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Transcript- Episode 118: How Educating Existing & Future Workforce On Green Technologies Can Change The World With Jaime Nack President At Three Squares Inc. Episode 118

Apr 23, 2024

00:00:00 Jaime

If there was a way to both create the tools and make the systems, whether it's your energy bill, your waste management company - if all of those pieces were magically uploaded into a cloud-based system and you were able to access your data at your fingertips, you'd be able to see where your biggest areas for opportunities for reductions lie, and then be able to tackle it that way.


00:00:20 Jaime

But I think without that view into where your data lies, it's hard to understand how to make the best decisions.


00:00:30 Christina

The workforce landscape is rapidly changing, and educators and their institutions need to keep up. Preparing students before they enter the workforce to make our communities and businesses stronger is at the core of getting an education.


00:00:43 Christina

But we need to understand how to change and adjust so that we can begin to project where things are headed before we even get there. So, how do we begin to predict the future?


00:00:55 Salvatrice

Hi, I'm Salvatrice Cummo, Vice President of Economic and Workforce Development at Pasadena City College, and host of this podcast.


00:01:03 Christina

And I'm Christina Barsi, producer and co-host of this podcast.


00:01:07 Salvatrice

And we are starting the conversation about the future of work. We'll explore topics like how education can partner with industry, how to be more equitable, and how to attain one of our highest goals: more internships and PCC students in the workforce.


00:01:21 Salvatrice

We at Pasadena City College want to lead the charge in closing the gap between what our students are learning and what the demands of the workforce will be once they enter. This is a conversation that impacts all of us. You, the employers, the policymakers, the educational institutions, and the community as a whole.


00:01:41 Christina

We believe change happens when we work together and it all starts with having a conversation. I'm Christina Barsi.


00:01:48 Salvatrice

And I'm Salvatrice Cummo, and this is the Future of Work.


00:01:52 Salvatrice

Hi everyone, and welcome back to the Future of Work podcast. I am your host Salvatrice Cummo. Today, we'll be focusing on the importance of pivoting to green technologies for both public and private agencies. We will also be diving into how policies should reflect the changes that need to happen in order to make sure that we are on the path to a sustainable future.


00:02:13 Salvatrice

With that being said, we are fortunate to welcome Jaime Nack, Founder and President of Three Squares Incorporated, an award-winning sustainability and environmental social, and corporate governance consulting firm.


00:02:24 Salvatrice

Ms. Nack has an extensive background and has served as a director of sustainability for events such as the Global Climate Action Summit and the last four U.S. Democratic National Conventions from 2008 to 2020. She was named Environmental Conservator of the year by the U.S. Small Business Administration and named a young global leader by the World Economic Forum. Thank you so much for joining us, Ms. Nack, how are you?


00:02:52 Jaime

I'm wonderful. Thank you for inviting me onto the show. I'm excited for the discussion.


00:02:57 Salvatrice

Great. Thank you. If you don't mind, let's just dive on in here.


00:03:00 Jaime

Let's do it. I'm ready.


00:03:02 Salvatrice

Very good. You know, our audience is always curious about what has led a professional to their point. And so, I'd like to ask you, if you can share with us what led you really on the path to working in environmental, social, and corporate governance, and why is this something that continues to be of interest to you?


00:03:21 Jaime

So, my path was not an A to B path. There were a lot of twists and turns along the way. I would say that what I did then and what I continue to do, is to follow my passion and follow areas that are important to me and areas that I'm interested in. And impact and finding ways to positively impact the landscape around me has always been something I've been passionate about.


00:03:41 Jaime

So, I studied international economics, and then I minored in public policy. And then I went back and got a master's in public policy. So, at the time, I thought that policy might be the way that I would shape my impact, but at the time, the field of sustainability, the sustainability word was not a buzzword back then.


00:03:58 Jaime

So, it was early days. If I would've chosen a different path, more aligned with what I do now, it would've probably shown up as like environmental science or engineering, those types of things. And I didn't really realize that this clean tech space or this corporate sustainability space would emerge and would be where I landed, but I'm super happy that I did.


00:04:16 Jaime

I ended up one of my first jobs right out of college, undergrad, was for the city of Santa Monica, where I live and where my office is today. And I worked in the community programs office as a program supervisor. So, one of the programs that I ran was Coastal Cleanup Day, which was this massive, 3,000-person beach cleanup in Santa Monica.


00:04:35 Jaime

And we worked with cultural groups and community groups all across Los Angeles, brought them to the beach. In some cases, some of the youth and older members had never even been to the beach before. And they only lived 30 minutes away, for example. So, we helped educate and make those connections that when you throw something away, inland, it goes in a storm drain and gets washed away out to the ocean and into our Marine or beach environment.


00:04:59 Jaime

And so, that kind of lit a spark for me around the way to both educate and engage others around their environmental impact. And so, made my way over to environmental consulting, worked my way up to management-level role within another environmental consulting firm that heavily focused on clean transportation. And I loved the work that we did there, but I wanted to expand.


00:05:19 Jaime

And so, back in 2008, I went out on my own and launched Three Squares Inc, to be a corporate sustainability consulting firm. And at the time, there were very few competitors in the space in terms of marketing themselves as a sustainability consulting firm. And so, it was definitely more of a blue ocean to step into, but it's been an exciting 14 years ever since.


00:05:40 Salvatrice

Excellent. Thank you. And within your firm, have you seen industry collaborations push sustainability even further than individual companies or are you seeing it vice versa?


00:05:52 Jaime

Definitely. And I look at that as the sweet spot, is when you can get companies that would normally look at each other as competitors, and instead, see each other as peers that can help in this journey together beyond the journey together.


00:06:04 Jaime

So, for example, one of our clients is Universal Music Group in the music industry space. And so, they are one of the top three majors (that's what they call them) - the majors within the music industry. And it's been exciting to see the other two majors. So, Universal Sony, and Warner come together and really lead their industry to form this music climate pact.


00:06:23 Jaime

And so, instead of just saying, okay, let's each tackle this on our own in a silo, just in my own corporation, we can go further and faster if we do it together. And so, we've been supporting that work and it's been exciting to see both the music industry go this way. We've seen automotive, we're also working on a similar initiative in fashion and retail as well.


00:06:41 Salvatrice

Are you seeing that there are certain sectors that are focusing more on this than other, or have more of an interest in it than other areas? Or do you feel that it's really kind of across the board, it's showing up in its own way?


00:06:55 Jaime

I think within private industry and thankfully, due to the government's focus on this as well, on the policy scape side of things, we're seeing it across the board. So, we're industry-agnostic. We work with all different types of companies, all different sizes, all different industries. So, Nike, Honda, Lamborghini, United Airlines, Microsoft, HP, Universal Music - you know, we cross from tech to fashion, to automotive, to airlines.


00:07:17 Jaime

So, this is something that's being looked at as it's not a nice to have anymore, it's a must-have. And regulation is pushing that way, but consumer demand is also pushing that way as well, too. So, in order to meet the demands of your customers and your clients, and the consumer who's buying your product, you need to show that you're walking the talk.


00:07:35 Salvatrice

I was thinking about when you were sharing those insights just now, I was thinking about are there current trends really kind of leading businesses and policy in this space? And so, I just heard you say it's not just policy, but it's the consumer as well. Is there anything in the pipeline as it relates to policy that we should be really taking a closer look


00:07:54 Jaime

Definitely. The UK and the EU is always a couple of steps ahead of us when it comes to environmental legislation and regulation. It's always interesting to see what takes shape over there, because usually, it ends up taking shape over here in the U.S. just a couple years later.


00:08:09 Jaime

So, the EU has created something called the EU Taxonomy and the UK, as well, is following suit in terms of requiring the largest publicly listed companies to report on both measuring their carbon footprint and showing that they have programs in place to manage and mitigate climate risk.


00:08:27 Jaime

And so, just a couple of weeks ago, the SCC here in the U.S. announced a proposed ruling saying that we are also going to see that same type of requirement here in the U.S. for large publicly listed companies to both measure their carbon footprint, track it, and then have a plan at the board and executive level to mitigate climate risk moving forward.


00:08:48 Jaime

A good example I know that might have sounded a little bit wonky, but an example that I'll share with you, it's a real-life example in the UK - Land Rover, Jaguar, committed 500 million pounds to build a brand-new diesel and gasoline engine factory in the UK. And that factory opened their doors May 2020. November 2020, UK announced legislation that in a couple of years, you'll no longer be able to sell diesel or gasoline-powered vehicles - electric vehicles only.


00:09:16 Jaime

So, had that board or that management team done this scenario analysis and climate risk and regulation risk assessment, they would've seen that 500 million pounds in a diesel engine factory is not the best move, especially when it opens the same year that those products essentially are going to be outlawed in country.


00:09:33 Salvatrice

Right. The shift that we're seeing now, more than ever for the obvious reasons, thinking about the trends within green technologies, what are we seeing there? Is there anything that speaks to you loudly when we think about the trends in green technologies, any examples that you could potentially share?


00:09:51 Jaime

I would say the sexier or flashier ones tend to focus around carbon removal and direct air carbon capture, those types of things, there's a fascinating project in Iceland. And I think part of the reason why there's so much focus on those technologies is this need to measure your footprint, and then account for reducing your footprint.


00:10:08 Jaime

If you're pumping millions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere and you can't figure out ways of reducing quickly, the next best thing is to invest in these technologies that then remove that carbon from the atmosphere. So, I can see why they're popular.


00:10:22 Jaime

The challenge is they are very capital intensive, so they're very expensive to stand up, they're very new. So, there are no standards really focused on auditing or verifying that those tons are captured or removed. And so, that's all coming down the pipeline. The focus on renewable energy. So, solar, wind, geothermal, that has been a focus for the last, I would say, 10 years, which has been great.


00:10:43 Jaime

I would say the missing focus is on efficiency. So, a lot of times, onsite renewables, like putting solar panels on your roof or a wind turbine in a field might not make sense. You might not have that roof space or that field space. But if you can dial in through efficiency gains and use passive lighting, and like all of my window blinds are open here - I don't have a selfie light on, this is just pure natural light.


00:11:07 Jaime

And so, if you're able to find those efficiency gains throughout your operations, in some cases, reduce more that way versus investing in heavy capital projects like onsite renewables.


00:11:18 Salvatrice

Are you seeing a shift or trends in how we prepare the new talent for these green technologies? You know, our community colleges and just higher education, certainly, we have a focus around sustainability and environmental programs, etc. But the only way that it'll really work is staying true to the changes and the trends that are happening within the workforce, so that we are truly preparing the new talent for these new green technology occupations.


00:11:47 Jaime

So, is there anything that we need to change? I think as educators, as policymakers, as even industry leaders and thought leaders, is there anything that we need to change in order to prepare this new workforce into these green technologies?


00:12:03 Jaime

Definitely. I think part of it is just that this is such a new space that is rapidly evolving that just to keep up, I read hundreds of articles every day. And I think it's important for those who are graduating or those who are seeking education in the space to make sure that what they are learning is current.


00:12:19 Jaime

So, I was recently asked to speak to a group of board-level executives that were taking an exec ed course on board management from a very popular Ivy League school. They asked me to do an hour on ESG, and I know you mentioned ESG earlier. It stands for Environment, Social, and Governance, and that's the category or the set of criteria that has been developed that investors really look to, to rate and measure how a company's doing across those three areas.


00:12:45 Jaime

And so, I gave this hour-long session to this group who was taking this board exec ed class. And the responses that I received later is that they learned more in that one-hour session from someone like me, who practices and works on this 10 hours a day, every day with various clients than they did from the six-week exec ed course that they took.


00:13:04 Jaime

And what I said to that was, I don't blame the professors because this is such a new and evolving space that unless you're really staying up-to-date, it is hard to be able to speak and give case studies just off the cuff as I do. But I do think that there is something to be said about the need for education, to keep up with the pace of this evolving industry, because we need people.


00:13:25 Jaime

There's a huge demand for trained people in this field. And what I would say is that every time we go out to hire, it's impossible to find anyone, even if they have a master's degree or a Ph.D. who actually has experience doing the work. And so, I think the more that we can both, in the classroom, train, and also, provide that apprenticeship internship experience so that students are graduating with case studies of their own to share, the better off they'll be to enter the workforce.


00:13:54 Salvatrice

Excellent. It kind of leads me to think about long-term fellowship approaches to work-based learning and makes me think about faculty externships. It makes me think about really how we reformat and reexamine our advisory committee participation, the way our curriculum is designed and how instruction is provided. And there's lots of room here, especially in an evolving, rapidly growing sector or economy like the green economy where it changes daily.


00:14:21 Salvatrice

And I think that (and I'm sure you're seeing this now), is that we need to prepare our workforce for this evolving economy. But on the flip side of that token is really helping our businesses kind of shift and hold the same level of interest when it comes to sustainability to a really high standard. And how do we get that shift? How do we shift the business mindset?


00:14:45 Salvatrice

You know, it is costly. I'm assuming that when a business shifts their operations, their structure, just in general, how they conduct business and how they produce, there's a level of high-cost involved in that, I think in the upfront: the employee training, equipments - how do we get our businesses to hold the same high-level of standard when it comes to sustainability?


00:15:09 Salvatrice

You know, other than saying, like how do we get them to pay attention? This is not going away and we need their help.


00:15:15 Jaime

There's a lot of upside there. And we just had a conversation actually with a client in New Zealand where we were conducting an ESG assessment there. And they were saying how they understand that ESG is important to the company, they've been told that, but then decisions are made that aren't necessarily aligned.


00:15:30 Jaime

And he gave an example around work from home that they've said that everyone needs to come back to the offices across all of their offices countrywide. And this individual said, "I don't understand. We were more effective, had greater earnings during the period when they were in work from home."


00:15:45 Jaime

And then I pointed out, and the carbon savings from lack of employee commute every day to and from an office, lack of turning the lights on every day in your offices and the falling waste and providing drinks and all of the things that they do in their offices, that all went away when they were in a hundred percent work from home mode.


00:16:02 Jaime

So, a lot of the business decisions, whether it's around energy efficiency and swapping out light bulbs, and the new bulbs will last 10 plus years, or these work from home, or even taking a four-day work week, having one day off and longer days, those types of decisions can have financial gains. They can have productivity and employee happiness and retention gains, and then environmental gains.


00:16:25 Jaime

A lot of what we try to do is find the sweet spot where you can have the plus-plus-plus across all of those areas. We are a small business, so we're a certified, small certified women-owned business from day one. And we've also been a certified green business here in the city of Santa Monica.


00:16:40 Jaime

And what I would say is those types of programs like city and the state, California also has a green business network. Those programs offer resources for free for the businesses that are going through this certification process. And it's a great resource.


00:16:54 Jaime

For example, in Santa Monica, when they come out to do the audit, they bring air raiders for your faucets. They bring light bulb, they'll often bring those types of things, which is great. And it helps the small businesses as well.


00:17:05 Salvatrice

I was just thinking, as you're speaking, do the businesses know what's possible? Do they know what are creative solutions within their space?


00:17:13 Jaime

I don't think so. I mean, I was just commenting similarly around with finances. I just drove down main street because we had a team lunch before we were here and it is called Main Street in Santa Monica. And I was noticing so many of the businesses closed during the COVID period.


00:17:26 Jaime

And it saddens me because I guarantee you they could have applied for PPP or other support programs, which I went through that process as a small business owner. Not only worked to figure it out, but then did some webinars for my alma mater, UCLA, and some other small business centers just to get the word out on the street so that it wasn't such a challenge to access that funding.


00:17:47 Jaime

But I think so many small business owners are so overwhelmed just keeping the train on the tracks that finding out all of these areas for new resources can be a challenge or overwhelming.


00:17:57 Salvatrice

It is. And I think to your point, there are many resources out there, but it's about how do we amplify really the resources that are there to share what is possible, not only from a business solutions perspective or through a business solutions lens, but also, through an ESG lens, what is possible? What can they do? How do we better inform our businesses so that internally, they can think about sustainability,


00:18:23 Jaime

What I would say is the local resources are usually the best because they're aligned with local policies and local rebates. So, that's always fun. A lot of the local utility companies and city programs, whether it's related to landscaping or irrigation, water in California is a big one - the more that you can find what your local green business programs and resources are, the better, because then, you'll figure out what rebates and what incentives you can apply for as a business owner.


00:18:47 Salvatrice

Right. Now, I have to ask you this question, and you don't have to answer it, but I'm really super curious. Is that if you had a magic wand on policy and how we get our businesses to rise up to the occasion and evolve, what would it be for you, Jaime? What do we need to see to see true impactful change?


00:19:05 Jaime

I would say it's something related to the pain point of data collection, because there's a saying, Peter Drucker, that you can't manage what you don't measure. And so, a lot of the challenge is around that measurement component, both for large companies and small.


00:19:19 Jaime

So, for the large companies, a big portion of their footprint is their supply chain, which can be medium to small size companies. For the medium to small size companies, they're being asked questionnaire after questionnaire to fill out information about their footprint and about what they're doing, but they don't have the data.


00:19:36 Jaime

And so, I think if there was a way to both create the tools and make the systems, whether it's your energy bill, your waste management company, if all of those pieces were magically uploaded into a cloud-based system, and you were able to access your data at your fingertips, you'd be able to see where your biggest areas for opportunities for reductions lie, and then be able to tackle it that way. But I think without that view into where your data lies, it's hard to understand how to make the best decisions.


00:20:04 Salvatrice

I can see it really being complicated or overwhelming.


00:20:07 Jaime

And I know I've been focusing on environment and E, S, and G, the S part, the people part also includes diversity, equity, and inclusion, is a very important part. And when I talk about data and the gaps there, that's a super interesting space because for different regulatory reasons in different countries, you might not always be legally allowed to ask about someone's gender, ethnicity, etc.


00:20:30 Jaime

And so, because of that, the data's missing. And so, when we want to have transparency around a workforce makeup or transparency around pay, and pay equity, if you don't have that data, you have no way of knowing if you're doing well, or if you're doing really poorly in terms of equity there.


00:20:46 Jaime

And so, I wanted to flag that as well, because it's not just about environment, it's also about the social. And then governances around ethics and conflicts of interest and whistle-blowing and board diversity. So, there are lots of different areas here where the more you know, the more you're able to then unveil opportunities for really enhancing programs in those areas.


00:21:05 Salvatrice

Very true. And in the spirit really kind of this Future of Work Podcast, would that be your one thing that you would want our listeners to really understand is that this is not single-sided, there's multiple sides to what we're sharing here, as it relates to ESG, is that the one thing? And are there other conversations we need to be having that we're not hearing right now as it relates to the future of work in this space?


00:21:31 Jaime

The other point I would like to make is to think about how you can apply this ESG lens or call it impact lens to your spend. So, every company has a profit and loss statement. You can see exactly where your money's going, whether it's on the people that you employ, and that's where we talk about the pay equity piece, or whether it's on your supply chain and buying products or paper or computers, or all of the different things you need to do your business.


00:21:56 Jaime

And the more that you can apply this lens to your spend, the greater the impact you can have as a company. So, it could be simple things. Like we work with a lot of companies that have a list of caterers that they book lunches and dinners and parties and those types of things from, and they had never even thought about whether those caterers are local, small businesses, women-owned business, minority-owned businesses, are they serving sustainable food and how are they serving it?


00:22:22 Jaime

So, asking those questions and really thinking about how you can apply this impact lens over your spend is another way to start to think about it as a small business as well.


00:22:31 Salvatrice

That's an excellent start because oftentimes, we find as small business owners as employers in general, we don't feel the need to sometimes evolve or change or look at practices differently until it hits the pocketbook. I had never thought about it that way. And I really appreciate you saying that because it really is through that lens of the finances, and does it make sense.


00:22:54 Salvatrice

What are some small, yet impactful measures we can make just by viewing our profit and loss statement?


00:23:01 Jaime

Yeah, and even just before you go out and you're looking at your budget for next year and you're like we always spend 5,000 or 10,000, whatever it is, on computers, let's say - do you need to buy new equipment? The monitor that I'm looking at your beautiful face for this podcast is something that we purchased off of next door. So, off of a neighbor in the community who was selling this beautiful Thunderbolt, Apple monitor, which works really well as we plug it into our laptops and we're good to go.


00:23:24 Jaime

So, we could have spent twice as much on a brand new monitor, or we could keep this monitor out of the landfill. And so, I think that's something to think about too, is this focus on always spending and buying new items. And I think the younger generations are really boosting up the eBays of the world or the secondhand markets online of the world because they see the consumerism and where it's gotten us. And they're like, there's so much stuff out there that still has life in it, why don't we just go ahead and support that and save money at the same time.


00:23:53 Salvatrice

I love that idea. This community-based platforms, marketplaces are true solutions to not only personal things, but business solutions as well. There's plenty of business solutions on those community marketplaces. As a business owner, you might not think that that's really a positive step into a solution in this greater issue that we're trying to solve, but it's really these small, yet impactful measures.


00:24:15 Salvatrice

I really appreciate the feedback. I appreciate the lens that you shared. That was my huge takeaway. This podcast is about future of work and developing new talent and upskilling existing talent. We talked about the social part. I didn't touch on it today, but I'm really interested in what do we do with our existing workforce? How do we shift the mindset and the practices of our existing workforce, that's spearheaded by the employer? However, what can the employee do differently to help the greater cause? That we may not have thought about.


00:24:49 Jaime

I think in the same way that oftentimes we hear about children or kids nudge the parents in a certain direction, like "Mom, dad, you have to recycle that. What are you doing?" You know, we've seen the same thing happen with employees to employers. So, employees usually are the first ones to say, "We're not walking the talk. And I see that our lights are on all day long in the parking lot and it's light outside. Why do we have lights on in the parking lot?"


00:25:11 Jaime

Like they're the ones who report and point these things out, because they see it and it doesn't make sense to them. And so, I think allowing them to have the agency to speak up and to come forward with ideas or to create green teams or green ambassador programs so that it also opens up the door for another leadership or professional development opportunity for those who are interested in this space.


00:25:32 Jaime

Again, it's a win-win-win, because you're employees are happy, they feel more involved. They go home and they have something to talk about and be proud about that they implemented at work and your company's able to reap the savings of not having the lights on all day in the garage.


00:25:47 Salvatrice

Sure. And they're solution-based. They are part of a solution team, part of a creative team, a think tank of sorts. And that leads to a whole nother conversation of just about engagement and employee purpose and why they're choosing to work in that space.


00:26:01 Salvatrice

But I'll tell you what, Jaime, this has been wonderful. I really, really appreciate the time that you've taken to share your thoughts around ESG and your firm, and the trends that you're seeing. And I really look forward to seeing more of your work and I'll be following you.


00:26:17 Jaime

Oh, thank you.


00:26:18 Salvatrice

And speaking of which, how and where is the best place to reach you that we could include in our show notes?


00:26:25 Jaime

So, LinkedIn is my professional network. My door is open there. So, Jaime Nack on LinkedIn, and then for the firm, Three Squares Inc, it's spelled out T-H-R-E-E S-Q-U-A-R-E-S I-N-C. At Three Squares Inc, you can find us on Facebook, on Instagram, on Twitter. We have a pretty active social media posting.


00:26:43 Jaime

And the other thing I would mention is, it's such an exciting time to be in this space. There's so much interest. And like I said, it's moving quickly. So, every day, is a new and exciting day, but even the other fields that are developing at the same time, like crypto and NFTs, I get a call a week about doing an environmental impact assessment on a crypto project or an NFT project.


00:27:04 Jaime

And so, as technology's evolving, now, they're realizing that there's an environmental footprint associated with it. And so, it's something where it's not ignored anymore. It's actually surfaced as soon as these newer technologies are coming to life. And that's really exciting to see too.


00:27:19 Salvatrice

Absolutely. Well, that would be definitely another topic for a podcast. Well, thank you so much, Jaime. Again, it's been a pleasure and I look forward to seeing more of you here in this space.


00:27:33 Jaime

Sounds great. Thank you so much for having me.


00:27:35 Salvatrice

Thank you.


00:27:36 Salvatrice

Thank you for listening to the Future of Work podcast. Make sure you're subscribed on your favorite listening platform so you can easily get new episodes every Tuesday.


00:27:46 Salvatrice

You can reach out to us by clicking on the website link below in the show notes to collaborate, partner, or just chat about all things future of work. We'd love to connect with you.


00:27:46 Salvatrice

All of us here at the Future of Work and Pasadena City College wish you safety and wellness.