In 2011, when Suzanne Wood ’11, M.S. ’12, was earning her master’s degree in environmental science and policy at Clark, less than 20% of S&P 500 companies reported on their sustainability, corporate social responsibility, or ESG (environment, social, governance) performance. Today, more than 90% of S&P 500 companies issue ESG reports as corporations and nonprofits seek to leverage their sustainable and ethical impacts to attract customers, retain employees, appeal to investors, and meet government regulations.
Wood, associate director of sustainability and campus services at UMass Chan Medical School, has watched sustainability practices evolve across industries from “nice-to-do” to “must-do” initiatives.
“The push and the fight has changed, and the traction we’ve gained for our programs has changed over eleven years,” she says. “I think Clark really prepared me to have some of those hard discussions and also prepared me to mix theory with data-driven analysis. I was ready to deliver concise, digestible information to different people at all levels of our organization.”
In addition to completing her master’s studies at Clark, Wood majored in environmental science and policy as an undergrad, with a minor in entrepreneurship and innovation. “I wanted to have a career where I felt like I could solve challenging problems,” she says. “Today, nothing is more challenging than the environmental issues we all face. I was drawn to how business can positively or negatively impact the environment, and I saw business as a way to influence change.”
Wood develops sustainability programming to increase efficiency and integrate sustainable practices across the UMass Chan campus in Worcester. She also led the planning process for the school’s 2021–2026 Sustainability and Climate Action Plan. With an increased focus on ESG performance at UMass Chan, the need to backfill her former position as sustainability and energy manager emerged, and that’s how she met Kortni Wroten, MBA/M.S. ’20.
“Kortni is a fellow Clarkie with great energy,” Wood says. “She’s very personable and can develop really strong relationships, which I was looking for in this position.”
Wroten was the sustainability coordinator for the town of Weston, Massachusetts, prior to coming to UMass Chan. “When I interviewed, I found out that Suzanne had also gone to Clark for very similar programs, so having that basis to work from is really nice,” she says. “We have a shared perspective on global issues, and a financial focus in any sort of sustainability project we undertake, which makes our efforts to get projects completed stronger and more compelling.”
Wroten credits Clark for introducing her to the concept of the three-legged stool of sustainability. “There’s people, planet, and profit, and the stool can’t stand if it’s missing one,” she says. “Clark really made the point that these don’t have to be competing interests. We can do good and support our bottom line at the same time.”
Wood says Wroten was a quick learner when she came on board — and had to be. “I hired her and promptly went on maternity leave. It was very much like, ‘Hi, here’s the download, see you in three months. Good luck!’” Wroten was able to hit the ground running to support existing initiatives, develop new ones, and foster relationships. “I think as Clarkies, we were able to align pretty quickly in terms of expectations and what our foundations for approach and methodology were,” Wood says.
Wood and Wroten are striving to translate UMass Chan’s sustainability aspirations into accomplishments, including reducing emissions, energy use, and waste.
“Suzanne has set the example for how sustainability can be the partner, not an opposing force, in important campus endeavors,” Wroten says. “It’s really gotten the ball rolling so much that there are more projects than ever before.”