless of whether they’re Actuarial Science or STEM majors?
ES: “There are many things that, as individuals, we can do to help affect environmental change. It ties into a more extensive conversation on who will drive the most momentum and who’s responsible for causing environmental change, whether individuals, policymakers, or companies. (I believe it’s everyone.) But as students, one thing people can do that is easy is vote. Local elections have significant environmental ramifications, and people don’t think about it as much, so voting locally is essential. You can also vote with your dollars, like choosing companies you have researched that are more environmentally minded. I hesitate in talking about changing diets and air travel and all those things because while they’re all important from an individual standpoint, those are also things that companies have to throw their momentum behind. But for many Bentley students, it will be going out into the business world and trying to get locked into what your company is doing environmentally in helping to affect change. Because many of those companies are starting these efforts, I encourage many of my students to get involved when they do go and get jobs or internships and see what their company is doing.”
Should companies have a Sustainability Manager or a position specifically catered to science and sustainable measures, or should it be mandatory for all employees to have this responsibility to some degree?
ES: “Both! It’s helpful if all companies have a dedicated team of at least 1-2 people with more sustainability experience and a background understanding of business. However, I also think everyone should be familiar with environmental issues and better ways to protect the environment. And I’m excited because many people, especially students at Bentley, want to understand the environment and environmental issues. So many students that I’ve had that aren’t stem majors are going into companies with this understanding of the environment, and they’re on task forces, carbon auditing, etc., without even being STEM majors. So you have this dual perspective and understanding of how we can assist in business all have this understanding of how to protect the environment and give all to that.”
Where do you see sustainability’s role in Business in the next ten years? Would it be a smooth transition or require more work from companies or employees?
ES: “My hope for the next ten years is that sustainability will not become a side component of business. Instead, companies will try to centralize sustainability’s role and how it operates in daily conversations in the office or remotely. It will become much more critical, especially as global climate change intensifies. And because of that, business will probably play the most significant role in affecting positive environmental change in the next ten years. [Business] is going to be vital in pushing forward legislation to enact stricter policies related to the environment, so I’m excited about that. It will be a challenging transition; one of the issues we’re aware of is that companies want to do a lot related to the environment, but they need to learn how to help, and employees need the technical skills they need to start doing this. Hence, I see a lot of opportunities for education and growth for our students to become experts in these areas, so I see a lot of growth opportunities. Still, I suspect it will be a little bit of a bumpy road.”
Though these fields seem vastly different, it turns out that science and sustainability have everything to do with businesses. Whether it’s making business decisions that will decrease an industry’s carbon footprint or Scope 3 accounting, a growing number of companies are listening to the environment’s needs and starting to take on the responsibility of being sustainable. As such, it will be necessary for business majors to familiarize themselves with science and sustainability to drive change and advocate for a healthy planet where businesses can run smoothly without the need for contaminating it.