Alum Works on Embedding Sustainability into Business Operations
Andrea Gomez Vesga (Class of ’19) pursued a bachelor’s degree in Public Administration from the University Externado of Colombia. After graduation, she moved to Paris and worked as a sustainability consultant for Worldline S.A., a European leader in the e-payments industry. She later moved to New York to study Sustainability Management. During her time at Columbia University, Andrea held board positions at the Women & Sustainability Club, the Sustainability Management Consulting Club and Net Impact. In addition, she was an Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) fellow during the summer of 2018. Currently, Andrea works at ABM Industries Inc. as their corporate sustainability manager.
What is your current job, and what are the responsibilities associated with this position?
As ABM’s corporate sustainability manager, I use sustainability as a transformation vehicle to implement change within the company with a bi-fold approach. Internally, I launch discussions with different departments and set action plans to embed sustainability into internal operations and the business decision-making process. This can be from building the roadmap for sustainable procurement practices to calculating the company’s environmental footprint and creating waste management initiatives for its main offices. Externally, I’m working on developing ABM’s sustainable business portfolio within the broader facility management services that we provide to our clients. This means highlighting the environmental and social benefits from using the company’s sustainability services like waste management, installation of solar panels and electric vehicle chargers, as well as the use of environmentally friendly cleaning products. My main goal is to position ABM as a strategic partner to its clients on their journey to achieve their facilities-related sustainability goals.
Do your current responsibilities align with the professional goals that you originally had when you began the SUMA program? How?
I already had a sustainability background when I decided to enter the SUMA program. However, my background was focused more on corporate aspects like sustainability reporting and operations’ green house gas emissions accounting. Therefore, my main goal when joining the program was to acquire all the analytical and technical knowledge that I would need to better understand businesses and operations from a sustainability perspective.
Thanks to the flexibility of the program, I adapted my classes to what I was looking for and now at my work I have the tools I need to really embed sustainability into the business while being able to translate the messaging to different stakeholders with different backgrounds.
What inspired you to work in sustainability?
I’m passionate about generating impact and making things happen and I am a strong believer that we all have a responsibility to act on climate change. I think that working in sustainability is the perfect way for me to mix both. I am pushing the businesses and industry towards more responsible practices while contributing with my own positive impact on the environment.
What has been the biggest challenge associated with sustainability in your position?
Being the first full-time sustainability manager of a company that is 110 years old and has 140,000 employees is a big challenge in itself, and one of the main reasons of why this position appealed to me. It requires being passionate about challenging the status quo and changing mindsets and behaviors. However, this is also an opportunity to generate a big impact on the environment and communities where ABM operates.
For me, this is a constant exercise of “internal networking” in order to get people on-board with the implementation of sustainability initiatives. To make this happen, I understand my role as a “bridge” between the different departments that helps to connect the dots and to identify potential synergies. Finally, at the end of the day, efforts are paid off when I see that change is happening and that employees really see the added value of sustainability.
What skills has the SUMA program taught you that you think have proven useful for your job?
I think that more than skills, I learned from the SUMA program how to approach issues in a practical way. Being exposed to real life sustainability-related problems, thanks to the opportunities to do pro-bono consulting and to engage with sustainability practitioners as professors, has been very useful for my job. Through the experiences, conferences, and people I met during my experience at Columbia, I understood better the sustainability challenges that different industries might face. These were not that obvious to me coming from the IT industry and this knowledge has been instrumental in tackling the day-to-day issues I face in order to do business in a responsible way.
In the end, the SUMA program is a program that, due to its flexibility, allows you to go “the extra mile” if you really want to. Resources, people, and knowledge are there, and you decide how far you want to benefit from them.
In terms of skills, I did polish my life cycle assessment, greenhouse gas accounting, and other business and environmentally technical skills that I use in my day-to-day job.
What has been your favorite class in the SUMA program, and why?
Theory and Practice of Life Cycle Assessment, taught by Professor Christoph Meinrenken, has been the class from the SUMA program that has most contributed to my professional and personal life. I learned how to approach things by thinking out of the box and to discover the different layers within a system to be considered when performing an analysis of the environmental impact products can have.
I must say that thanks to this course, during my EDF fellowship at Evian I was able to analyze their products’ lifecycles and to develop a carbon reduction strategy for their supply chain. As a result, I won an Innovation Award for the most creative approach to reduce my host company’s carbon emissions.