Born in New Jersey, Bell’s Corporate Responsibility & Environment Senior Manager, Stephanie Berger moved to Montréal with her family when she was 3 years old. Growing up, she did not expect that her career would be spent working toward a sustainable future for our planet, nor did she set out to study for it. Stephanie’s career actually began atypically—as far as one would imagine for an environmentalist—on Wall Street. However, as her career in the financial industry progressed, Stephanie realized that she needed something more: she wanted to build a legacy. With that in mind, she went back home to Montréal to earn her MBA from McGill University.
By a string of fortunate coincidences, she crossed paths with one of the world’s leading authorities on sustainability, ‘Cause for Success: 10 Companies That Put Profit Second and Came in First’ author, Christine Arena. Stephanie ended up leading Arena’s research team and contributing to her following effort, ‘The High Purpose Company’. That was it—the missing piece in what would be Stephanie’s legacy—ethical business: sustainability and the balance between people, planet and profit.
Stephanie sat down to tell us more about this fascinating and necessary field. The highly charismatic leader on sustainability at Bell is well known and respected throughout the company, as confirmed by the numerous times her hand rises in friendly acknowledgment to passersby – proving that the “people” part of sustainability is one she has mastered. As you will find out in this Earth Day edition of Career Profiles, her deep knowledge of the other two pillars is just as strong.
Tell us a little bit about your role at Bell.
Stephanie Berger: I like to think of myself as a cheerleader and walk-around professor on environmental and sustainability initiatives here at Bell. My job is to educate our team members and business leaders on why sustainability is not only good for business, but also why it is imperative for the future of all that we do here at Bell.
You have a unique background and skillset. How did you go from Wall Street to leading corporate sustainability for Canada’s leading telecommunications company?
SB: Following my first career on Wall Street, I came home to Montréal to study for my MBA at McGill University. During my time there, I did internship work for community organizations and one of my projects was supporting the organization of a conference at the business school on corporate social responsibility. At the time my peer, Tolu, was working to get author Christine Arena, who had written a book called ‘10 Companies That Put Profit Second and Came in First’, to speak at the conference. I was asked to organize the logistics for Arena’s arrival and stay in Montréal and naturally was cc’d on emails. I ended up reading the whole thread and saw that Arena was talking about her next book and her intent to form a research team. Once Christine landed in Montréal, I asked her, “If I can get you a team of 10 people before you return to the airport after this conference, can I lead this project?” She said yes and we ended up writing a book together called ‘The High Purpose Company’. This was all totally by chance.
In the process of working with Arena, I did a lot of self-reflection. As much as I thought social responsibility was a business imperative, I had no idea how personal it would get for me. I did not eat well, I would do a load of laundry with 2 pieces of clothing and I did not recycle. I was fresh off Wall Street and had little to no sustainability practices in my personal life. I did not leave Wall Street seeking sustainability; I left because I had lost myself. At the time, I did not know sustainability was going to be my legacy, but I am happier now because I feel like I have a greater purpose.
When did green initiatives become a focus for Bell?
SB: 1993. That summer, there were tire fires lasting two weeks in regions of Québec that caused significant damage and severe air quality problems. Bell had thousands of vehicles on the road then, as now, which meant that we also had mechanic shops with used tires laying around. We quickly realized that this was a risk and, as a result, teams formed to enact governance across the organization with the intent to mitigate environmental risks associated with our daily operations. Many of those teams still exist today.
Does your team run green initiatives or is your focus primarily on building awareness? Can you give us an example of one of your projects?
SB: We do both. For example, my team supports programs like OPEQ, a governmental initiative that provides access to computers for under-funded schools, daycares and families that do not have access. We also run a program as part of a pilot project to improve sorting garbage. The project works to inform people how and why they should sort their garbage and implements Bell’s IoT (Internet of Things) sensor technology[, allowing us to only have garbage trucks visit our office sites when the sensor says it is full instead of on a set schedule, as is normally done, effectively reducing our carbon footprint.
What has changed the most during your time on this team?
SB: When I arrived 7 years ago, the team was primarily composed of people with a biology or environmental studies background; I was part of the first wave of business students coming in. Today, we have a lawyer on our team and at least half of us have business backgrounds. This diversity has improved our ability to communicate and get buy-in from others, allowing us to move away from the untrue paradigm that being sustainable means you cannot make money. Consumers are changing the way they look at companies and there is accountability for doing things in a way that negatively affects environmental sustainability. On the other side, consumers are also rewarding companies that do things right.
Thinking back to your time on Wall Street and your experience at Bell: are green investments taken seriously?
SB: Yes. Investors recognize that long term its better when businesses focus on the (1) social impact, (2) environmental impact and (3) profit of what they do; these three things are what drive sustainability. Think of it like a Venn diagram: those are the three intersecting circles with sustainability in the middle. If you favor two over another, you will have an imbalance that will create disruption in the system.
Does technology have a carbon footprint?
SB: It can , however it is important to remember that Bell technology also offers a solution in a low carbon and clean economy. When you virtualize a server, for example, you are being more efficient with physical resources. Having 1 server at Bell that houses 3 servers for consumers, means fewer servers being manufactured.
Then there is the question of the ever-increasing world population and over-consumption of resources, which we have a solution for as well. For example, when a farmer uses Bell’s IoT services in the fields, they do not have to get up every day to water their crops because technology will advise them when watering is required. This saves water, fossil fuel and time, which in turn allows for a better quality of life for the farmer.
What green initiative(s) at Bell are you most proud of?
SB: We do a number of things well. For example, our use of digital technology and flexible work options allow individual members to reduce their carbon footprint, the use of plant-based bags in our stores to reduce plastic consumption, and the absorption of environmental handling fees by the business rather than passing these on to customers are just a few notable initiatives.
However, our biggest win thus far is connecting our financials to long-term environmental sustainability. The FSB (Financial Stability Board)—which is an international organization that exists to help with the stabilisation of the world economy—said we needed to create the TCFD (Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures) to encourage companies to understand the impact of greenhouse gases and climate change on their business models. In summary: climate change is happening, and we want to know what you are doing about it. What if water levels go up and this building gets inundated with 2 feet of water? Your main switch is gone. What happens if by 2035 temperatures in Montréal resemble the temperature of Tennessee, how are systems going to handle the cooling needed for your servers? What does your long-term strategic plan looking like?
Bell covered this in our Corporate Social Responsibility Report (2018) last year, however this year we are getting into the financials. This is huge because it is not a singular initiative and, instead, requires us to connect sustainability to the core of our business model to understand the holistic impact through our financial disclosures, which is the most important report we put out.
What is the relationship between the current workforce and the move towards green initiatives?
SB: The values held by the workforce are changing; employees want to work for a company that demonstrates their shared values and offers them meaningful, impactful work. Over time, environmental sustainability has gained notable importance as demographics in the workplace shift. High-performing and innovative employees are more likely to stay if they identify with the company’s values and understand how their work contributes to sustainability and the betterment of society.
What personality trait is essential for someone looking to get into the world of sustainability in the corporate sector?
SB: Those working in environmental sustainability have to be resilient. It is challenging to show return on investment on both the customer side and the investor side. You need to be resilient and believe in what you do while finding creative ways of demonstrating that smart investments benefit the company’s bottom line and the communities we serve.
Will technology drive the future of sustainability in Canada?
SB: Technology like smart agriculture and smart cities has and will continue to help us make better decisions about how we interact with the environment and treat our resources, however environmental issues also come down to the individual. A small choice—like sorting your garbage in the right bins—makes a big difference. Every action matters, like voting: you have to get up and do it for it to count. It can be inconvenient to do the right thing, but if we are willing to listen and understand the impact of our choices, the inconvenience is worth it.
Thank you for your time and for sharing your story with us, Stephanie! Your passion for the environment and your deep knowledge of corporate sustainability is inspiring to all of us.
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