Student profile: Austin Whitman '07
Led the drive to offset carbon emissions from 2007 International Experience
Joint degree candidate with Yale SOM and Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies
The question obviously comes up, Why the environment and where does that fit in with business? I always had this interest in the environment. I grew up outside, canoeing, bird-watching, and hiking and fishing and cycling and just always, always outside. When I was in college, I thought that environmental responsibility and sustainability were really things that were reserved for a few crazy activists. But the reality is that there are a lot of interesting ideas out there ó interesting ways in which sustainability can be woven into more traditional jobs and more traditional sectors. I now have a much better understanding, thanks to the professors and the classes that Iíve taken here.
SOM is a small place, and people with similar interests tend to gravitate toward each other. There is a club called the Environmental Management Club. We came up with the idea to offset the carbon emissions from this yearís International Experience, and then we drew up a list of tasks and we broke them up and said "letís just see what could happen with this." We had some people calculating the emissions that would be generated through the travel. We had some people looking at different sources of carbon offsets. We had some people looking to find first-year students who would be interested in promoting this, because, even though we were all very excited about it, most of us were second- and third-years and we thought it would be important to have allies ó agents, we ended up calling them ó in the first-year class. After a week or two, it became pretty clear that we had something that might have legs. We took it to Dean Podolny. We ran through our project plan and we asked him what he thought, and he said, ďIt looks great, go to it.Ē
Iíd say the educational piece was really what we were most excited about in the SOM community. Because, yes, itís nice to raise $7,000 or $8,000, and itís nice to know that the emissions were actually offset. But we had the opportunity to get in front of the entire first-year class and teach them about carbon markets. We talked to them about global warming in terms that businesses really care about. Global warming is going to be very costly to businesses and they need to think about this. Weíve had people come up to us from unlikely corners of the school and say, ďThis is a really fantastic idea. It is a tough concept to understand, and I didnít really know much about this before you started this, but I love what youíre doing.Ē
Whatís amazing about being here is that, no matter what your interests are, your experience can become a projection of those interests. When you get here, you may find that things you learn in marketing class relate directly to what youíre passionate about. What you learn in your investment management class may teach you how to approach your class projects or your papers in a way that reflects your values. When speakers come on campus, your choice to go hear them becomes a projection of what youíre interested in. Whatever you really want to do, you can do here, because there is such an amazing array of activities and professors. I can conceivably see a person spending six or seven years just doing that, taking classes and going around and exploring different areas of interests. Speaking of sustainability, I guess thatís not very sustainable, financially.
Interviewed on March 1, 2007.