A Day in The Life of a Chief Sustainability Officer

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The following is an account of a day on the job with Kathrin  Winkler.  She is Sr. Director and Chief Sustainability Officer at EMC Corporation, where she has a history of taking on entirely new roles in which she has to fill in the interstices between more traditional functions.  She took on the full-time sustainability position in July of 2008.

by Kathrin Winkler, Sr. Director of EMC Corporation, Office of Sustainability.

“What do you do?”

“I’m Senior Director of Corporate Sustainability.”

“Oh.” Pause. “What does that mean?”

“Well, I’m responsible for making sure that the interdependencies between our business, the environment, and society are identified and explicit in our strategy, and that the opportunities and risks from environmental and social developments are integrated into our day-to-day decision-making.”

“Huh. Right.” Another pause. “But, uh….. what do you, y’know, actually do? Like, y’know, when you get to work?”

Ever have that conversation? True, the last sentence isn’t usually said out loud (unless by my mother, of course). But it’s no less obvious in the body language. So in case you’re wondering, I’ll try to explain.

First of all, let me dispel all notion of the concept of “typical day” right out of the chute. No such thing. Which, truth be told, suits me to a T.  Assuming I’m not traveling to visit a customer or another EMC office, or to speak at or attend a conference, here’s what a sample day might look like:

7:15 AM -  Arrive at office.  Post to my blog. Do whatever other writing is on my to-do list while I still remember the ideas that came to me in the shower (white papers, proposals, business cases, policy statements, our developing Principles of Environmental Sustainability, etc.)

7:30 AM – Con call with folks in Europe or Middle East to discuss Green IT opportunity.

8:00 AM – Con call with folks representing EMC on various industry consortia for updates, alignment, and discussion on latest ENERGY STAR spec.  Or meet with controller to review quarterly budget.

9:00 AM – Web conference on emerging WEEE & Battery regulations and potential impact. Or meeting of the internal product compliance steering committee.

10:00 AM – No meeting! Use the time to review content for internal & external web site. Vote on outstanding ballots from The Green Grid. Update RFP Answer Guide information about sustainability at EMC. Review responses to customer procurement, investor, market, or other questionnaires.

10:30 AM – Working session with Ed Services folks to define framework for Environmental Sustainability training being developed for all employees. Or monthly meeting of Design for Environment program team.

11:30 AM – Dial into (probably 2nd half) of WEF, WRI, or DESC working con call.

12:30 PM – Another meeting break. Review notes on Renewable Energy project. Quick call for update on NYC eWaste regulation.  Read through several of the 160 “Green” submissions to our 2009 Innovation Conference and develop ranking tool.

1:00 PM – Webcast for one or another of the groups I’m involved with in The Green Grid.Phone Potato

2:00 PM – Analyst briefing via Web – what we’re working on and their feedback.  Or phone interview with press. Or discussion with NGO on opportunities to collaborate.

2:30 PM – One-on-one with my boss, or with one of the amazing people who getting the real work done in our supply chain, engineering teams, government affairs office, EHS, facilities, marketing, etc., etc.

3:00 PM – Attend Green Business Leadership meeting. (Last week was presentation by our intern from EDF’s Climate Corps on more energy efficiency opportunities.) Or present to BoD Governance & Nominating Committee or Environmental Sustainability Board on milestones achieved, current priorities, and gaps & challenges.

4:00 PM – Attend or dial into E3 (Engineering’s Energy Efficiency and Effectiveness) meeting. Or meet with a vendor. Or hold review to evaluate vendor proposals.

5:00 PM – Phone meeting with mentee (we have both formal and informal mentoring at EMC). Or with my counterpart at another company to share best practices and frustrations.

5:30 PM -  Respond to any request to Office of Sustainability inbox or from customers or field folks or other important email that arrived during the day.

6:00 PM – Catch up on other email (I get about 150-200 per day, send an average of 100), work on any presentations (usually to be delivered the next day), listen to voicemail, look at blogs I follow. Study data sets on energy consumption, waste, GHG emissions and send any clarification questions to the initiative lead. Set up more meetings. Review a press release or white paper. Do my expenses.  Drive home.

9:00 PM – con call with Green Champions or Marketing in APJ.

These are examples just from the last couple of weeks, but it’s pretty representative. Crazy, eh?  With all the virtual meetings, there are days I barely get to leave my office (I call these “phone potato” days).

Bottom line – if you function best in a predictable, ordered, evenly paced environment, this may not be the job for you. But if, like me, you thrive on adventure, surprise, and occasional lulls scattered between periods of frantic activity, then this may be just the ticket.  So what do you think – does it sound like the life for you?

© 2009, Kathrin Winkler. All rights reserved. Do not republish.

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Author: Kathrin Winkler (3 Articles)

Kathrin Winkler is the Sr. Director of EMC Corporation's first Office of Sustainability. A passionate businesswoman and environmentalist, Kathrin loves every aspect of her role, and recognizes that real changes in how we live and work will come from the folks in the trenches. It is her privilege to help inspire and surface those innovations, and to collaborate with others working toward the same vision of a sustainable planet.Kathrin blogs about her journey as Chief Sustainability Officer: the personal and corporate accomplishments, the frustrations and surprises, and the constant flow of new ideas and challenges coming her way.