Please tell us about your journey from being an environmental engineer to becoming the co-founder and CEO of Voiz Academy? How did your diverse experiences shape your perspective on climate and sustainability?
My career was a long, wonderful detour that eventually took me back to my original destination: helping the planet. I woke up one morning having an epiphany. I wanted to work on climate during the balance of my (now-extended) career, to help create a sustainable world for future generations. My venture is a climate and ESG skills training platform. Think, "General Assembly", but in support of sustainability transformation instead of digital.
I’m fortunate that I “came back home” in time to make an impact as a late-career founder. I arrived in climate with loads of experience in investing, venture, tech, and consulting, as well as having taught real-world investing skills. Much of this experience was esoteric - you can ask me about credit default swaps or HIPAA regulations! I needed a way to make sense of it all, to direct it at solving climate problems. As you can imagine, I thought that could be challenging, but it turns out it wasn’t.
That’s because of my career start at BCG. That experience gave me the ability to ask, “What does this all mean? How can I solve climate change? And what advice should I give?” At BCG, I acquired an allergy to “template thinking.” I remember having to analyze projects from a fresh perspective, without preconceived notions about the problem or solution. It turns out climate and ESG are incredibly complex. By comparison, being a portfolio manager is easy—you only have to think about returns. Sustainability, instead, is multidimensional, interconnected, and layers on top of profit maximization. It encompasses issues of technology, organizational design, marketing strategy, data, values, environmental science, equity, policy, and, of course, investing. The stakes are incredibly high. I tell our training participants it’s rocket science. That’s why the space needs a wave of talented people to come in and figure it out. I’m glad to have the opportunity to catalyze and support that wave through my venture.
How did your experience in the healthtech sector influence your approach to sustainability and climate-related initiatives?
Interesting question. When I went into healthtech, I asked an exec at one of the top Electronic Health Record companies for advice on my data venture. They told me, “Great idea. Just remember, health care is where great ideas come to die.” The sector’s inertia can be tough on innovators. It’s rife with risk aversion, regulation, agency problems, information asymmetries—a catalogue of market failures. The root cause is that it’s difficult to manage profits and people’s complex health problems at the same time. Sustainability shares that same nature. Corporations, in a sense, are charged with managing the health of the planet. That mandate is most often at odds with their central directive. The result is greenwashing, mis-channeling of investment, and shortfalls that will eventually impact all of us. It all needs to get sorted out through fresh thinking and new approaches. At the same time, innovation needs to mesh with today’s reality, and it must forge a viable path from today’s point A to a sustainable point B. Being rigorous about the path, rather than just the endpoint, is what health care taught me.
You’ve discussed the concept of "sustainability transformation" on your social profiles and how it will impact the workforce, with Gen Z leading the way. How is Voiz Academy positioned to prepare the next-generation workforce with real-world sustainability, climate, and ESG skills?
Sustainability transformation happens when the societal imperative to fix climate impacts most business decisions: the way products are made, what we invest in, how we engage and retain employees, our brand transparency and authenticity. It will create leaders and laggards. The closer we get to climate impact—and 2023 has been a banner year—the more real this imperative becomes to managers.
Here's the thing to realize about Gen Z. Humans have been around for a couple hundred thousand years. In all that time, roughly 10,000 generations have walked the earth. Only one gets to be born with an awareness of tripping planetary boundaries, grow up expecting that to be avoided, and live with the effects of failing. I think it makes them into natural, clear-eyed analysts of the situation. That’s what happens when you have so much skin in the game. This has big implications for the future of work.
The reason has to do with the workplace demographic mix. When Millennials arrived in the workplace, they were the first climate-focused generation. And they were alone, just a minority compared to the Gen Xers and Boomers that ran the place. Gen Z’s arrival is completely different. By 2025, they will comprise 27% of the workforce. That means Gen Z and Millennials will dominate the workforce, and Millennials will start to be in charge. My thesis is that Gen Z will “reignite” Millennial urgency, because Gen Z has higher expectations about corporate progress and less to lose. This will all happen in a few short years, leaving managers to wonder how they can engage and retain this generational combo.
At Voiz Academy, our mandate is to help early to mid-career professionals—that combo—to be the best clear-eyed analysts of climate and ESG possible. That means deeply understanding the challenges, thinking critically and creatively about the optimal solutions, and using sound judgment to give trusted advice. We do this by asking participants to work as “climate analysts.” That means evaluating and rating actual products, net-zero plans, and funds for their sustainability and climate impact. It’s a new frame—not compliance, not reporting, not ESG “risk management.” Instead, it’s figuring out how corporations are solving climate problems, and leading or lagging behind the climate economy. I liken it to the early “benchmarking” stages of a strategy case, or the work of a Wall Street analyst in rating a stock (something that is second nature to me).
How can academic institutions better prepare students for the sustainability challenges of the future?
I think there’s too much focus on environmental science. That may seem counterintuitive coming from a “climate warrior,” but it’s because of my business education. I believe sustainability is a business discipline, one rooted in the understanding of business processes and strategy first, and how they impact the planet second. Academic institutions need to train people in life-cycle analysis, sustainable portfolio construction, decarbonization of operations, renewable energy analysis, sustainable purchasing, scaling regenerative agriculture, and marketing green products—not as one-off electives but as a holistic business discipline. I can honestly say that we won’t have a sustainable planet unless business and economics experience a transformation. There are some positive signs, some obvious leaders. That said, one big reason we launched Voiz Academy is we believe academia will not move fast enough. That opens up an opportunity, and a responsibility, for edtech and “future of work” venture founders to step in.
What advice do you have for young professionals and students who are interested in pursuing careers related to sustainability and climate impact? How can they best prepare themselves for the changing landscape of work?
First, realize that sustainability is a challenging field, one that is growing and changing. You can’t just jump in, expect progress, and then get disappointed. If you don’t lead the change from inside corporations, it won’t happen. I understand that’s unfair. It’s also an opportunity. Careers will be made on the back of the empathetic leadership, and the ingenuity, that it will take to solve these challenges. Don’t expect, or accept, that the previous “compliance mindset” will keep firms competitive in the climate economy. The playbook is being written now, and you’ll get a chance to co-author it. That’s exciting, and worth the effort. Lastly, don’t overlook venture. Even if entrepreneurship is not on your radar, understand that a good portion of climate solutions will emerge from startups. It’s worth figuring out how you could fit into that landscape.
Please share a success story or a notable impact Voiz Academy has had on individuals or organizations when it comes to incorporating climate skills into their work.
We get inspired every time one of our 1,400 alumni contacts us to say we were instrumental in their landing a great job. Fortunately, it happens quite often. One example: In our Climate and Net Zero Analyst program, all students evaluate Unilever’s plan the first week. Recently one graduate told us a key job interview revolved around a discussion of their Unilever rating—where the company was strong, where it lagged behind, and what it could do better. As a result, they landed a coveted job at a climate consulting firm. What we do is give participants real industry experience as analysts. That way, they show up to interviews as peers, not “applicants.” It’s a bit like expecting a BCG consultant to hold their own with an experienced client from the first interaction—I remember how important that was at the time! I feel fortunate that I get to bring BCG experiences like that to meaningful, exciting climate work.