Campus News

‘Big Pivot’ author talks corporate social responsibility with UB students

Andrew Winston, center, takes questions from the Education and Leadership Fellows in Sustainability. Also on the panel are Deb Gondek and Ryan McPherson. Photo: Mark Busch 

By DAVID J. HILL

Published March 11, 2016

“There’s a lot of work to do and I’m excited to come to schools and see that there are increasing numbers of students who want to bring a sustainability lens to their department or program. That’s how we’re going to change things.”
Andrew Winston, author
"Big Pivot"

A new group of student leaders are receiving the tools they need to be part of high-impact change on campus. They’re called Education and Leadership Fellows in Sustainability (ELFS), and on Thursday they got to meet with Andrew Winston, one of the world’s foremost experts on sustainability in the business world.

Winston, author of the best-selling book “The Big Pivot,” made his first visit to Buffalo to serve as keynote speaker at the Sustainable Business Expo hosted Thursday night by the Western New York Sustainable Business Roundtable. Earlier in the day, Winston shared his insights on corporate social responsibility and participated in a Q & A with 15 ELFS in the South Lake Village Community Room. Ryan McPherson, UB’s chief sustainability officer, and Deb Gondek, director of sustainability for Buffalo-based Rich Products, also were panelists.

Winston told the students that as members of the Millennial Generation — loosely considered to be those between the ages of 18 and 34 — they wield tremendous power and have the ability to spark considerable change, especially when it comes to demanding greater social responsibility from corporations.

“There’s a lot of work to do and I’m excited to come to schools and see that there are increasing numbers of students who want to bring a sustainability lens to their department or program. That’s how we’re going to change things,” said Winston, who has advised numerous Fortune 500 companies on how to be part of a sustainable world without sacrificing profits.

Alvin Samuel, a junior environmental engineering major and a leadership fellow, is excited to be part of a generation that’s demanding more from corporations and seeking a more sustainable world. “There’s a lot of firsts with our generation: Obama is the first black president; they just passed same-sex marriage. Why can’t we have another first? Why does it have to be later; why can’t it be now?” he said.

Winston said a multipronged approach is required to spark movement toward sustainability efforts in the business world. “You have to hit people in their hearts, in their minds, in their pocketbooks. Sustainability, for whatever reason, is not the natural course for businesses. It’s deep change,” he said. “We have to talk about things not as expenses but as investments. That’s the first thing, changing the way we talk about sustainability as an investment.”

And that’s where student-led efforts, such as those that will arise from the ELFS program at UB, come into play.

The Education and Leadership Fellows in Sustainability program is part of the new Change Agents Scholar Initiative funded by university supporters and donors through UB President Satish K. Tripathi’s President’s Circle Fund. The program will give students hands-on leadership experience and the opportunity to learn from and network with local and national leaders. About 30 students were selected for the ELFS program for the spring semester from a pool of more than 90 applications.

Last weekend, the group met at Beaver Hollow Conference Center in Java Center for a leadership retreat that featured Faye Cristoforo, co-director of the Post-Landfill Action Network (PLAN), a nationwide, nonprofit, cooperative network of student leaders who are creating zero-waste solutions on their campuses, and Eric Walker, director of energy development and management for Erie County. Dennis Black, vice president for university life and services, and McPherson also presented.

Students attended mini-seminars on becoming a change agent, successful leader traits, teambuilding and creative problem-solving, and initial project planning and brainstorming. Teams of students will develop and implement projects on campus aimed at improving sustainability efforts at UB.

For example, the UB Green It Forward team is spearheading an effort to reduce energy use across campus in April. Meanwhile, students in UB ReUSE are working with PLAN to further reduce waste that arises during move out week at the end of the semester.

During Thursday’s Q&A session, students asked Winston and the panelists a range of questions, including whether they should seek out sustainability-specific majors in order to effect change. Gondek, the Rich Products sustainability director, said to stick with what you love to do. “Find the area that you’re interested in and weave sustainability into it,” she advised. Many of the leadership fellows also attended Winston’s keynote address later in the day.

For more information on the ELFS program, visit the UB Sustainability website.