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Andrea Newell headshot

Women in CSR: Leah Seligmann, NRG Energy

By Andrea Newell

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.

Leah Seligmann: I am the Director of Sustainability at NRG Energy. I joined NRG to create a sustainability strategy to support David Crane’s vision for the business. This is characterized by three components:

  1. Develop our strategy (and engage everyone who is needed to deliver on it),

  2. Activate programs that will improve our footprint and social performance, and

  3. Perhaps most importantly—since we cannot do it alone—to identify partners that will join us as first movers in transitioning to a clean energy economy.

While I have only been with NRG for a year, I was raised living and breathing sustainability and have been fortunate to find work that perfectly aligns with my interests.

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

LS: Our program grew out of our commitment to the environment and society from a compliance perspective, but it didn’t take us long to realize that the true value in sustainability is when you move beyond compliance into innovation. For NRG, sustainability means growing our business in a way that aligns with our values, and experience shows that this alignment results in cost savings, revenue opportunities, brand value, talent acquisition, and many other benefits. That is why we shifted our approach to action, investing billions of dollars to clean up our fleet and grow our clean energy offerings all the while ensuring that we keep our customers lights on.

Over the last year, we have elevated sustainability as a business priority and put into place a number of structures to deliver on our vision. Two important advancements include:

  1. Strong governance: The development of our sustainability steering committee, a group of twelve senior leaders from across the organization including our CEO, responsible for and committed to integrating sustainability into the nature of our everyday work;

  2. Data driven strategy: A 360 degree assessment we conducted on our strategy and opportunities including a LCA of our business, third party materiality assessment and hundreds of interviews. We believe a fact-based approach to sustainability is critical to achieve the best outcomes.
3p: Tell us about someone (mentor, sponsor, friend, hero) who affected your sustainability journey, and how.

LS: I’d like to tell you about the three people that have affected my sustainability journey in profound and meaningful ways.

  1. First and foremost, my father, Peter Seligmann. As the founder and CEO of Conservation International, my father encouraged me to engage with some of the biggest thinkers in the area of sustainability from a very young age. His passion for this work inspired me and shaped the way I approach sustainability.

  2. Jib Ellison, founder of Blu Skye consulting and my former boss. Jib showed me how to create impact within large organizations and the importance of engaging the entire system in the solution.

  3. Finally, David Crane. I first met David on a river trip in northern California. It was the first time I had ever heard a CEO of a major energy company speaking so passionately and knowledgeably about climate change. His interest was authentic, and I considered his perspectives to be game-changing. Immediately after the trip I started pestering him to give me a job with NRG so I could help make his vision a reality, and as luck would have it, he agreed.
3p: What is the best advice you have ever received?

LS: Take advantage of the years you have when you are unjaded because a time will come when you get mired in the reality of a situation to push through and overcome.

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

LS: I am particularly proud of NRG’s recent announcement of our strategic partnership with Unilever to help them become powered by 100 percent renewable energy. This partnership is an incredible opportunity for two companies that are leaders in their fields to come together to combat climate change and has the potential to change how companies buy, sell and use renewable energy. When the leaders of both organizations met, it was an obvious match. Now, this alliance will enable us both to push the envelope and drive change that is bigger and better than what either organization could do alone.

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

LS: I’d like to move even faster. The time for action was yesterday, so we need big changes to happen quickly.

3p: Describe your perfect day.

LS: Professionally, my perfect day would find everybody working to execute our mission, while my perfect day outside the office would include a hike with my sweetie and of course my dog, Phyllis.

Andrea Newell headshot

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.

Read more stories by Andrea Newell