How She Leads is a regular column on GreenBiz spotlighting the career paths of women who have moved into influential roles in sustainable business. In this edition, Maya Albanese interviews Anisa Kamadoli Costa, Vice President of Global Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility at Tiffany & Co.
Costa oversees Tiffany’s corporate responsibility agenda and strategically focused grant-making programs with a $6 million annual budget in environmental conservation and the decorative arts. In Sept. 2010, she was appointed President of the Tiffany & Co. Foundation. A few of the environmental sustainability issues that she works on include coral conservation and urban parks, as well as the promotion of responsible sourcing across the Tiffany & Co. supply chain.
For 175 years, Tiffany & Co. has been one of the most recognized jewelers and jewelry specialty retailers. The company examines almost every level of the supply chain -- from raw material processing to product design and manufacturing to retailing. Since 2010, the company has released public corporate sustainability reports outlining its goals, achievements and challenges. The 2011 report focused on topics such as responsible mining, supplier responsibility, paper and packaging, and carbon and energy footprints.
Albanese: How did you move into your current role?
Costa: I earned my master’s degree from Columbia University’s School of International & Public Affairs at a time when the financial markets were booming and I followed many of my fellow graduates into banking. I learned a lot, but didn’t feel like I was making a difference. So, I moved into private philanthropy by joining the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, which I admired for its focus on making a long-term impact. In 2003, I learned that Tiffany & Co. was setting up a corporate foundation to strategically tie its areas of giving into the core mission and values of the business. I was lucky to join Tiffany at a time when the CEO wanted to invest in CSR and philanthropy.
MA: Was there an "aha" moment that you led you to work in sustainability?
AC: In retrospect, I think that one of my first trips to India as a child made an impact. A few decades ago, people there were using reusable cloth bags and my mother, who grew up in India, would often clean and reuse Ziploc bags at home. While I may have thought that this was silly at the time, I came to realize that it makes a lot more sense than the single-use plastic bags that now cause so much degradation all over the world.
MA: How has what you studied been applicable to the field in which you work?
AC: When I attended graduate school, there weren’t sustainability degrees like there are today. For me, Columbia’s graduate program in international affairs was perfect, because it teachers you to look at things from a variety of perspectives -- scientific, NGO, business, corporate and government. You’re studying with an international student body that has a variety of interests and viewpoints. This prepared me for multi-stakeholder work on supply chains with issues that cross cultures and politics.
MA: How does your position fit into the overall corporate structure?
AC: I report directly to the Chairman and CEO of the company, and I engage regularly with the board’s CSR committee. The direct, top-line reporting structure and core role that sustainability plays really speak to the long-held values of Tiffany & Co. I also work with all of the internal business units. Oftentimes, it’s individuals within various operating units that are really making the most impact.
Photo of Anisa Costa courtesy of Tiffany & Co.
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