Some of the most inspiring comments at the 2018 Business & The Environment conference came from second-day keynote speakers Susan Sokol Blosser and Sophia Danenberg, who shared lessons from their groundbreaking pursuits.
Blosser, founder of Sokol Blosser Winery and leader in both the Oregon wine industry and the sustainability movement, talked about her journey from liberal arts graduate to CEO and from owner of a traditional agricultural business to a CEO totally committed to sustainability.
Danenberg works on EHS Policy Analysis and Strategy and International Policy for Boeing, but she spoke about her personal experiences as the first African American to summit Mount Everest.
Though their accomplishments came in completely different areas, Blosser and Danenberg share traits and offered advice that’s relevant to those in environment-related professions – and just about anyone else. Starting with the obvious, they both were pioneers willing to take risks who had a deep connection to the outdoors. That connection can be seen in both their private and professional lives. And they both approached their pioneering activities with a purpose and a plan.
Sokol Blosser said she and her husband were “tree huggers” when they started their winery, but they did not fully grasp true environmental stewardship. Her “ah-hah moment” came in 1999 at a presentation by “The Natural Step,” a nonprofit that helps businesses and organizations become sustainable. The presentation showed her how far she and her winery had to go before they truly were sustainable.
The Natural Step rests on four principles.
1. Nature is not subject to systematically increasing concentrations of substances extracted from the earth’s crust.”
2. Nature is not subject to a concentration of substances created by society.
3. Nature is not degraded by human activities.
4. People are not subject to conditions that systematically affect their ability to meet their needs.
“I was both impressed and embarrassed,” Sokol Blosser said. “Once I understood how much I had contributed to our unstainable condition, I couldn’t go back.” From that day forward, she and her winery have been leaders in the sustainability movement. Her first step upon returning to the winery was to “stop grumbling about how much paperwork went into gaining organic certification,” and move forward with the process. Then came simpler, but meaningful actions, such as replacing the vineyard ATV with a mountain bike.
Danenberg also built her speech on four principles, the lessons she learned from climbing Mount Everest.
1. Be curious.
2. Be prepared and have a plan.
3. Know when to take a step back.
4. When you see something you think is wrong, stand up and be willing to questions the experts.
Danenberg’s first two points matched well with comments by Sokol Blosser. Both women made choices that were unusual for women with their backgrounds because of intellectual curiosity and their willingness to try new things. Once they made their decisions, they approached their pursuits with rigorous and precise planning.
Danenberg’s last two points dealt with specific moments in her climb. A delay that looked like a setback at the time became a blessing because of weather conditions and other factors. And the discovery of another climbing group’s accident on the way down, taught Danenberg to speak up when something looks wrong. She had noticed things on her way up the mountain that made her question the group’s approach, but she didn’t think it was her place to question them.
The combined message of these two inspiration speakers should encourage us all as we look for the right strategy for improving our own performance and helping our employers, colleagues and clients overcome challenges in an uncertain time.