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Last month, I was introduced as the new Global Sustainability Officer and, as the first person to hold this title at Genesys, I pondered how best to announce myself and sustainability to my 5,500 new colleagues. If there were one thing I’d want to say first in this introduction, it would be that sustainability is a journey — a journey that includes everyone.
Let’s start with a little about me. I was a military child and graduated from high school in Georgia. I went on to study engineering at Florida A&M University. After graduation, and a brief stint in telecom, I moved to Houston to work on the Shuttle and Space Station Program at NASA. During my tenure at NASA, I attended the University of Texas to obtain my MBA. When a promotion moved me from Houston to Los Angeles, I transferred to the Drucker School of Business. Studying Peter Drucker’s principles was life changing. That’s where I actively began considering what my legacy would be. That’s where I also realized I needed my work to be a reflection of my personal and professional values.
Although sustainability was a relatively new field, I had a deep and abiding interest in it.
After a chance meeting with the then newly appointed Chief Sustainability Officer at Yum Brands, I was offered an opportunity to join his team and help build a sustainability strategy. And, after much thought and prayer, I took the role.
I’m so grateful I did. I immediately dove into building policies, strategies and frameworks for sustainability reporting, sustainable sourcing, external engagement, waste, recycling, and packaging. I also traveled the world to implement these strategies and policies. It was amazing to see how other cultures and communities adapted sustainability.
But, as often happens, life threw me a curveball. My mother fell gravely ill. And when my beautiful mother lost her battle with cancer in February 2019, I was reminded that we cannot waste the time given to us. There was one thing I knew for sure: I needed my work to be a reflection of me; a true and honest depiction; a vulnerable autobiography of my soul. I wanted communities and society as a whole to have justice and equity. Equitable access to food. To clean water. To clean air. To education. To technology.
It was time to pivot.
When I joined the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in 2019, I was ready to pen the prelude to my autobiography. WWF is an amazing, global conservation organization that works to ensure people and nature live in harmony. I brought all my experience from Yum/KFC and NASA to the table to lead corporate engagement across two teams.
It was great to learn the NGO perspective on corporate sustainability. It was also great to help calibrate and redesign expectations for how NGOs should engage with companies in terms of sustainability.
When George Floyd was murdered in May 2020, things changed again. They changed for everyone, everywhere. Communities of color not only face racial and social injustice, they also suffer the most from environmental injustices. And, as a leader and a Black woman, I knew I needed to be at the forefront of change. Because, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Environmental and public health hazards often disproportionately burden communities of color and low-income communities. These communities enjoy fewer benefits from environmental programs and natural resources. The accumulation of environmental, social and economic problems in these communities — and the health-negating infrastructures there — have detrimental effects on public health and quality of life.
All of these things aren’t separate outcomes. These inequities — and the continuation of the policies and strategies that helped create them — have generated disparities that live along class and racial lines. These systemic issues make communities of color even more vulnerable, especially during a pandemic.
Technology can play a significant role in helping to remedy some of these gaps and inequities. Even though I was able to do great work and lead our organization toward a more sustainable path in the midst of such trying times, my desire was to return to the corporate world so I could be a catalyst for even greater change. I could feel the pull of another career pivot coming.
When Chief Strategy Officer Peter Graf told me about the work the Genesys team was doing on sustainability, I knew I wanted to be part of it. The opportunity to build and lead a truly holistic sustainability program here at Genesys is amazing. This allows me to work for an organization with values that mirror mine. You cannot truly work for sustainability without showing empathy. And you can’t impact society without serving it, too.
While I might be new to the sector, these are some foundational truths to sustainability.
With these truths in mind, I’m beginning my work at Genesys in earnest. Here are our priorities for 2021.
Sustainability is a team sport. It doesn’t happen to you; it happens because of you — each of you. Whether you’re reading this as one of my newest coworkers or as a Genesys customer, partner or supplier, I hope you will join me on this journey, because we’re all on the sustainability journey together.
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