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.
**On Tuesday, October 15, TriplePundit and CSRwire are hosting an hour-long Twitter chat with the The Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives, a program within the Global Institute of Sustainability at Arizona State University. The chat will be co-hosted by professors George Basile, Senior Sustainability Scientist and Professor of Practice at ASU’s School of Sustainability, and Bruno Sarda, Director of Global Sustainability Operations at Dell and professor and consultant for ASU. For more information and to register click here.
TriplePundit: Briefly describe your role and responsibilities, and how many years you have been in the business.
Patricia Reiter: I am the Director of Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solution Initiatives. With the Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives, I am building a social enterprise within Arizona State University to deliver sustainability solutions to businesses, municipalities, NGO’s and communities by drawing upon the knowledge assets and practical expertise of the largest university in the U.S. and the first university in the country to have a fully dedicated School of Sustainability. Through a generous investment of $27.5 million of seed funding by Rob and Melani Walton, the eight Initiatives focus on leadership, innovation and action to co-develop and deliver sustainability solutions, accelerate global impact and inspire future leaders.
I have been working on sustainability related issues for over 30 years beginning in 1982 when I worked on the World’s Energy Expo as an architect. Since then, I have worked on a range of urban sustainability challenges with professional firms, civic agencies and nonprofits.
3p: How has the sustainability program evolved at your company?
Patricia Reiter: Our President, Michael Crow, has been a trailblazer in focusing the entire university on sustainability through use-inspired research, accessible education, global engagement and community partnerships. Since convening world-renowned scientists and scholars to design a framework for addressing sustainability issues in 2004, we have built a distinguished pan-university Global Institute of Sustainability, established the first School of Sustainability and lead other academic institutions to commit to specific sustainability goals through the American College and University President’s Climate Commitment.
3p: Tell us about someone (mentor, sponsor, friend, hero) who affected your sustainability journey, and how.
Patricia Reiter: I am fortunate to have had many people who guided my journey. From my father who, as a minister, instilled in me and many others the belief that no matter what our career or job, we could be called to serve a higher purpose, to my architecture professors who built the foundation of my design-thinking approach to complex multi-dimensional problems, and later to my professors at Simmons MBA program who shaped women business leaders, I have been influenced, challenged and educated by a remarkable variety of people. In my current role, I am fortunate to continue to learn from the foremost scientists and scholars at ASU on a wide array of topics.
3p: What is the best advice you have ever received?
Patricia Reiter: Never say no; say under what conditions it might work. In other words, do not limit possibilities or prejudge opportunities, but use difficult decisions to explore alternative pathways.
3p: Can you share a recent accomplishment you are especially proud of?
Patricia Reiter: I am extremely proud of driving results from the Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives’ impact investment. Each of our eight initiatives has specific metrics, and in our first year we achieved significant accomplishments and grew our core team from 4 to 46. However, I take just as much pride in the testimonials of our clients and the sincere stories of our students who have studied sustainability abroad. Without our support, these students would not have been able to witness the international nature of the problems we face. It is often transformative for them and their stories are inspiring and insightful. Before our program, only 25 students studied abroad. This year, there were 85 students who participated in our global programs. For many, it was their first trip out of the country.
3p: If you had the power to make one major change at your company or in your industry, what would it be?
Patricia Reiter: Everyone would focus on the urgency of sustainability. Scientists and scholars continue to deliver dire predictions and document an unsustainable trajectory – now we must act.
3p: Describe your perfect day.
Patricia Reiter: I get up around 5:30 a.m. to run on a nearby canal while it is cool. At my local coffee shop, I get a free iced coffee with my loyalty card. On my way to work as I drive by the Desert Botanical Garden, the air is stunningly clear. My first e-mail is from a client of our Sustainability Solution Services commending our work and inviting us to present at their next board meeting. After a series of meetings with my team, I update my travel calendar for our Global Sustainability Solution Centers, schedule meetings with future students in our Executive Master’s for Sustainability Leadership and block time to write invitation letters to our next cohort of Practitioner Fellows.
At a lunch meeting, we debrief and thank the faculty who has lead one of our Global Sustainability Studies trips. After lunch, I meet with the Global Institute of Sustainability leadership executive team to refine our strategic plan. Afterward I get a latte at our Sustainability Scientists and Scholars lounge where I run into one of our Walton post doctorial fellows who is meeting with a colleague discussing neuroscience concepts in relation to climate negotiators. After the official workday, I attend a movie screening of Carbon Nation by our colleague Peter Byck. I answer a few more emails before trying to read books on reimagining growth, our current topic for Next Generation Sustainability Research.