Recently, on EM’s Third Thursday Talks series, Ken spoke with Ty Wang, a former EM client who has a lot of experience starting and funding startups and has worked at large companies like Oracle and Accenture. He is currently head of business development for Novi, a company that supports transparency in supply chains.
Here are a couple interesting tidbits from their conversation about how to dive into a topic you have no experience with and how sustainability consultants are finding new purpose in business.
How do you pursue something totally new?
Ty was interested in doing work related to sustainability but didn’t have a background in it. But he was able to apply his professional problem-solving skills developed in his career in software technology to the process of diving in.
“I started by just figuring out what I'm good at doing and then applying it to a different problem, the climate,” he says.
It was somewhat daunting to dive into a topic he knew nothing about, but he realized that it’s the best way to move in new directions.
He immersed himself in climate communities online, created Slack groups with other interested people, researched the topic exhaustively, and began blogging about what he was learning on his website, Silicon To Carbon.
He would reach out to people in communities he had joined and ask if they would have a 15-minute conversation about a topic he was learning about. He would provide his own perspective and point them to a blog post he had written.
“It got people to first recognize that I was serious about it,” he says. He would make sure his communications were specific to the problem that he thought needed to be solved and noted how his background could help in that area. People he talked to introduced him to others, which led him to learn new things that would bring yet other avenues to his attention. That’s the route he took to get his current position.
“Everybody has a level of imposter syndrome and everybody needs to get over it,” he says. “And especially those of us who have experience working, we should not be afraid that we have skills and experiences that are applicable.”
What does a sustainability consultant do?
The first thing a consultant helps a company do related to sustainability is set up a baseline for the business related to various metrics. The second part of the job is figuring out what goals the company aspires to. For example, a major retailer might desire to introduce products that meet certain standards for clean ingredients and recyclable packaging. They may want to maintain a supply chain that meets specific emissions requirements and other science-based targets.
“It’s partly getting that ambition identified, clarified, and quantified, and then getting a baseline of what it is, and then figuring out the gap,” he says.
People in the role of leading on sustainability are becoming increasing influential, moving into a place where they’re actually influencing profit and loss. In years past, that sustainability champions within business often gave the impression they were simply painting a picture of the company’s ambition but not actually doing anything to impact the company’s way of working.
An example of how this has changed is the beauty product industry, says Ty, where a lot of the sustainability leads are getting attached directly to merchandising teams because of high consumer demand for clean ingredients and products.
“The sustainability person is no longer some cost item; they're actually part of a revenue-generating item,” he says. “So now that the sustainability person is starting to move into this line of business, profit & loss, you really have to be clear on what’s the ambition, what's the current state, and then what's the actual plan.”
What are some opportunities in sustainability?
There are lots of opportunities in the field; which one to pursue depends in part on your background, says Ty.
“I think there's a big opportunity to get consumers to adopt the electrification products that are already out there…” he says. “And there's a big opportunity right now to replace a lot of the fossil fuel ingredients in many of the products that we use.”
To figure out where you might fit in the bigger picture, get up to speed with what’s going on in the field.
“I would say to the consultants, you got to keep hustling, you got to keep learning,” he says. “It’s skill, it’s a lifestyle to just keep learning. There's so much to learn right now in terms of sustainability and climate technology.”
Some podcasts Ty recommends to start your learning journey are:
- My Climate Journey with Jason Jacobs and Cody Simms
- Catalyst with Shayle Kann
- What It Takes by Emily Kirsch
- Pivot by Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway
Check out the entire interview to learn more from Ty Wang.