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.
Tonie Hansen: I’m the Director of Global Citizenship at NVIDIA, where I’ve spent the past eight years, all focused on sustainability. Previously, I spent 15 years in marketing roles, largely at IT startups.
I was hired at NVIDIA to lead philanthropy and needed to build up expertise quickly. So, I immersed myself in conferences, learning about the larger concept of sustainability. Instantly, I got hooked. It seemed like a great way to merge my background in business with my desire to have an impact. Within a year or so, I helped assemble our first green team and we worked together to develop goals around reducing NVIDIA’s greenhouse gas levels. And in the intervening years, I’ve added sustainability responsibilities to my role, as I saw it becoming more relevant to our business. I’m about to begin work on our fifth sustainability report, and have been getting deeply engaged in our supplier responsibility efforts since joining the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition’s board of directors.
3p: How has the sustainability program evolved at your company?
TH: Our efforts began about eight years ago when we found ourselves responding to a growing number of government and customer requests to comply with sustainability initiatives. Frankly, this helped raise our own institutional consciousness of the issue, and we decided to start reporting as a best practice in 2010. By 2012, we made it to #6 on the Newsweek Greenest Companies list.
One of the things that I’m most proud of regarding NVIDIA is the innovative way we design our products. Our technology provides the best computing experience and performance for the least amount of power necessary. This energy efficiency is a big competitive advantage, and it’s great to have authentically sustainable products to promote.
I’m also excited about the direct connection our products have with facilitating sustainability. They’ve driven a huge range of advances across fields related to social issues – disease research, automotive safety and storm prediction, to name just a few. Experts in these fields increasingly rely upon computational power, and we’ve given them the tools they need to break through barriers in their research.
2014 will be exciting for us, as we’ll be presenting to our execs a plan to integrate sustainability thinking into our business. This will help cement sustainability into the culture and lead to even more leadership opportunities for us to differentiate ourselves and have a deeper impact.
3p: Tell us about someone (mentor, sponsor, friend, hero) who affected your sustainability journey, and how.
TH: While attending a sustainability conference in 2007, I sat in on a session by Dr. Kellie McElhaney at UC Berkeley Center for Responsible Business. She was the first person who really crystallized for me the value that sustainability could bring to a business beyond it being just the right thing to do. It was also great that this message of business innovation was being delivered by a woman, as the IT world is still very much the man’s realm. Kellie has made it a point to be supportive of women in sustainability and recognizes the unique value we can bring to this aspect of doing business.
3p: What is the best advice you have ever received?
TH: Early on in my career, I was incredibly serious at work and didn’t spend a lot of time building relationships with the people I work with. While at an IT company, I ended up running a team of seven due to an unanticipated reorg. A few months later, during a review at which I was sure I was going to get a promotion, I learned that it was not to be.
I was told that while I had the technical expertise and drive to be promoted, my manager didn’t feel good about promoting me because I wasn’t connecting well with my staff and colleagues. I had become more focused on getting things done in a fast-moving environment and not connecting with the people around me. It was very painful feedback, but I took it to heart, and have ever since worked extra hard to get to know my colleagues as people, not just performers. With the overwhelming amount of work there is to do in sustainability, I still struggle with this. But, given the cross-functional nature of the role, it’s a critical skillset to master.
3p: Can you share a recent accomplishment you are especially proud of?
TH: I’m going out on a limb to share something I’m planning to be proud of next year at this time. NVIDIA is at an inflection point in its sustainability journey, and I believe we’re ready to make a big leap towards integrating sustainability into our business. The sustainability team has done great work to position us beyond compliance and to be a great partner to our customers in helping them achieve their sustainability goals. That will make it easier for us to make the move toward integration. I have some other points of pride -- the Newsweek ranking, getting our report recognized by the GRI, and achieving our greenhouse gas reduction goals early -- but the best is yet to come.
3p: If you had the power to make one major change at your company or in your industry, what would it be?
TH: I am seriously concerned about the issue of water scarcity globally. We’re not paying for the true cost of water anywhere in the developed world and I think it’s easy for companies and consumers to get lazy about using too much of it. It’s especially on my mind as I live in California and our governor has recently declared that we’re in a state of drought. As I’m learning more about natural capital accounting, it seems like an effective way for companies to understand the real environmental impact of their operations and manufacturing. I wish we had a similar tool for consumers.
3p: Describe your perfect day.
TH: Adventure and some element of the unknown! I’m a huge nature and animal lover and enjoy traveling, so combining all of these equals a perfect day, and I’ve been lucky enough to manage that a few times.
I was in Kenya a few years ago and the perfect day involved following four male lions around the Masai Mara game preserve, and watching a pride with 14 cubs hard at play. Then, my guide took me to visit a cheetah mom and her three babies. We spent hours watching her track and kill a gazelle, and later relax with her cubs. To be that close to animals that are so powerful and deadly but feel no fear or animosity towards you is a pretty amazing experience.
I also recently went to Alaska, which was a bittersweet trip. The enormity of the space and roughness of the land was overwhelming and beautiful. But I couldn’t help but wonder how much longer this special place would be preserved, given our changing climate. My perfect day there involved canoeing in a glacial lake, dog-sledding with an Iditarod team, and watching a large pod of gray whales suddenly break the surface of the ocean after feeding on a school of fish.
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 email@example.com and @anewell3p on Twitter.