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Kara Hurst named to lead Sustainability Consortium

The Sustainability Consortium has named Kara Hartnett Hurst, until recently a vice president at BSR, as its new executive director to oversee the global organization's efforts to create sustainability standards for consumer products. Hurst will be the consortium's second executive director.

Hurst will start on September 17 and be “formally introduced” during the consortium’s Inaugural Member Summit meeting in October at Arizona State University, which jointly administers the consortium with the University of Arkansas. She succeeds Bonnie Nixon, who stepped down from the executive director job in February after only 10 months.

Hurst brings a depth of experience to her new job, having co-founded and facilitated several industry initiatives, including the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition and the Pharmaceutical Supply Chain Initiative. At BSR, she ran the organization's East Coast offices, in New York and Washington, D.C., and worked with such companies as American Express, Dell, Disney, GE, and Time Warner. Prior to joining BSR, Hurst headed Open Voice, a nonprofit in East Palo Alto, and worked in the offices of former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown and the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

She will have her work cut out for her. The consortium -- which boasts more than 80 corporate members with combined revenues more than $1.5 trillion, plus a small number of government and nonprofit members -- has taken on an ambitious agenda to develop sustainability standards for more than 150 categories of consumer products across nine sectors. Toward that end, it has launched an impressive -- almost overwhelming -- number of initiatives, including:

That’s a full plate for a staff of just 20 or so full-timers, along with a dozen or so contractors and a handful of academic researchers; the group’s website shows five staffers at Wageningen University in The Netherlands. The consortium’s $5.5 million annual budget is “leveraged with a heavy focus on research and delivering SMRS,” says Mike Faupel, the consortium’s director of operations.

Next Page: Clean and crisp information

For Hurst, all this amounts to a vast pool of untapped opportunity. “For me, having worked in the field for quite a long time, the idea that the consortium is pursuing more rigor and data and science and tools, as well as consumer engagement, and providing more clarity around sustainable products, is really exciting,” she told me recently. “There's enormous potential in presenting information in a clear and crisp way.”

The opportunity, she says, is to produce usable tools for product manufacturers and retailers as well as consumers. “The hardest stuff to do is to boil down what sustainability is, particularly for consumer products, to something that companies immediately ‘get’ and that also translates into the consumer market. In all of the conversations about sustainable consumption, that's been a hard nut to crack. I think there's a rigor that requires this kind of consortium of academics, NGOs, and companies. I haven't seen an effort this big or with this much potential before.”

Jon Johnson, one of the consortium’s academic leaders, said Hurst rose to the top of the candidates being considered in part because of her work at her previous employer. “BSR has a lot of things in common with the consortium,” he told me last week. “They work with corporations as well as NGOs, and the organization has been very effective at what it does.”

Johnson, who is the Walton College Professor of Sustainability in the University of Arkansas’s Sam M. Walton College of Business, cited Hurst’s “operational excellence,” including her work with large, complex corporate supply chains across a variety of industries, as a key asset going forward. “It's very easy to get paralyzed because there are so many things to take into consideration, so many different perspectives. Those of us with a more academic bent are prone to looking and looking and absorbing and absorbing, but not driving to decisions. Kara is very good at driving organizations to decisions.”

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