Meet the Sustainability Sisters
Today, I have the pleasure of introducing not one, but two, Longsworths. Meet sisters Annie and Amy. Annie (the one on the right in the accompanying photo) joined Saatchi & Saatchi S as CEO a year ago. Amy is a Managing Director in PwC’s Sustainable Business Solutions practice. I met with them recently to better understand the paths that led them to similar positions.
Ellen: How did you get to where you are today?
Amy: The way I think about what connects the things I've done professionally is that I've always wanted to be on the side of the solution. Environmental work has a deep emotional and spiritual importance for me, but it also addresses a very practical problem: how we can live, work and thrive harmoniously with the earth and its systems and not be completely stupid by screwing everything up, destroying a lot of economic value and probably killing ourselves in the process. I've chosen to focus on leverage points in the private sector, both for-profit and nonprofit.
My career path follows a clear trajectory starting as a grant-making assistant in land and water conservation at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, through Harvard Business School, then a decade with The Nature Conservancy, board service with the American Farmland Trust, co-founding a sustainability strategy consulting company, Viridis Strategy Group and then selling it to PwC.
Annie: For me it’s about finding work that I love. I think back to 2006 when I was running the San Francisco office of Cohn & Wolfe. I'd just had my second child and going back to work was tough. I loved the agency, and had quadrupled the office in four years and needed something new to keep the momentum going. That Christmas, Amy and I were walking through the woods at our parents’ house in western Massachusetts. Our father was in the process of putting a conservation easement on their land and was also building an off-the-grid cabin using wood from trees he cut himself. Amy had just joined Esty Environmental Partners [which later changed its name to Viridis Strategy Group] and was telling me about her work. It just clicked for me. I wrote the business plan and launched the practice.
Ellen: Is it serendipity that your careers are so similar? Are the paths similar too?
Annie: Our paths are not very similar. I graduated from the College of Wooster with a liberal arts degree and went straight to the Bay Area as a journalist, becoming immersed in technology and the dot-com boom. I have a strong business intuition and a love of doing old things in new ways. But, in retrospect, it’s not totally surprising that our paths have now come together. We were brought up with both a consciousness about contributing to society and an entrepreneurial understanding of creating change.
Amy: I’ve always pursued mission-focused work by leveraging commercial business opportunities. I've got a good grounding in the broad corporate sustainability issue set, as well as conservation — my first love.
Next page: A ridiculous amount of confidence
Ellen: How have you supported and collaborated with each other?
Annie: Amy has become one of my closest work confidants. She can relate to my challenges, knows who I am talking about and can often help me see a different point of view. Sometimes we find ourselves in competitive situations, but we've also found ways for our companies to collaborate, such the global Green Brands project, which we worked on together for three years.
Amy: Annie is a fantastic sounding board, and she is a great networker. She's very adept with social media. She's also an inspiration to me because she's brave; she'll tackle anything. She's very smart about people and she's got determination. She's always helpful to me when I get stuck in over-analyze mode.
Ellen: You are both leaders in sustainability consulting practices, but you have different approaches. What are your unique strengths and passions?
Amy: Yes, we both have responsibility for providing value to our clients, cultivating our teams, selling work, etc. But the services our firms provide are fairly distinct. PwC is focused on creating measurable business value through both traditional sustainability blocking and tackling (reporting, risk assurance, etc.) and also transformative strategies like valuation, co-creation and EP&L [environmental profit and loss statements]
I'm interested in how sustainability gets managed and what new tools and methodologies are emerging to help the profession progress. I think it is great that sustainability-related business challenges are migrating from the sole purview of the sustainability or corporate responsibility office to consideration by the enterprise risk folks, the finance people, internal audit, the operating businesses and the board.
In terms of passion, I get a lot of satisfaction out of coaching clients and helping them identify skills and conditions needed to accomplish their goals — most CSOs face an uphill battle internally. I conducted a study last year of sustainability executives and what enables them to be effective, and got a lot of appreciative feedback.
Annie: We both have passion for effecting change. My strengths are on the business and storytelling side, and I believe communication is sadly undervalued in sustainability. I love helping a brand figure out how to use its history, people, intention and innate value to inspire and innovate, while also strengthening its bottom line. Saatchi & Saatchi S is uniquely great at making sustainability irresistible, which we do by blending strategy with engagement and communication. I am also extremely people and culture focused, which is why I like leading an agency.
Ellen: What do your parents think?
Annie: They're proud of us.
Amy: They think everyone should hire us.
Ellen: To what do you owe your parents for your careers in sustainability?
Amy: First, they always told us we could do anything. They had — and have — a ridiculous amount of confidence in us. Second, our parents were great starters of things. Our dad was a key figure in the creation of Hampshire College in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and our mother founded an alternative elementary school because she didn't like the traditional offerings in our town. Those are examples from an impressively long list — sometimes it feels a little intimidating in fact. But it's back to the idea of problem solving — if you see a better way to do something, go give it a try. That's foundational for us.
Photo by Michelle Davidson Schapiro