Does Berry Kennedy, Erb ’14, have what some might call an “environmental brain”?
“I think I do because I use a systems perspective to see how things fit together, and I draw connections between disparate areas,” she says. “The reason I chose to go into the field of environmentalism and sustainability is because it encompasses many of my other interests in health, poverty and business development ─ all of which are impacted by the way we live and how we use our resources. Understanding any situation within its wider context is the broadest definition of an environmental brain, and it is something I do naturally.”
Kennedy is passionate about the possibility of changing the way businesses and markets function to make them work for the benefit of society. Over the past two years, the Erb Institute has stoked that passion and given her the tools, experience and understanding to achieve her sustainability goal.
As a member of the Ross School’s Social Venture Fund, Kennedy worked on a consulting project to help Mindful Meats, a company that brings local, organic, pasture-raised meat to market, develop a strategy for measuring its social impact. During her second year on the student-led impact investing fund, she served as director of fund development and spearheaded initiatives to build its organizational capacity, raise its visibility and strengthen its relationships with the venture-investment community. “I enjoyed looking at impact investing from the market level all the way down to the level of the individual social entrepreneur,” she says.
A summer internship at Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in 2012 afforded Kennedy greater insight into corporate-sustainability strategies focused on improving energy efficiency and promoting renewable energy generation through wind farms and solar panels. “I worked in the Walmart Sustainability Department to help refine its global renewable-energy strategy,” she says “Over the course of my internship, I learned a great deal about the energy situation around the world and how to streamline the implementation of renewable-energy projects in different countries. It was a rare opportunity to put into practice the sustainability rhetoric that’s repeated every day in my classes.” Kennedy was named a Dow Sustainability Fellow in January and also completed her team master’s project in partnership with the Dow Chemical Company. The team worked with the Dow Sustainability Department as it developed a framework to help corporations take action to address ecosystem-services challenges related to fresh water.
“One of the great lessons I’ve learned is that to tackle any of the really substantive social and environmental problems we’re facing, we can’t leave the private sector out,” she says. “Policy advocacy and work by nonprofit groups is essential, but it must be accompanied by change in the way business is done. I believe the best approach is to invite everyone to the table.” That lesson hit home when Kennedy accepted a position as development and communications coordinator at the Mexican Fund for the Conservation of Nature in Mexico City after graduating from Yale University in 2008. “It was a transformational experience for me to work at the forefront of promoting partnerships between public and private stakeholders and for-profit and nonprofit organizations in Mexico and internationally to advance ecosystem-services markets and sustainable agriculture and tourism,” she says. “I saw the impact of new sustainability initiatives in emerging markets and gained an understanding of why environmental and social programs need to make economic sense at a very practical level, especially in poor areas.”
In the future, Kennedy plans to pursue a career in sustainability, although she is not quite sure what direction that pathway will take. “To be successful, sustainability people have to be creative, because they don’t fit into an existing niche,” she says. “I hope to remain flexible and adaptable, so I can take advantage of opportunities that come along.”