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Business leaders to students: go green

Mindy Lubber is the president of Ceres, a nonprofit organization that’s mobilizing businesses to integrate sustainability into their bottom lines. She manages a $10 trillion investment fund focused on evaluating the business risks and opportunities of climate change. Her journey to success began as an eager undergraduate student—just like many of those in the audience she addressed Tuesday night in the fifth event in Northeastern University’s Women Who Inspire series.

While fighting for consumer rights with Ralph Nader in New York, Lubber recalled, she was challenged by the former leader of the green party and environmental icon to take the issue to the state capitol and try to change the law. At first, she wondered how much an undergraduate could really change. But “lo and behold, we passed the law.”

“The way that empowered me and the way I want the students in this room to walk out and understand  is that we each can change the world,” Lubber said. “It was an extraordinary feeling.”

The Women Who Inspire series is designed to promote the advancement of women and inspire the next generation of female leaders in technology, engineering, science and sustainability. Tuesday night’s event featured a panel of innovative women leaders in renewable energy, climate change, and sustainability who discussed their own careers and global growth of green industries.

Women Who Inspire: Leaders in Sustainability from Empower Northeastern on Vimeo.

“Sustainability is one of the most compelling and urgent issues that we have facing us today,” Diane MacGillivray, senior vice president for university advancement, said in welcome remarks.

Joining Lubber on the esteemed panel were Marcy Reed, AP’86, president of National Grid in Massachusetts, and Wendi Goldsmith, CEO of Bioengineering Group. Susan Hunt Stevens, founder and CEO of Practically Green, a leading tech­nology provider of sus­tain­ability engage­ment pro­grams for global companies, moderated the event.

Years ago, environmentalism was considered a four-letter-word for companies, the purview of dreadlock-donning hippies and “tree huggers.” But Reed said in the last 10 years, “the space has undergone a 180 transformation.”

“It’s become a business imperative,” said Reed, whose company stands with hundreds of companies worldwide that are incorporating sustainability practices and policies into the very fabric of their organizations. “The world is changing. We need to be part of it, we need to help shape it.”

Reed said that for National Grid, which now relies on a solar energy to produce 400 megawatts of power each year (that’s about the size of a small power plant), sustainability also presents a social imperative that affects jobs, customers, and moving society forward.

Goldsmith, for her part, noted that when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, her company helped the city rebuild—while simultaneously building its own reputation as a leader in sustainability.

She said companies today have to play an increasingly active role in identifying and embracing the next generation of solutions. “So many people don’t know that we now have the world’s most advanced [sustainable] infrastructure,” said Goldsmith, who noted that such sustainability efforts helped save Louisiana from more than $30 million in damage when Hurricane Isaac struck in 2012.

Dozens of Northeastern students, faculty, and community members turned out for the fifth event in the Women Who Inspire series on Tuesday. Photo by Brooks Canaday.

Lubber explained how similar investments would continue to strengthen the U.S. economy, noting that the clean technology industry is expected to be valued at $36 trillion by 2050. “Energy efficiency is a massive opportunity,” she said. The panelists noted that this opportunity would take shape as companies invest in clean energy technologies that already exist—such as solar panels, windmills, and biofuel—and the innovative green technologies of tomorrow.

“What’s really exciting is all the stuff we haven’t even thought of yet,” Goldsmith said.

Bringing the conversation back to the students in the audience, Hunt Stevens urged them to consider opportunities in the green industries.

“This industry needs you,” she said. “It needs the world’s best marketers; it needs the world’s best accountants; it needs the world’s best engineers and software developers, and customer service people. There is a huge opportunity in this space for you to do well and to do good.”