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Andrea Newell headshot

Women in CSR: Nancy Cleveland, Resonate

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.

Nancy Cleveland: My business partner Jennifer Anderson and I founded Resonate in 2010. We wanted to develop a sustainability management consultancy that helped companies focus on being strategic and using sustainability as a management tool to create long-lasting business value. My role and responsibilities range from client services to developing our technology products. I also serve as in-house legal counsel.

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

NC: I had been doing sustainability work for several years before founding Resonate. When I started, I was a real estate lawyer, so my primary focus was on green building and LEED. It was clear to me from the start that companies could fairly easily build new buildings to green standards, but understanding and incorporating sustainability into their culture and way of operating a business requires more time and different tools and processes. So I shifted my focus from the built environment to general business consulting and co-founded Resonate. Resonate was founded on the premise that by being more strategic, companies will reap greater value from their sustainability efforts. However, this often requires a consultant’s perspective, especially for companies that are new to sustainability. For medium and smaller companies, consulting is often not an option. So, we started to think about how we could make strategic sustainability concepts more widely accessible through technology. We believe that technology and technology-assisted consulting can streamline and expedite a company’s journey toward strategic sustainability. It can make sustainability management feasible for many more companies.

Based on that belief, we began building Sustrana, which is short for Sustainability Strategy Navigator. We believe so strongly in the value of this technology – integrating sustainability tools and education into a single platform with roadmaps for what to do – that in the coming months we will merging Resonate into the Sustrana brand. The Sustrana platform will make sustainability planning and management available to companies who want to pursue this journey but can’t afford consulting or can only afford the light consulting that Sustrana makes possible.

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

NC: My journey has been one that started with awareness and quickly evolved into action. There have been so many influences it’s really difficult to pick one. Many authors and speakers in this field have helped form my understanding and work in sustainability – Rachel Carson, Bill McDonough, Ray Anderson, Donella Meadows, Jeremy Rifkin – and others from related fields such as human psychology (like Malcolm Gladwell) or probability (like Nassim Nicholas Taleb). I’ll stop there because I already know I’m going to leave out too many fields and people.

One thing I will say is that working in sustainability and learning deeply about the challenges we face has taught me the importance of counter-balancing the bad news with inspiration and a focus on what’s possible. It has taught me to explain, but not dwell on the list of very difficult challenges we face; to spend more time on positive activities like helping people discover what solutions are possible for them to contribute. It has made me believe that individual people really can and do make a difference. In this regard, the stories in Chip and Dan Heat’s book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard have been very inspirational because they are about the amazing things that committed individuals can do when they find and build on what’s positive and what is already working in the midst of a challenging situation.

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

NC: From my mother: Take one day at a time, do the best you can with every day you have, and when life seems overwhelming and daunting, try a good night sleep and see how things look in the morning.

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

NC: I’m extremely proud of the team we have put together at Resonate and our internship program. Working with our highly dedicated core team, and being able to inspire and be inspired by so many interns who are just coming into this work, is one of the greatest joys in my life.

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

NC: It would be to have the resources to accelerate our technology development so that we could get Sustrana to market sooner. Time is our biggest enemy in the work that must be done to make our world more sustainable.

3p: Describe your perfect day.

NC: My perfect day is really a day in the future when I am spending my entire day working with many, many more companies who are using Sustrana to set their paths toward a more sustainable future. It is a day when I realize that humans really can rise to the occasion and turn away from our current destructive path.

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