Welcome to our series of interviews with leading female CSR practitioners where we are learning about what inspires these women and how they found their way to careers in sustainability. Read the rest of the series here.
TriplePundit: Briefly describe your role and responsibilities, and how many years you have been in the business.
Dr. Jeana Wirtenberg: I am the CEO of Transitioning to Green. When companies, and other types of organizations, want to move sustainability programs forward, my job is to provide them with tools to do so. They often need models for taking action and strategies for catalyzing culture change. People driving this change can get stuck. I help them avoid that or, if they’re already stuck my job is to get them unstuck. That’s what we do at Transitioning to Green.
We also have a nonprofit arm, which I lead. In that role, I help people find their place and career in the green economy. We work with displaced professionals, veterans, and others.
In addition, I’m an author, professor, and researcher. My new book, just out, is called Building a Culture for Sustainability: People, Planet, and Profits in a New Green Economy. I teach in the Bard MBA in Sustainability program and I consult with the Institute for Sustainable Enterprise, which I founded, at Fairleigh Dickinson University.
3p: How has the sustainability program evolved at your company?
JW: The big evolution in my business is the same as what I see as the big evolution in the sustainability world at large. We are going from sustainability as the job of a few strategists and special departments to sustainability as a natural part of everyone’s job.
It’s like the total quality movement (TQM) in the 1980s. There was a time when “quality” as a top business priority was a new concept like sustainability is today. Companies set up quality departments and quality committees, just like they do with sustainability today. But now quality is part everyone’s job and few can imagine it being otherwise.
We’re ready to do the same with sustainability, to make it a standard business practice for every type of job in every type of company. That’s less mysterious than it may sound but it leaves many people feeling overwhelmed, immobilized, helpless, and hopeless. The big evolution is to get past that – not with lectures and not with dogma but with tools that help people find self awareness about their role and discover their own power—coupled with clear steps for turning that power into action.
In my book, I draw lessons about building culture and catalog great models for action from nine major companies from a cross-section of industries—Alcatel Lucent, Alcoa, BASF, Bureau Veritas, Church & Dwight, Ingersoll-Rand, Pfizer, Sanofi, and Wyndham.
3p: Tell us about someone (mentor, sponsor, friend, hero) who affected your sustainability journey, and how.
JW: I would have to say it was my Mom, who, sadly, passed away while I was writing my most recent book last year. I dedicated my book to Mom, with these words: “To our dear sweet mother, Pearl Cecile Wirtenberg, who will remain in our hearts forever. Mom showed us the way to live a sustainable life.”
I go on to say more in my acknowledgments…
“Mom was the quintessential embodiment of sustainability: she believed in simplicity, was never ostentatious, and always did what was right. She was intensely curious and inquiring about everything – people, business, and the world. She was a gentle soul, generous, gracious, and incredibly smart, yet always humble.”
I continue to be deeply moved by her constant inspiration and endless support for keeping me nourished spiritually and physically, even as her own health began to wane. I am so enormously grateful that I am able to carry on her legacy through my book and my work.
3p: What is the best advice you have ever received?
JW: The best advice I ever had was from my sister Sharon to follow my heart. While I think logic, reason, research, and analysis are incredibly important, and what I have done for much of my life, ultimately we need to find ways to listen with both the heart and the mind simultaneously. When I have a really tough decision to make, after weighing all the factors logically, I go deep within myself to see what my heart is telling me to do, and I do that.
3p: Can you share a recent accomplishment you are especially proud of?
JW: My new book. The book is the culmination and a true expression of my life’s work, and I believe it meets a profoundly important need in the world. My dream, and our shared dream in the sustainability world, is that no organization and no individual get left out.
3p: If you had the power to make one major change at your company or in your industry, what would it be?
JW: It would be for everyone to wake up one day and discover the things that have made them immobilized or helpless around sustainability are all gone.
3p: Describe your perfect day.
JW: My perfect day is a balancing act to nourish my body, heart, mind, and soul. To nourish my body, eat healthy foods, sleep enough, and exercise, preferably outdoors. To nourish my heart, spend quality time with my family and friends who I love. To nourish my mind, spend time reading, writing, speaking, listening, consulting, teaching, and training others to share my wisdom and knowledge, and in the process inspiring them to find their own passion through their work and in their life. To nourish my soul, spend time going inward each day, through yoga or other reflection, to live a life of gratitude, harmony, and peace.