Reflections from the Net Impact Conference

A MITASC story contributed by Tessa Weiss

Attending the Net Impact Conference was a valuable and eye-opening experience for me. At the beginning of each day of the conference we heard from speakers actively working in their communities to make both a positive social and environmental impact. From speakers describing their work making coats that double as sleeping bags for the homeless, to starting a national gun violence awareness and policy activism group, to developing meatless alternatives to traditional meat products, we heard from people sharing a passion and creativity for thinking beyond the status quo and striving to make a difference in their niche. We then broke out into smaller sessions for the rest of the day. The sessions I chose to attend primarily focused on the responsibility of corporations in fostering sustainable behavior, the role of corporations to speak out on climate policy, shareholders versus stakeholders in a company, and impact investing.

Since the conference, I have been fascinated by the role of corporations in driving progress on climate and have had many conversations about the balance between corporation and the individual in creating change. A central question I have been grappling with is which entity is responsible for initially driving the change? As corporations seek profits and will respond to the desires and actions of their shareholders, the individual consumer has a responsibility to use their behavior to make companies value sustainability. Consumers can choose to purchase from, invest in, and work for companies committed to sustainability as a way to show the industry that sustainability is something they value. However, consumers shouldn’t be the only ones responsible for monitoring and responding to the ethics of a company’s action. Companies should also be accountable for acting morally and aligning their actions with what is right rather than what will make the most money. We learned about several forward-thinking companies that are choosing to value both their shareholders and stakeholders, which in turn led them to adopting a more sustainable practice and creating a more broad definition of company success than profit alone.

Until this conference I had never been exposed to anyone working as a “sustainability director” at a company and trying to drive change from the inside. It was insightful to learn from the experience of these individuals, understand the challenges of being the one voice urging for sustainable behavior for the company, and familiarize myself with a new possible career path. At MIT we are not exposed to as many career opportunities focused on sustainability. The main career path I have been exposed to in the realm of sustainability has been working as an engineer at a clean energy company. Looking forward to my career, this conference increased my awareness of various paths I could take and could possibly be interested in pursuing at some point in my life. Overall, this conference was an incredibly valuable complement to my MIT education and I am grateful for the opportunity to have attended it.

This public reflection was produced as part of the work of the MIT Action Sustainability Corps. Learn more about MITASC here.