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Environmentalist Finds a Place in Business

Featuring: McCombs School of Business

When you think of a “marketer,” you probably don’t imagine someone who wants to end mass consumption. And when you envision an “environmentalist,” you probably don’t see an aspiring CEO.

But Jamie Lippman, marketing and Plan II senior at The University of Texas at Austin, fits both of those paradoxical descriptions.

The 22-year-old Houston native became committed to protecting the environment after listening to a speaker talk about water conservation in her third-grade class. “He told me every little thing makes a difference,” she says. Since that day, Lippman began taking small steps in conservation—from scolding her parents for running the faucet while brushing their teeth to starting the recycling program in her high school.

So, as a freshman taking classes at the McCombs School of Business, Lippman says she felt lost in the corporate setting where profiting always seemed to take priority, and the class discussions and textbooks seemed one-sided.

That year she considered dropping her business degree and wondered whether she could make a career out of her passion for the environment. “I had this epiphany at the end of freshman year that I could do something good with this business degree,” Lippman says.

Although in class she was the only student raising her hand for social justice issues, she realized her lonely voice could be of great value to an organization’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) department or as a top executive at one of her favorite companies like Patagonia or Whole Foods.
“Milton Freidman’s quote that corporations only have a responsibility to shareholders is outdated now,” Lippman says. “CSR is catching on. It’s such a trend. Soon, being a green company is not going to be the edge. It’s going to be the norm.”

Once Lippman discovered her true calling, she joined the UT Environmental Science Institute’s Bridging Disciplines Program, an interdisciplinary certificate program that ties together her major, electives, and general education requirements, and also helps her find “connecting experiences” in the field.

Currently, Lippman is interning with Environment Texas, an environmental advocacy organization. One of her big projects this semester has been writing a research report on solar energy, which Environment Texas will use to lobby the state government. “I really believe in the power of the nonprofit and activism,” she says. “They really make a difference.”

But now Lippman has a big choice to make after graduation. Should she pursue an environmental law degree to support change within the legislative system or should she get an MBA and work in CSR?

“What’s so awesome about business is that corporations don’t have to wait for laws to be passed to be sustainable,” she says.

For example, she admires Patagonia for making products that last longer, reserving the best office parking spots for employees driving fuel efficient cars, and donating one percent of sales back to environmental organizations.

On the other hand, Lippman says sometimes legislation is necessary to force businesses to change. “Cars should be required by law to get 40 mph/gallon,” she says. “But car manufacturers aren’t going to implement that until they have to.”

She knows, however, that policy work is inefficient. “It’s obstacle after obstacle,” she admits. “I’m an idealist. It’s hard coming head to head with people who don’t care about the environment or CSR.”

But Lippman’s education in both business and environmental science gives her an advantage when faced with the naysayer. “I’m not hot headed, I’m not going off on a radical argument because the business case for CSR is strong, and there’s evidence to back that up. I know both sides, so I can work with each of them better.”

This article was originally published on the Forté website in 2007. Stay tuned for this three-part series to see where Jamie’s career has taken her!

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