If you’re looking for a career path that focuses on corporate sustainability, accounting may not be the first job to spring to mind. But as Lisa Galati, a student in the University of Wisconsin Sustainable Management program, soon discovered, any field can be eco-friendly if you work for a company that holds corporate sustainability as a key factor of its business model. Her background in bookkeeping, combined with her education, landed her a dream job—working for a company that is the world’s largest generator of renewable energy from the wind and sun.
When Lisa lost her job at age 44, she never imagined that the one-two punch of an environmental science course and a documentary investigating America’s food industry would send her career and life on such a new and meaningful path.
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Forging an Eco-Friendly Path
Lisa had a sufficient but ultimately unsatisfying career working accounts payable and administrative assistant jobs in Florida. But then came the layoff—in the midst of a major downturn in Florida’s job market. She knew that if she wanted to find professional fulfillment, she’d need to make a change.
Lisa and her husband, Chris, answered this challenge by returning to school for their associate’s degree and enrolling in a course on environmental science as an elective. There they watched a documentary, The Future of Food, which opened their eyes to the systemic sustainability and quality issues in the American agricultural industry. They were inspired, and vowed to make environmental responsibility a larger part of their lives.
Taking Their First Steps Toward the Triple Bottom Line
Lisa and Chris moved to Wisconsin, and eager to take the first steps toward their eco-friendly goals, they met with Student Services at UW-Waukesha. The adviser assessed their backgrounds and interests and suggested they explore the online UW Bachelor of Science in Sustainable Management, a 60-credit degree-completion program focused on helping professionals do business better by balancing the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profit.
Because sustainability careers span all industries, Lisa’s background in accounting and Chris’ in operations both fit well with a degree in the field. The associate degrees Lisa and Chris held qualified them for entrance into the program and so far, they’ve taken courses on logistics and supply chain, sustainable economics, and natural resources management. Much to Lisa’s surprise, it was the natural resources classes—not the program’s accounting courses—that spoke to her most deeply.
“Without a doubt, it was the environmental course we took that had the biggest impact on me. Now, when I go to the beach, I don’t just think about getting some sun—I think about what’s going on in the water, and in the sand, and all around us. And it’s inspired me to volunteer and get even more involved.”
Studying Sustainable Business Practices from a Distance
Though Lisa and Chris soon realized that the long Wisconsin winters weren’t for them, the online flexibility of the UW Sustainable Management program has enabled them to continue their education from their new home in south Florida. Prior to starting her UW Sustainable Management courses, Lisa was skeptical about the amount and quality of interaction she would have with professors and classmates. But she has been pleasantly surprised.
“I definitely have a meaningful relationship with my professors. I have lots of contact with them, and they’re very helpful. If something comes up that keeps me from being online for a while, I can reach out to them and they understand.”
Lisa also discovered a built-in support team among students in the program. One fellow student, with whom she’s shared classes since the beginning of her program, is graduating this semester. “We’re sad to see him go, but he was putting in full semesters while we were tackling maybe two classes at a time, so we’re happy that he’s reaching his goals.”
Contributing to the Triple Bottom Line—Making Clean Energy Affordable
Because she had seven classes left before she finishes her degree, Lisa didn’t think she was qualified to take on a job that incorporated sustainable management. She took an accounts payable position with a sustainably conscious healthcare company, and while she enjoyed her time there, she dreamed of working for an organization that sourced wind power. Then after just under a year with the company, she was approached with an exciting opportunity.
“I got a call from a recruiter seeking professionals for a contract position. They contacted me based on my sustainable management education and accounts payable experience.” The company was NextEra Energy, a leading clean energy company.
Chairman and CEO Jim Robo provided his insights on NextEra Energy’s commitment to provide clean and low-cost energy, as well as his optimism for America’s energy future, at Siemens’ Energy Roundtable.
With her strong educational background and experience practicing sustainability, Lisa felt comfortable setting definite standards for her potential employer.
“During the interview, I brought up my education. I said, this is what I’m learning, this is what I’m passionate about, and I won’t go to a company that doesn’t have the same foundation that I’m building for myself. I told them I researched their background, and I knew they had that foundation.”
Now, Lisa spends her days assisting the field workers who are actually out in the field, building wind facilities. She helps with their travel and expense reports. Since she began working, she has discovered that not only is NextEra Energy helping solve America’s energy challenges sustainably and responsibly; it is also invested in employee wellness. A convenient onsite gym and cafeteria with healthy options at the ready make wellness easy to manage, and programs and events that promote diversity offer an opportunity to gain cultural awareness and education.
“The employees are happy; the company wants them to succeed. Management truly lives what it promotes when it comes to sustainability. It’s a place where I can actively use my sustainable management degree in my everyday work.”
Practicing Sustainability as a Lifestyle
Lisa’s journey has proven that sustainability isn’t necessarily a specific job title—you can craft a career based on these principles in any industry. Today, she is busy making sustainable strides as an accounting technician, and she knows her new degree and knowledge have opened a world of opportunity for reaching her dreams.
“I love that I’m part of bringing alternative energy to the forefront. I think it will change the way our country lives with energy. So many European countries rely primarily on alternative energy, and we’re really just starting to take steps in that direction.”
Her husband is also mindful of sustainable efforts. Chris currently works for a paper company, an industry both at odds with and full of opportunities for the sustainability movement. Lisa says, “He’s thinking about the trees to make the paper—he wants to raise awareness and make his store more environmentally friendly.” The steps he’s taken have helped create efficiencies for the company and prompted his promotion to a management position.
Lisa is also excited about incorporating sustainability into her personal life. She has become passionate about protecting wildlife and has been part of a volunteer team that helps rescue and rehabilitate sea life in her Florida community. She volunteers for beach clean-ups and has even helped hatchling sea turtles make their way into the ocean.
“Through my UW Sustainable Management courses, I learned that contamination in the water is contributing to illness in sea turtles. This program has made me realize that there’s more going on in the world than I thought. I turned 50 last year, and I really wish I would have gotten involved sooner. But I still have some time to make a difference.”
Does Lisa’s story strike a chord? Is sustainability your calling? Leave a comment and tell us why. Or find out more about how you can earn a UW Bachelor of Science in Sustainable Management by visiting the program’s website.