Solving Sustainable Management Challenges

Community Impact scholarship winner Alana Herman uses her philosophy background to create change

“Philosophy prepared me for anything and everything. It taught me how to think; how to examine an argument; and to think of all possible implications, refutations and alternatives,” says Alana Herman, a philosophy graduate from the University of Washington.

“Learning how to see a problem and then see three steps past that is an invaluable skill in any career.”

And that is exactly what Alana did when she worked for Forkable, a meal-delivery startup headquartered in San Francisco. While supervising operations there, she grew distressed by the amount of waste generated and sought to reduce the company’s environmental impact.

Alana petitioned Forkable management to allow her to create a corporate sustainability program. But tapping into her education, surveying the business situation and developing a plan for change only took her so far: She hit a kink in Forkable’s supply chain relationships.

“I was underprepared to effectively integrate sustainability principles within the company. I had  wanted to leverage our relationships with local restaurants to encourage more environmentally friendly practices, but became lost in the intricate supply chain processes of the restaurant industry,” she says of the setback.

“My philosophy background has definitely influenced my interest in sustainability management,” she says. “The causes and effects of climate change are convoluted and varied, and there are no easy answers—just like any big philosophical question.”

Knowing that sustainability management was a career worth pursuing, Alana enrolled in a sustainable business certificate program through New York University's Stern Center for Sustainable Business. While that program had introduced Alana to “the basic concepts of Environmental Social Governance (ESG) and the importance of sustainability in mitigating the effects of climate change,” she hadn’t developed the practical knowledge she believed necessary to implement a successful sustainability strategy.

“Learning how to see a problem and then see three steps past that is an invaluable skill in any career.”

So after completing the certificate, Alana went back to researching what continuing education program would be more aligned with her new career goals. The Advanced Program in Sustainable Management was a match.

What about the Advanced Program in Sustainable Management stood out to you?

The Advanced Program in Sustainable Management is a more intensive, well-rounded and practical program. It is so comprehensive. Most certificate programs are just one teacher trying to cover everything.

I'm back in Washington now, but when I first became interested in this program I was living in the Bay Area. The online format was still a factor; I need to fit classes into my work schedule, and for me online classes are more flexible than in-person instruction.

And, I like that this program is structured just like college classes, really focusing on one topic at a time. The courses Principles of Sustainability, Greening Your Supply Chain: Life Cycle Assessment Tools and Managing Sustainable Change in an Organization interest me in particular.

I also like that the program seems to cover practice and theory. I’m interested in the more technical aspects of sustainability, such as supply chains. Those aspects are what prepare you to actually work in the field. Through the Sustainable Management program, I can become an innovator in sustainability and hopefully make the world a little bit better.

How will our Community Impact Scholarship help you in this pursuit?

My interest in advancing sustainability supports UC Berkeley’s public mission of “Focusing on the Good: Innovative Solutions for Society’s Great Challenges.”

The effects of global climate change are profound, and the climate crisis is disproportionately detrimental to already marginalized communities. The environmental impact of business and industry, in particular, is quite substantial. The implementation of more sustainable business practices—from corporate conglomerates to “mom and pops”—will make a big, positive impact on the world.

This scholarship opportunity will help me lay the foundation of knowledge I need to work as a sustainability professional. It really was a gift to have my course fee covered; I wanted to register in this program but had been hesitant to make that commitment. The scholarship convinced me to go for it. I just started Principles of Sustainability.

Looking back at your experience at Forkable, you recognized the importance of what needed to be done and what you were underprepared to accomplish. Could you describe your successes and roadblocks with your sustainability initiative there?

My first step had been to get management approval.

I set up a call with my manager and with a customer from one of our biggest accounts, who had expressed displeasure with the amount of waste generated by our deliveries. It was great to have customers share ideas and push to make this program a priority.

Then, I did research on all the applicable laws in the Bay Area and the packaging alternatives available. I also sent a survey to restaurant partners with whom we worked the most to get feedback on the program and learn more about their needs.

Next, I tried to work with packaging suppliers to test some options and float a partnership. This was the point in the sustainability development plan I could not move past.

However, it was all worthwhile. By working on the corporate sustainability initiative at Forkable and learning more about the positive impact sustainability can make, I have experienced a new sense of purpose and direction. I would like to further develop the expertise necessary to become a sustainability consultant and continue to advance ESG practices in my community, as well as for my workplace.

You left Forkable when you returned to Washington State, and now work for Burning Brightly LLC. Tell me about how you are incorporating sustainability into this business.

Burning Brightly is a local, small business in Seattle, Washington, that makes and sells hot sauce under the brand Momspice. I chose this company because I wanted to move out of tech and develop more business experience. Managing operations for a small business and assisting the founder has been a great opportunity to learn the fundamentals of starting and running a small business.

One way I have been able to incorporate sustainability practices here is by introducing a jar buyback program. We sell our products at several local farmer's markets and offer a discount to customers who return our empty glass jars. We are then able to sanitize and reuse the jars.

Another way I’ve incorporated sustainability practices is through shipping. We work hard to ship our online orders in a reasonably sustainable way. We use biodegradable packing peanuts and reuse the boxes and insulation materials from deliveries made to us as much as possible.

These are just the things we are doing now. I definitely plan to use the business knowledge and skills gained from the Advanced Program in Sustainable Management to implement more sustainable practices that mitigate environmental impact at every step of the process as this business grows.