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Olivia Watkins

Olivia Watkins, BSC Associate

Current Degree Program: Jenkins MBA at North Carolina State University.
Previous Degrees: BA Environmental Biology at Barnard College
Hometown: New Rochelle, NY
Areas of Interest in Sustainability: Impact investing and sustainable corporate finance

What does business sustainability mean to you? What do you think sustainability should mean to businesses?

Business sustainability to me means finding ways to shift business reporting and control to include metrics that businesses typically don’t take into consideration (ie. carbon sequestration, community wealth building, pollution, etc.) but are often more valuable in the long run in comparison to profit. Businesses not only have a responsibility to their stakeholders but most importantly, to their employees and the communities that are affected by their business practices.

What sustainability challenge would you most like to solve?

Over the next 10 years, there is going to be a large transition in ownership of farmland, and food system businesses. It is important for us to make sure that our food system achieves sustainability and that our farmers are able to make a living while providing their communities with food. I am interested in looking at different investing models that will allow us to invest in food businesses in a way that doesn’t put food businesses into debt, as they currently are.

Who do you admire for championing positive change through business?

I admire Patagonia because of some of the actions that they have taken that demonstrate that they truly are interested using their capital to do good in our environment. Rather than putting their tax refund back into their business to benefit stakeholders only, they donated their $10M tax refund to environmental groups fighting for environmental justice and climate change.

Moving forward, how do you plan to use business as a force for good?

I am looking forward to serving as a bridge between the sustainable business world and the unsustainable business world, helping companies navigate towards making better financial business decisions.

What do you think are some challenges with sustainable businesses or becoming a sustainable business?

The barriers to entry are high. The market is used for purchasing products and services at a cheaper price. This cheaper price comes at a cost on the back-end. Whether it is through the use of cheaper material, or paying employees below living wages. Sustainable businesses often have a harder time making their products and services more accessible to people who need it because of the higher upfront cost that may come with doing business sustainably.

What’s your advice for fellow students who might be interested in sustainability, but don’t know where to start?

I would highly recommend Braiding Sweetgrass (Robin Wall Kimmerer) that talks about creating a bridge between a scientific way of viewing the world and an indigenous way of viewing the world. This tension can be easily related to the tension between sustainable business and non-sustainable business.