Catching Up With… Kevin Wilhelm
PGS Academic Dean Maggie Winslow regularly sits down with our alums to hear how their Presidio Graduate School education and experience have served them in their careers and to gain insights into the nitty-gritty of working in sustainability and social justice. Here’s her conversation with Kevin Wilhelm. Kevin Wilhelm is the author of “How to Talk to the Other Side” and CEO of Sustainable Business Consulting, and he is one of the world’s pre-eminent business consultants and speakers in the field of sustainability. Kevin brings over 20 years of experience working with 165+ businesses ranging across 37 different industries including clients such as New York Life, Expedia, IAC, Nordstrom, REI, Alaska Airlines, The Seattle Sounders, North Face, Tommy Bahama, the Northwest Seaport Alliance.
MW: Sustainable Jobs: The Complete Guide to Landing Your Dream Green Job was published in 2016. While that is quite recent, do you think any changes to the sustainable job landscape have occurred since then?
Kevin: Not really. Everything still holds, but the biggest change is the expectation that people have actual experience in these areas. So it’s critical for students to know how to do a GHG inventory, how to complete an ESG questionnaire (CDP, ISS, MSCI, Ecovadis, DJSI), and have exposure to the GRI. The landscape is much more competitive now, and instead of being able to start at a position and learn on the job, students should look for these opportunities while in school because that will be what sets them apart.
MW: What inspired you to write Making Sustainability Stick: The Blueprint for Successful Implementation?
Kevin: At the time, I had consulted with about 65 organizations (now over 200) and I kept coming across the same things over and over. And for companies that wanted to truly implement sustainability, there needed to be a playbook—not something that was theoretical or high-level, but what people need to do to make it happen. I had designed a number of these plans for companies and it was the same across industries, but the biggest thing is that the behavioral/cultural/organizational change challenges weren’t being addressed. So this book has held up very well because it not only discusses the “what and why” to do so something but also includes the “how”….which is truly the challenge.
MW: If you only had three minutes to tell a CEO what they need to do to start their journey towards sustainability, what would you say?
Kevin: I typically start by asking them “what keeps you up at night?” More often than not, there is a tie-in to sustainability. Then I ask them if their investor relations or account reps are getting more requests or questionnaires asking about their firm’s sustainability practices. They all are getting these, and if you can help them better answer these questionnaires, tell their story, and improve their performance in a way that’ll help them attract new customers—they’ll listen.
MW: If you have five minutes to advise MBA students interested in sustainability, what would you tell them?
Kevin: Get experience now. In every group project, every class, and every opportunity that is presented to you. Get the skills and experience that you will need in grad school for the job you want. If you have never done a GHG inventory, CSR report, or filled out an ESG questionnaire….then join a student team that’ll help a company do that, so you have that experience on your resume when you get out.
The other thing I’d tell them is to network. Presidio has the strongest sustainability network on Earth, but most people don’t tap into this. They need to. You literally have an alum who has written the book on this and consults with hundreds of customers in this space, in addition to almost 2,000 others who are already making a difference in the world. Reach out to them, connect with them.
MW: What were the most important skills and tools you gained from the Bainbridge Graduate Institute Certificate in Sustainable Business and Entrepreneurship & Intrapreneurship?
Kevin: In a nutshell, learning to make the business case for sustainability.
MW: What will your next book be?
Kevin: I just wrote How to Talk to the Other Side – Finding Common Ground in a Time of Coronavirus, Recession and Climate Change. This is what is needed next, not just the technical skills, but how to talk to skeptics—and how to find win-win solutions that can get them on board.