In this episode of Sustainability Ambassadors, we speak with Echo Bao, Sustainability Manager at DSM, about how she developed her career in corporate sustainability. A career path that was unexpected at first, but through which her flexibility, curiosity, and ability to engage her business leaders, has allowed her to drive the value proposition of sustainability further in a company that already had a strong culture for it. For our younger viewers, who may be in the beginning of their career, she has some advice for you in the final third of the conversation. Advice that is spot on.
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Echo joined DSM China in 2012 as Strategy & Sustainability Program Specialist. She is leading DSM’s sustainability program in China, regional sustainability reporting and related stakeholder engagement. Prior to joining DSM, Echo worked in business development areas for food ingredients and biotechnology for eight years.
For more stories like Echo’s, and to learn how to foster similar leaders in your own company, check out our Building a Sustainability Ambassador Network Report.
About Sustainability Ambassador Series
Sustainability Ambassadors is a video series that we hope will not only engage and inspire you, but catalyze you and your organization into action: to identify those with the potential to rise and think outside the box, and build a collaborate community of such people that can help your organization forge new paths of longevity and evolve into something powerful.
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For more insights on Sustainability Ambassadors, and to learn how to foster champions who can take your organization beyond business as usual, check out our Building a Sustainability Ambassador Network Report.
- June 17 – Chitra Hepburn, Senior Strategy Executive, ESG, Sustainability and CSR
- June 24 – Dr. Lu Jianzhong, Partner at Brunswick Group
- July 1 – Sandra Durrant, Director of Responsible Sourcing at Target
- July 8 – Sharon Xiao, APAC Sustainabilty Manager at UPM
- July 15 – Michelle Garnaut, M on The Bund
- July 22 – Yue Cao, Seeking Opportunity in Sustainability
- July 29 – Nitin Dani, Director at Green Initiatives
- August 12 – Raymond Fang, Sustainability Director at APP
- August 26 – Echo Bao, Strategic & Sustainability Program at DSM
- September 2 – Patrick Riley, VP of Global Accounts at Interface
- September 9 – Roy Zhang, Asia Director of Sustainability and CSR at UTC
FULL INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT
RICH: Welcome everyone and thank you for joining another episode. Today I’m here with Echo Bao, who was the sustainability manager of DSM.
Today, were we talking about her career in sustainability, and how she got into it.
We’re going to talk a little bit about what her goals are and how she engages internally and externally to get her work done on a daily basis.
RICH: Could you do me a favor and give us a 30 second introduction about yourself and what you do.
ECHO: My name’s Echo, and I work for DSM. I’m mainly in charge of facility issues affairs in China, so my role is to coordinate all the work in areas of supply chain in the business and functions be interface between internal and external stakeholders
RICH: How big is the sustainability team? Does DSM have a global sustainability group staff? And then you oversee all a country level?
ECHO: Yep, so there’s a team about five to six persons, at the global level, and at the country level there are a mix of part-time employees who support the strategy.
RICH: What’s your job on a day-to-day basis as a sustainability person in the company? What do you “do” on a daily basis?
ECHO: For daily basis, I think I’m many work on the project base to find out what is the industry driver for business, be it high-level drivers, from policy, from regulation, from industry association, even from our customers.
Then I try to interpret these trends and explain them internally in a way that engages our business leaders, and business development managers, so that we can then develop programs and strategies to exploit the opportunities
RICH: How important is for you as a sustainability manager to understand those trends?
ECHO: Very important. Each quarter will pull our efforts together insights from different angles, especially from the government, to make some interpretations and then translate into opportunities.
RICH: If you look at foreign companies versus domestic companies, who does sustainability better right now? And do they have different definitions of sustainability?
ECHO: I don’t think local companies have a very clear definition on sustainability, but local companies change very fast and adapt very fast to the situation to the environments.
Multinationals have a lot of procedures to go through, so in that way we could react to slower.
RICH: When you talk with business unit leaders, about sustainability, what’s their first response? How has that changed over the last four years?
ECHO: Good question. Four years ago when I got this job, the response is very different. They used to say sustainability was off their priority list, but now they’ll come up to us and say whether you could help us.
RICH: So what’s changed? Why did they change from “oh it doesn’t matter” to a “It’s a priority”? in four year?
ECHO: I would say the pressure throughout the customers from the government For business leaders they’re very practical, and more focused on the short-term business. Every month they will need to make the budgets, which is understandable.
But now customers talk more and more about sustainability, customers even push for the government like the environmental things, like the emissions, what to use, the waste of water.
So, they will feel that atmosphere more and more from the customer side, and for some key customers very, very big top brand they are also free of pressure from the public drive.
RICH: So, in your mind, who’s the most powerful force? That is, it, government? customers? public? or is it a leader? Who in your experience has been the most powerful force to drive these topics forward?
ECHO: I think all are important, depending on the industry. For some industry like food, consumers definitely hold the most power. For others, like resource intensive/ exrative industries, government pressure is the main driver for them.
RICH: Okay, what is it like being a sustainability manager in China? I mean is this a unique place that in itself because of its own challenges with the environment with food safety does that make your job easier being in a country like this where you have all the challenges already here are people more interested in learning about it from your company’s side or maybe you know just in your own and your own network?
ECHO: For China it’s much easier to pick up the topic with the business leaders. They now say sustainabiltiyt is something we should be driving, and they have clear ideas about how to do it.
Unlike outside China where people are quite worried about the changes in the US/ EU.
RICH: And how do you kind of move your own agenda forward? How can you help the business sell using sustainable messaging? Like what’s the most effective for you as a, as an individual in the organization?
ECHO: Well individually, we work with the business where it’s mandatory, but for originating business there is an opportunity for them to creatively capture the value or even create value for their clients.
RICH: Does that mean that you go to sales meetings with them? Or you help them write proposals or you just send them information and the infographics and they put that into their own proposals?
ECHO: We see our role is very unique because we cover all the bases in China, and then we see cross business opportunities from within.
RICH: And what’s one of the challenges that you meet and trying to do that, then? It sounds like it’s that’s a hard process sometimes. What are some of the challenges that you’ve met?
ECHO: Sometimes you find opportunities and the people will say “Okay that’s good and looks the potential, looks profitable, but maybe it’s not our focus area and we already have our homes and then no I would like to take the ownership for that” so that’s what be vertical each challenge.
RICH: What are some of the skills that you think that you, you know if you’re talking to someone who is you know 28 to 32 years old just starting their career in sustainability, what are some skills that you think are valuable for those individuals to know? when they’re coming into this experience.
ECHO: Okay, first thing is ask yourself “what’s your interest?”, and how can you combine that into your job. Then, for me, I would like to have a big picture of what sustainability is and because I have the research background, back to my master program, I use it to do a lot of research, a read through literature.
The third thing is to find your mentor. My first mentor was in the IP department. She knew the technology, the people, and she could help me draw the organizational setup and identify who should be best contact.