Kyra Kaszynski didn’t have the most typical start to a career in sustainability.
She co-founded a record company in the 1990s before taking on a multitude of roles and industries, everything from sales to marketing and innovation, many carried out in a 16-year stint at leading professional services organization Deloitte.
Then four years ago, Kaszynski joined the public policy team at Deloitte Global, a role which has allowed her to well and truly "dig in" to sustainability, diversity and inclusion, working alongside the likes of the United Nations and the Business 20 (B20), which provides policy recommendations to the G20.
Here she talks about why sustainability professionals shouldn’t underestimate the opportunities at leading professional services firms, her passion for "game-changing" reporting and the two skills she thinks are key for anyone looking to build a career in environmental, social and governance (ESG).
Shannon Houde: How did you come to your current role at Deloitte? You started out from a creative background, didn’t you?
Kyra Kaszynski: I did begin my career in the music industry. I worked in record stores, I managed a band and co-founded a record label. I was in the music industry for quite a while. I then worked briefly in high tech, I was in health care for a while, then in marketing and public relations. Eventually, I decided to get my master's in international affairs, which was a turning point for me. The topics of economic development and human rights, those were the concerns that I was most passionate about, and from that, I began heading in my current direction.
Houde: Deloitte may not seem like the most natural fit for someone with those passions. Tell us about your day-to-day role now.
Kaszynski: I think leading professional services organizations, not just Deloitte, often do much more than people think. In a previous role, I was a client relationship executive, which is business development and relationship management. The United Nations was my client, for which some of the work was helping to create one of the first sustainable infrastructure investment funds in the UN system. Deloitte has a group that serves International Donor Organizations including USAID. So, there's more opportunity in areas you would not expect at these places.
For Deloitte’s WorldClimate strategy, there is a team that tracks carbon emissions. Deloitte also launched a campaign to educate all our 345,000 people globally on their own carbon footprints. So climate and sustainability are priorities for Deloitte with internal roles as well as roles across the network’s multiple client services.
Much of my current role is making sure I'm connected to all the people who work on all the relevant areas, whether that’s diversity, equity, inclusion, sustainability or climate sustainability. Plus, to be reading and finding out, what's the latest? What are the priority policies that we should have a perspective on?
Houde: So, what is it you love about your job?
Kaszynski: What’s really exciting to me is that I'm finally digging in and becoming more of a content specialist. Whereas I had skirted these things [ESG, sustainability, climate] for a while, now I'm framing these messages [for the business]. I also get a chance to learn new things all the time, because this area is changing so rapidly.
Houde: I know yourself and Deloitte have been very engaged in supporting new standards that provide more consistent reporting across companies when it comes to sustainability. Why is that such an important concern we all need to focus on as sustainability professionals?
Kaszynski: Over the past three to five years some studies have shown that there’s been a 70 percent to 90 percent increase in reporting, the number of companies putting out sustainability reports. Which is great. But much of that data is binary. It asks, do you have a human rights policy? Yes. Well, that tells me absolutely nothing. What I need to know is, what do you do in your supply chain? How do you monitor it? What is that policy? Is it effective? So there’s a need to improve disclosure with more consistent metrics. That’s a big trend now, the call for common global standards in ESG reporting.
If you follow theories of change, it's the aspirational stuff that's going to change people.
There’s demand for more consistency in non-financial disclosure from investors and other stakeholders in much the same way that for finance there are generally accepted accounting principles, or GAAP.
I have friends who've worked in the sustainability / ESG space for decades. And when I took on this role, they were like, "I’m so over it, everybody is greenwashing." And I would say no. Things are moving forward in ways we have rarely seen in this field. Business needs and wants to enhance transparency and communicate sustainability information. And the world is coming together [to do that]. Regulators are coming together. The U.S. regulator, the [Securities and Exchange Commission], recently consulted on climate-related disclosures. The European Union has plans for new sustainability reporting standards by 2022/2023. The U.K. also is seeking consultations on mandated climate reporting for large companies. These are all big changes. [For a simple guide to this complex topic, see Deloitte’s primer on Globally Consistent ESG Reporting.]
I'm excited about this transition and about all the voices that are coming together on this.
Houde: Reporting clearly holds companies to account. But in terms of action on ESG and sustainability, what makes it such a game changer?
Kaszynski: One of the first things is that it raises the floor, so that more organizations are doing a better minimum, because some are doing nothing. It also provides consistency and comparability. But you also want to raise the ceiling and have aspirations and push businesses to do more and to do better. If you follow theories of change, it's the aspirational stuff that's going to change people.
I also think from a policy perspective that governments and regulators will be critical. Climate is on many people’s radar right now, but awareness around social concerns is growing. I think the average person does care that, for example, extremely poor, underpaid workers made your shirt, and that's why it costs $15. If you told that story more, I think more consumers would start to think about it, to want to know and to care.
Houde: So, tell me, what are two skills that you would say are absolutely crucial to be effective in a role like yours?
Kaszynski: It’s such an important thing to think about because having knowledge of your own skills and values is really important to make decisions about what you want to do next. And it can’t just be, "I want a career in sustainability," but what are your skills and values? What are you looking for in a job? One thing I've done recently with an executive coach is to better understand my character strengths and values.
For my role, though, I’d say the skills that are necessary are first curiosity, always asking, what’s going on? What's the impact of this? What I find is important working in policy but also in business strategy is to use systems thinking, to have some critical thinking and to be curious.
Consider what happened with TOMS shoes. I’m sure you know that story. It’s ultimately about unintended consequences and working within a larger system. They began saying, "We're going to make shoes and give them away," an early "one for one" model. But in doing so they put shoemakers out of business in the countries where they donated the shoes, because the shoes were manufactured in other countries. The development community was very critical of the program. Ultimately TOMS adapted their strategy, moving away from the "one for one" model and now work with local changemakers for local impact. So, it’s about asking too, what are the unintended consequences of whatever decision you're making? That requires some systems thinking. To move to a low carbon future, Deloitte has proposed that even larger "systems of systems" changes will be needed across entire industries such as energy, mobility, manufacturing and even food.
The second thing would be connections. You've got to be willing to talk to people and to make connections. In my role, I have to talk to people all across the Deloitte network, who may not know that there is a global public policy team. I've got to be friends with the guys writing all the papers, I've got to be friends with the comms team. I've got to know anybody and everybody. So those connections are critical.
And those types of connections are also critical to your career in general. To be seen as an expert is about knowing people, people knowing who you are and knowing who to pick up the phone to call. At the moment we're talking about net zero. So I’ve got to call up and connect with all the people at Deloitte who are experts in that or have at least thought about it even if they don't have a policy perspective yet. Then I also need to look externally and think, who should I be talking to at Deloitte clients or other stakeholders?
Curiosity and connections, those are two of my values. And I think they've served me well.
Shannon Houde is an ICF-certified career and leadership coach who founded Walk of Life Coaching in 2009. Her life’s purpose is to enable change leaders to turn their passion into action and to live into their potential — creating scalable social and environmental impact globally. To follow more stories like these, join us for Coffee & Connect, where we interview sustainability practitioners every month to learn more about their day-to-day responsibilities.