Should Sustainability Be a Bad Word?

Exploring How Practitioners See Their Role Evolving


Sustainability practitioners have a tendency to validate our existence and proposed initiatives as necessary for our organizations to be innovative, marketable and responsible. As environmental literacy continues its spread into business, education and the awareness of society, these reasons are becoming increasingly insufficient, particularly with executive decision makers who define budget priorities. If we want to keep our seat at the table, at a time when meaningful change and impact is needed most, we must evolve.

We must stop making sustainability about us and set aside our belief that it’s the right thing to do. Instead, let’s genuinely see through the eyes of those we seek to convince. What are their goals? Not sustainability goals, but their core business or project mission. Sustainable strategies are simply tools to reach their objectives. The positive environmental impact that results is a byproduct, not a reason.

Mainly a shift in perception, this recalibrates how we see ourselves, our clients and how solutions are positioned, framed and communicated. Our job isn’t sustainability, it’s win-win problem solving, so only if our clients (internal or external) achieve their mission, we achieve ours. This way of working builds authentic trust through a narrative of collaboration and reaffirms our relevance and value, while allowing us to implement the regenerative change we seek.

This moderated panel discussion will explore these themes from a variety of career perspectives


Michael Gulich
Director of Campus Master Planning & Sustainability, Purdue University

Catherine Hurley
Board Member, International Society of Sustainability Professionals
Sustainability Program Manager, Argonne National Laboratory

Chris Wheat
Chief Sustainability Officer, City of Chicago

Marco Ugarte
Sustainability Manager at Miller Coors

Mike Stopka
Principal, MIST
Sustainability Advisor, University of Chicago



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