Shannon O’Shea, BSC Associate
Degree program: Jenkins MBA, 2017
Hometown: Wallace, NC
Previous degree(s): UNC-Chapel Hill, MSPH, Environmental Sciences and Engineering, 2010,; NC State, BS Biological Sciences, Minors in Genetics and Spanish, magna cum laude, 2006
Sustainability Interests: Benefit Corporations, Sustainability and CSR, Community Development, Sustainable Food Systems
Why is sustainability important to you? Why do you think it should be important to other students?
Sustainability is important to me because of what it truly means. There are a lot of definitions out there, but I like to go back to the simple definitions in the dictionary. The word sustain means, “to provide what is needed for (something or someone) to exist or continue,” and sustainability means, “able to be used without being completely used up or destroyed.” The modern definition of sustainability encompasses social, environmental, and economic impacts. In other words; sustaining people, the planet, and profits.
What first sparked your interest in sustainability? What made you realize that you wanted to incorporate sustainability into your education and future career?
I can’t really pinpoint one spark; concepts of sustainability were a part of my upbringing. My parents raised us to believe in equality and justice. My father is an avid outdoorsman, hunter, and fisherman. He, in particular, instilled in me the ideals of environmentalism. I studied life sciences early in my career and then environmental health and toxicology in graduate school because I am interested in the effects of interactions between people and the environment. I also became involved in community-driven environmental health research efforts and environmental justice.
After working in science communication and community engagement at the Environmental Protection Agency and in the nonprofit sector, some important realizations led me to business school to focus on sustainable business: 1) entrepreneurship and innovation in the business/for-profit sector is driving change around issues I care about; and 2) I had a knowledge gap in arguably the most important of the three components of sustainability: economic sustainability. So, now I am studying business and entrepreneurship, working for the Business Sustainability Collaborative, and getting involved in the B Corp movement.
What sustainability challenge would you most like to solve?
I don’t think we’ll ever completely solve poverty and injustice, but those are important sustainability challenges I would like to work on. I think that the ‘people’ or social pillar too often gets left out of sustainability discussions. Some may consider poverty and injustice to be policy problems, but to me they are business problems. Businesses employ and serve people, and the business sector drives the economy and dictates the majority of policy.
What is your dream career, and how would you like to make sustainability a part of your day-to-day work?
My dream career is to work for and eventually found or lead a Benefit Corporation. My sisters and I also have a dream of starting a sustainable agritourism family business some day. Along the way, I will continue to make sustainability a part of my day-to-day life and work by always considering the impacts of my actions and decisions as a consumer and business leader.
What leader(s) do you admire for their commitment to improving sustainability or championing positive change?
People like Stephen Ritz, educator and founder of Green Bronx Machine, come to mind. Teachers. Sustainable farmers. Social entrepreneurs. People who don’t take no for an answer when it comes to doing things right and doing the right thing.
What’s your advice for fellow students who might be interested in sustainability, but don’t know where to start? (This could include books, talks to listen to, events / clubs to attend, etc.)
There are many great student organizations at NC State working on issues of sustainability, but Net Impact is the only one tailored specifically (but not exclusively) for business students. Find student organizations or local groups working on sustainability issues you find interesting and dive in.
Sustainable Spirits is a great monthly event for networking with the local sustainable business community. I’m also a big fan of conferences and forums, and these are usually more affordable as a student so take advantage while you can. The Business Sustainability Collaborative, NC Sustainability Connection, NC B Corps, and the University Sustainability Office all have good websites and newsletters about local resources and activities.