Prior to joining the M.S. in Sustainability Management (MSSM) program, Evan Brown (’12) was not sure where he would fit within the sustainability industry. With a background in environmental consulting, Evan parlayed this experience and existing interest in sustainability into the field of corporate sustainability. As an Energy Analyst for Fortune 300 Company Family Dollar in North Carolina, Evan is pioneering the company’s first efforts to make its more than 7,400 stores and distribution centers more sustainable in their operations. He credits the program with strengthening his skills in financial management, group collaboration, and creative and strategic thinking – all expertise that has proven valuable in this rapidly changing business sector.
1. What is your current job?
I am an Energy Analyst II in the Energy Management division in the Real Estate and Facilities Department for Family Dollar Stores, Inc. Here in Matthews, North Carolina (just a few feet outside the city limits of Charlotte) I am helping to guide the first efforts to make this publicly traded Fortune 300 company (NYSE:FDO) and its 7,400 stores, distribution centers, and corporate offices more sustainable. Family Dollar is currently in a state of very rapid expansion and is planning to open 500 new stores this year alone after opening 474 new stores last year. As a discount retailer, the expansion, recession, and changes in business operations have forced Family Dollar to find ways to remain just as competitive in the marketplace. Currently, I am working on a huge number of sustainability projects aimed at reducing consumption of resources (mainly energy) for the company and cutting costs. I am also working on the first Corporate Sustainability Plan.
2. Do your current job responsibilities align with the professional goals that you originally had when you began the MSSM program?
My current responsibilities align very much with the professional goals that I had set for myself while I was enrolled in the program. When I first entered the program I was not exactly sure where in the sustainability industry I would find the best fit. I came from a career in environmental consulting and knew nothing else, but within my first semester I had decided that a career in Corporate Sustainability was where I wanted to end up. My dream was to work for a Fortune 500 company in a role where I would have the ability to influence decision makers in a strong advisory role.
3. What skills has the MSSM program taught you that you think have proven useful to your current position?
I came into the program with a very strong scientific background, but lacked the knowledge and skills in some of the financial management and economic areas. The program helped to solidify this side of my sustainability working knowledge and prepared me well for the decisions I would have to make later on. Although I may never be an economist or finance expert, I have the ability to ask the right questions to the right people and be confident in my decisions.
4. What skills and tools do you hope to acquire through this job?
Through this job I hope to be able to develop the tools to lead Family Dollar through the beginning, intermediate, and advanced stages of their sustainability program year after year. When I was in the MSSM program I had really wanted to find a job where I could help to create something from scratch and watch it grow and flourish. Through working on Family Dollar’s Sustainability Program from inception, I hope to develop my skills and come up with great new ideas for this growing company to hopefully reduce consumption as it continues to grow.
5. How has collaborating with your fellow students in class projects benefitted you professionally and personally?
By working on projects in groups, I had the opportunity to learn from those who went before me. I am not the first person to work on sustainability and I am surely not the last. If we are to build off of one another and share great ideas, we can spark that creativity that allows us to improve upon that which has come before. I can recall working on a variety of projects that were just so large that I would never have been able to digest that much material all by myself. I try to keep in mind that I do not need to reinvent the wheel every day. By that I mean that when I am coming up with new ideas or problem solving an issue, I need to look to those who went before and see how I can use case studies or ideas from class discussions to solve my issue.
6. What kinds of environmental initiatives do you hope to start in your new position?
Without divulging too much, I can say that as a retailer, energy consumption (electricity and natural gas) is the main driver of Family Dollar’s resource consumption and utility bills over waste and water. I am working on developing strategies that allow our retail locations to consume less while still delivering an incredible retail experience to our customers. This role also has a personal component as Family Dollar’s motto is “My Family. My Family Dollar.” As a retailer, Family Dollar has such an influence on so many customer choices in the products that they choose to purchase. I hope to find ways to introduce our customers to a variety of environmentally friendly products in our stores in addition to the products that we already carry. Because the typical Family Dollar customer is a female head-of-household with an income of less than $40,000,our typical consumer may not be as aware of environmentally friendly products or why they should use them in their homes. Our customers are also typically very bottom line price driven, more so than other retail customers. I hope to use this information to push environmentally friendly and energy saving products into the lives of our customers through awareness campaigns in our stores, as well as changing the mix of products that we choose to sell.
7. How do you intend to utilize your degree from the MSSM program to further your career?
Without the MSSM program I would never have been so prepared for this type of position or have so many ideas. Sometimes in brainstorming session, seemingly random facts and case studies from the many courses in the MSSM program come out of my mouth that spark incredible creativity from both my colleagues and myself.
The M.S. in Sustainability Management, co-sponsored by the Earth Institute and Columbia’s School of Continuing Education, trains students to tackle complex and pressing environmental and managerial challenges. The M.S. in Sustainability Management program requires the successful completion of 36 credit points. Those credit points are divided among five comprehensive content areas: integrative sustainability management, economics and quantitative analysis, the physical dimensions of sustainability, the public policy environment of sustainability management, and general and financial management. Please visit our website to learn more about the program.