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.
Meghna Tare: I am the Director of Sustainability for University of Texas at Arlington. We have our own citizenry, nearly 35,000 students and more than 5,600 employees - as well as our own housing, businesses, transportation fleet and police force. Because the University’s main campus is in the heart of downtown Arlington, our growth is felt throughout the region. Since 2007, we have added 1.46 million square feet of building space to the campus.
I work collaboratively with faculty, staff, the student body and community members to address opportunities to promote sustainability in several areas including greening facility operations, promoting innovative research, supporting and encouraging student initiatives, implementing an environmentally and sustainability-focused curriculum, establishing community gardens and composting programs and sponsoring public service initiatives. I recommend policies and strategies to advance the university’s commitment to being leader in campus sustainability. I also work collaboratively and have established a working relationship with various stakeholders and agencies like EPA Region 6, North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG), North Texas Commission, local governments, DFW Airport, United States Business Council for Sustainable Development (USBCSD), Chamber of Commerce, Community College Districts and other nonprofits.
My journey in the field of sustainability started when I was in graduate school. At the expense of sounding clichéd, working in the area of sustainability truly is a journey with no fixed destination. The field is evolving every day and there is so much to learn. Every project that I have worked on has opened paths for new collaboration and learning experiences. I write blogs for TriplePundit, Cityminded.org, American Planning Association, and am also enrolled in an MBA program in Sustainable Management at the Presidio Graduate School. I teach sustainability policy and assessment to graduate students at University of Texas at Arlington. My job gives me the opportunity to conduct research on climate change, consult on sustainability planning and GRI reporting, and develop a business model to establish a Center for Sustainability and Environmental Studies at UT Arlington.
3p: How has the sustainability program evolved at your organization?
MT: Like most organizations, UT Arlington tackles issues of constrained resources, efficiency and productivity -doing more with less. We have been on a trajectory of growth and transformation through our pursuit to become a Tier One research university. As a result, we have celebrated many achievements, including record levels of enrollment. With this growth, however, comes increased challenges in managing our environmental footprint. We are working to embed the principles of sustainability across our curriculum and research as well as across campus in our facilities and operations.
Extending beyond our campus, we also are a part of the larger community of North Texas, which is rapidly growing and facing the challenges associated with such expansion including air quality, constrained water supplies, energy costs, financial pressures, and transportation options. Working with businesses, government, and communities, we are building lasting partnership. Universities are unique in that they have an opportunity to influence not only the community around them, but also the students, faculty, and staff within. Today, most campus sustainability initiatives comprise of cost savings from the use of long lasting CFL bulbs or double paned windows. But economic benefits are not the only force behind sustainability here at UTA. We tap into the “moral imperative,” based on the concept that everything is part of the puzzle. Students attending a university that places high value on sustainable operations are more likely to take this mindset to their future places of employment where they can help shape the future of environmentally-friendly companies.
3p: Tell us about someone (mentor, sponsor, friend, hero) who affected your sustainability journey, and how.
MT: I was fortunate to learn about climate change and sustainability from Professor Stephen Schneider at Stanford University. He was my academic advisor and mentor. He was a brilliant climate scientist and an engaging speaker with a great sense of humor. But most importantly he had the spirit and the audacity to be an “outlier” in everything that he did, including beating cancer. Dr. Schneider was part of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former vice president Al Gore for international research on global warming. I owe my success and sustainability journey to his knowledge, guidance and faith in me.
I have a signed copy of his book “The Patient from Hell” in which he documented his struggle to conquer cancer, including applying his own knowledge of science to design his own treatment regime. I read it every now and then when I need inspiration and motivation.
3p: What is the best advice you have ever received?
MT: This quote from author H. Jackson Brown Jr. perfectly describes the principles by which I try to lead my life.
3p: Can you share a recent accomplishment you are especially proud of?
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
MT: Within the United States, UT Arlington is one of the three universities to publish a GRI report. It was a challenging project! I have learned from experience that university campuses that tie together multiple areas of sustainability into a comprehensive, holistic plan or roadmap tend to be more successful — at getting buy-in from the community, funding various initiatives and achieving results and recognition. Hopefully, this report will open new doors for UTA in terms of funding and partnerships.
I am also a TEDx UTA speaker - something that I am very proud of.
But more importantly I am proud of keeping the work-life balance. I am a mother of twin boys (5 years old), working full time and enrolled in an MBA program at the same time. So life is a balancing act and I am proud of never dropping the ball.
This interview, doing a radio show with The Eyes of North Texas, presenting for the CATUN conference (Committee on Teaching for the Unites Nations) - I consider all these as my accomplishments. Following Einstein’s dictum that problems can’t be solved within the mindset that created them, these accomplishments and experiences help me understand the mental model that forms the basis of present thinking when it comes to sustainability, and makes me good at what I do.
3p: If you had the power to make one major change at your company or in your industry, what would it be?
MT: 1) Incorporate sustainability into the strategic plan for the University. Strategic planning is a means of establishing major directions for the University through which resources are concentrated in order to maximize benefits to stakeholders—those we exist to serve and who are affected by the choices we make. Strategic planning is a structured approach to anticipating the future and "exploiting the inevitable,” charting the broad course for the entire institution for five years. The plan should establish a foundation for integration of sustainability into the full range of its academic, operational and community activity. Planning for sustainability should not be an afterthought or an add-on.
2) Establish a Green Revolving fund (GRF) for UT Arlington. A GRF is an internal fund that provides financing to parties within an organization to implement energy efficiency, renewable energy and other sustainability projects that generate cost-savings. These savings are tracked and used to replenish the fund for the next round of green investments, thus establishing a sustainable funding cycle while cutting operating costs and reducing environmental impact.
3p: Describe your perfect day.
MT: My perfect day would include hiking or biking, lunch with my husband, spending time with my kids in the park watching them run, reading a good book and cooking for my family. I love to travel and explore new places and culture and want to share those experiences with my kids as they grow up. I do love my job so every day is perfect for me! But the monotony of routine drives me insane, so I am always looking for something new and adventurous in life.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and @anewell3p on Twitter.