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Andrea Newell headshot

Women in CSR: Alex Liftman, Bank of America

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.

Alex Liftman: As Global Environmental Executive for Bank of America, I’m responsible for the company’s environmental sustainability strategy. I oversee our aggressive operational goals, our environmental business initiative, and our policy positions and philanthropic investments. I also get the chance to meet new people every day while collaborating with all parts of the bank, from the investment banking group to teams at local banking centers, to identify innovative opportunities and implement changes that that will help us achieve our goals. What’s exciting about pursuing revenue-producing opportunities is that they’re good for the environment and good for the business, so they’re win-win. For example, we’ve got a thriving renewable energy practice, a growing public finance business, and a wealth management business increasingly focused on providing more values-based investment opportunities for clients.

Just last year, we committed more than $4.5 billion toward underwriting, advising on and financing energy efficiency, renewable energy and other low-carbon transactions around the world. We also reduced our global net scope 1 and scope 2 greenhouse gas emissions by 7 percent, completed more than 600,000 square feet of LEED certified projects, and established an ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) counsel in our wealth management business that is responsible for developing our socially-responsible investing capacities.

I’ve been with Bank of America for almost 11 years now. Before assuming my current role, I had the chance to manage the communications strategy and serve on the leadership teams of a number of our lines of business, including Global Wealth & Investment Management, Small Business Banking/Business Banking and Corporate Social Responsibility.

3p: How has the sustainability program evolved at your company?

AL: Even before 2007, when we announced our initial ten-year $20 billion environmental business initiative – which we completed last year four years ahead of schedule – sustainability was a key focus area at Bank of America. We announced that first goal (since succeeded by a new ten-year $50 billion target) to put a public stake in the ground, and as an acknowledgement of our conviction that business and environmental objectives go hand-in-hand. Since then, we’ve taken a number of significant steps to address global climate change and increasing demands on natural resources: helping hundreds of clients around the world adopt lower-carbon solutions, reducing the impact of our own operations, and engaging our sizable employee base to support the bank’s efforts and reduce their own carbon footprints.

Our employee base (which is over 260,000 strong) is one of our greatest assets. We’ve worked hard to improve and grow our My Environment employee engagement program. This past Earth Day, My Environment sponsored a “Waste Less Lunch,” during which employees worldwide gathered in person and virtually to share a meal, and increase awareness and understanding of the global food waste challenges we face today. The lunch also gave employees an opportunity to learn more about their company’s commitment to the environment and key internal goals, including the diversion of 70 percent of global waste from landfills. Events like these not only enable our employees to learn more about our sustainability objectives, but also play a role in achieving them.

3p: Tell us about someone (mentor, sponsor, friend, hero) who affected your sustainability journey, and how.

AL: My mom, Carol Wansong, born in Mississippi in 1937, will tell you she was “too old to be a hippy” and it’s true that she was raising kids before the movements of the 1960s and 70s really took hold. But in her own way, she was a champion of sustainability (environment and social) before those ideas were fashionable. She taught school in a tough section of Northeast D.C., walked and biked everywhere she could, made almost everything we ate from scratch, composted – the whole package. My mom didn’t always get it right, but she did imbue in us a sense of valuing what we do, how we live our lives, and the impact we leave behind. Even today, when she could be (should be!) enjoying a peaceful retirement, she is up on the Hill lobbying to help leave this world a better place for her grandchildren and the generations that will follow.

3p: What is the best advice you have ever received?

AL: A senior colleague of mine and a mentor once suggested that I ask myself and my team every day, “What things are we working on that if executed well, will truly have positive impact or, if executed poorly, could have truly dire consequences?”  This piece of advice has helped me to ensure that in all of the craziness of our days, in all of the little things that we have to get done, we take the time to step back and focus on what really counts. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s often easier said than done.

3p: Can you share a recent accomplishment you are especially proud of?

AL: In December 2012, we closed out the bank’s first environmental business commitment, having delivered more than $21.6 billion in lending, equipment finance, capital markets and advisory activities and carbon finance to clients around the world. That was an incredible achievement for the institution, but we were even more pleased and proud to renew our commitment to promote environmental business opportunities by launching a new 10-year, $50 billion business initiative in January. This new commitment brings our total environmental business initiative to $70 billion over the course of 16 years.

3p: If you had the power to make one major change at your company or in your industry, what would it be?

AL: In an ideal world, our industry and our company would be able to meet the expectations of all our stakeholders, customers, clients, communities and constituents without having to mediate and choose between competing priorities and values. Our current focus as an institution is on growing our business organically by deepening and strengthening our relationships with clients, customers and communities while generating long-term value for shareholders. But accomplishing all that sometimes means that we make decisions that don’t necessarily satisfy all the stakeholder groups our company works with. So if I could make one change, it would be that we could do it all tomorrow – but of course in the real world, life is inevitably more complicated.

3p: Describe your perfect day.

AL: Like any working parent, a perfect day would be one in which there is (magically) actually time to balance everything on my schedule without rushing – no harassing the kids to move faster, no reading emails while in meetings, no finishing a call while looking over homework and starting dinner. Just a day of leisurely meals, deep conversations – meaningful time with family, friends and colleagues.

[image credit: copyright Don West, all rights reserved]

Andrea Newell headshotAndrea Newell

Andrea Newell has more than ten years of experience designing, developing and writing ERP e-learning materials for large corporations in several industries. She was a consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers and a contract consultant for companies like IBM, BP, Marathon Oil, Pfizer, and Steelcase, among others. She is a writer and former editor at TriplePundit and a social media blog fellow at The Story of Stuff Project. She has contributed to In Good Company (Vault's CSR blog), Evolved Employer, The Glass Hammer, EcoLocalizer and CSRwire. She is a volunteer at the West Michigan Environmental Action Council and lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan. You can reach her at andrea.g.newell@gmail.com and @anewell3p on Twitter.

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