Soft Skills Needed to Support your Sustainability Efforts

This post was written by Aditi Datta, SEMBA ’17, and former student editor of “The SEMBA Review.”

Erin Meezan

Erin Meezan,Vice-President of Sustainability at Interface, Inc. and member of the SEMBA Advisory Board, offered her insights and tips for success with the SEMBA class through the program’s Executive in Residence speaker series, in which leading-edge practitioners share their personal stories and perspectives with students.

Environmentally-friendly carpet manufacturer Interface is a progressive, innovative organization that leads the industry in its full commitment to sustainability. Yet, Erin Meezan still faces resistance and apprehension each day. Meezan’s specific tools, tips and skills are valuable assets to utilize in any career that challenges the status quo, and are especially relevant to SEMBA students.

When joining a new company and you want to implement effective changes, remember to ask:

  • How do things get done here? What is the process?
  • With whom do I need to engage to get things done?
  • What is an appropriate and realistic timeline to expect?
  • What challenges have been hindering innovation thus far?
  • What 4-5 things does the company do really well?

Meezan cautioned that when stepping into a brand-new role with a brand-new team, people may not be able to answers these questions for you. In that case, do your research! Find case studies, explore any project mapping tools – do whatever you can to better equip yourself to succeed.

Important skills for success:

  • Clearly articulating an argument on paper and in conversation
    Especially when it comes to sustainability, you’ll be asking people to change the way they do things so you’ll need to be able to clearly defend your point of view.
  • Active listening
    To help bridge the gap between strategy and implementation, be sure you and your team master the art of listening to understand, not just listening to respond.
  • Emotional intelligence
    There is almost nothing more important than having both self- and other-awareness. The better you can read a room and feel empathy for others, the more effective you will be.
  • Learn to tell stories
    Being able to really sell the story of your product or brand will make the difference between developing transactional customers and developing loyal brand ambassadors.

While Meezan approached our conversation from the point of view of a vice president of sustainability, these “soft” skills are imperative, no matter the job title.