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.
Kate Heiny: I am a senior group manager of Sustainability at Target. I joined Target in 2007 for the exciting opportunity to build a team devoted to making an impact in sustainability. I was also tasked with developing the sustainability strategy for the company, working across the areas of operational innovation, public policy and business integration. Today, I lead a core team that partners with cross-functional teams to pilot and bring to life initiatives designed to minimize our impact on the environment and help Target guests and team members live more sustainably.
3p: How has the sustainability program evolved at your company?
KH: More than five years ago, I came on board at Target specifically to create Target’s environmental sustainability strategy, which was a nod to the company’s commitment to advancing its sustainable business practices. Since then, I have seen the passion for that commitment grow across the company. Right now, it’s all about making our sustainability efforts more visible to and engaging for our guests. In 2010, we set specific, measurable goals in the areas of sustainable living, sustainable products, smart development and efficient operations — we’ve reported on our progress toward achieving those goals every year since. While we don’t claim to have all the answers, we are committed to making progress and, ultimately, positively impacting our business and communities.
3p: Tell us about someone (mentor, sponsor, friend, hero) who affected your sustainability journey, and how.
KH: I think of this person and story often, and it reminds me to make time to listen to people and work to help them accomplish what they want to accomplish.
When I decided that I wanted to affect change by leading sustainability for a large company, I chose to go back to school and get my MBA. I had been cleaning up spills in the ground with environmental consulting companies in Connecticut and Virginia, and I wanted to build my understanding of the business world and really comprehend how companies make strategic decisions. While that might sound normal today, at the time I was definitely on the outside looking in.
My boss at the time connected me with a professor at University of Virginia Darden School of Business, and I called her to request a meeting where I planned to convince her that I should be accepted to Darden. Not a minute after being on the phone, she asked if we could just meet quickly for coffee. In 15 minutes. Sitting in my pajamas at home, I calmly tried to suggest a different time that might work for both of us (and allow me to put on something a tad more professional). Very kindly, she assuaged my concerns and stuck to her guns, and we hung up with plans to meet in 15 minutes at the coffee shop downtown.
While I barely made it to the coffee shop in time, I had the most amazing 20-minute conversation with the woman who, ultimately, was the reason I attended business school. She listened to me, believed in me and advocated on my behalf, and I felt connected with someone who shared my point of view and focused on the change I wanted to drive.
Take the time to listen and help. It all matters.
3p: What is the best advice you have ever received?
KH: I have a Nelson Mandela quote hanging on the wall behind my computer so I can be reminded regularly that “a vision without action is just a dream; an action without a vision just passes time; a vision with an action changes the world.” For me, that quote is a reminder that the way to accomplish just about anything is through balance, and that you need both inspiration and hard work to get anywhere.
Professionally, this means being aspirational and taking steps to make aspirations a reality. When I reflect on my work, I ask myself what I am trying to accomplish and what steps I’ve taken to get there.
While this is great practical advice, the key for me is balance. I find that I am most successful in my work life and personal life when I stop to consider how well — or not — I’m balancing everything from email versus face-to-face communication to time spent in heels versus flats. Balance is found in many forms, and it’s different for everyone.
3p: Can you share a recent accomplishment you are especially proud of?
KH: Every year at Target, we host a Sustainability Forum, where we bring together our internal partners who work directly on or touch our sustainability initiatives. This year’s forum was held in early May and attended by around 200 team members.
The Forum is the time when we can pause, appreciate hard work accomplished and re-energize for the year ahead. We do this a number of different ways, but one aspect I really enjoy is recognizing partners who are driving sustainability in their businesses areas. It’s such a tangible way to see how our sustainability efforts are continuing to spread throughout the company.
3p: If you had the power to make one major change at your company or in your industry, what would it be?
KH: To the sustainability industry, I would say, “Let’s tackle the tough stuff.” That’s when systemic change happens.
I would also emphasize that no one company can do this alone — we can make the most progress by working together. A great example of industry collaboration attacking the biggest challenges we have is the Sustainable Apparel Coalition. We needed to create a common language to level the playing field before we could modify our approach or define new standards for sustainable apparel. The outcome of this effort, the Higg Index, provides us the ability to drive change, and that’s really exciting. We need more of this type of cross-industry partnership and collaboration, as well as a shared passion for disrupting the status quo.