How She Leads is a regular feature on GreenBiz spotlighting the career paths of women who have moved into influential roles in sustainable business. In this edition, Maya Albanese interviews Cindy Drucker, an early pioneer in green marketing and consumer product claims.
Drucker's background and knowledge of sustainability are extensive and crosses all sectors, industries and critical topics of social and environmental responsibility. She has tackled such controversial projects as the BP Deep Water Horizon oil spill and worked with the heads of top environmental organizations like the World Wildlife Fund. She is also active in the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, The Sustainability Consortium and the sustainability committees of the Consumer Goods Forum and Grocery Manufacturers Association. Drucker recently took on a new role as one of the leaders of the Social Impact practice at Weber Shandwick.
In today’s interview, Albanese asks Drucker to explain how she’s navigated a dynamic and important field over the course of her 20-year career.
Maya Albanese: Was there an “Aha moment” that led you to become the expert in sustainability communications that you are today?
Cindy Drucker: It came back in 1991, when I was working for a manufacturer of consumer plastics that was sued by the Attorneys General Green Task Force – representing 11 states -- for marketing biodegradable trash bags. Although we were trying to do something sustainable, the plastics wouldn’t biodegrade in a landfill. Based on that experience, I became engaged with the development of the very first “green marketing guidelines” developed by the Federal Trade Commission and EPA. I then worked with the company to take our environmental initiatives in a new direction and introduced the nation’s first 100 percent recycled content plastic trash bags – which won awards for best environmental product as well as corporate environmental leadership awards. We thus became pioneers in “green marketing” as it was then called. So, even back 20 years ago, people were realizing that helping the environment could also mean good business.
MA: Which position that you have held was your favorite and why?
CD: I’d have to say my current position at Weber Shandwick. I’ve worked in the corporate, nonprofit, and government sectors as well as on numerous key issue areas such as recycling, waste, air quality, energy and climate change. This position allows me to utilize my 20 years of learning that matrix to help my clients advance sustainability and social responsibility.
MA: Which position was the most challenging, and what did you learn from it?
CD: My position as Global Head of Sustainability of SC Johnson, by the sheer fact that the sustainability issues facing large companies are so complex. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for companies. That position was a valuable experience since I have served as the sustainability lead within a global company and can appreciate firsthand the challenges and opportunities facing many of my clients.
MA: You have gone back to school a few times. How has each educational experience augmented your expertise?
CD: I have a business undergraduate degree from Washington University in St. Louis and I spent time at London School of Economics abroad during my undergraduate studies. After undergraduate, I worked in the office of the Massachusetts Revenue Department. There is a case study at Harvard Business School now that covers how our office changed the face of the agency from a revenue collecting, compliance-driven focus to a customer service focused organization – a lesson that has been incredibly useful to me throughout my career. I then went to Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government for my master’s in public policy degree to broaden my perspective about the intersection of policy, government and business. I think that combination of the two degrees and studying abroad widened the lens by which I learned to evaluate and view sustainability and social responsibility issues.
MA: What advice would you give young professionals grappling with the decision over whether to go back to school?
CD: Don’t follow a straight line. In sustainability, it’s the zigs and zags that allow you to see all the angles. You need to have strong basic skills – analytics, writing, policy, and communication -- but then it’s a matter of how you apply those skills and become engaged in the important dialogue and cross-functional work. So, it has to be a combination of both work and education, not either/or. Sustainability is a matrix that requires a matrixed set of skills.
MA: Which sustainability issues are you most well-versed in at this point?
CD: I’ve had the opportunity to be at the front end of most issues at this point. For example, I’ve worked on the first green power purchasing programs, early “green product” development and marketing, the first green retail programs and some of the first climate change initiatives as well as recycling and waste programs. Companies aren’t “siloed” and I don’t think that people should be siloed either. All the issues are interconnected.
Photo of Cindy Drucker courtesy of Weber Shandwick
Next page: Key lessons learned