Episode 3 of the Blu Skye Podcast - Hannah Sherman

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(Here is a link to Hannah's resume)


HANNAH: You're never going to change someone's mind by berating them or by saying how do you not understand. Look at all the evidence X Y Z, that's not how people make decisions. A lot of how we view the world is emotional and based on you know where we grew up and how we see things and our faith and whatever it may be, whatever values we ascribe to and how that shapes how we interact with the world around us. I think it's it's imperative that you understand that, and that you come and meet someone where they are.


ZACH: Welcome to the Blu Skye podcast. I’m Zach Winter. Blu Skye is a strategy consulting firm that operates on the assumption that environmental and social responsibility are the only business opportunities that are truly sustainable. Here at Blu Skye we get many more applications than we have job openings. In order to spotlight the talents of a few of those applicants, I called them up, recorded the conversation, and I'm sharing their stories with you. This week I talked with yet another job seeker about why taking risks is important, why we are both obsessed with podcasts, and the rectangle of imbecility.


HANNAH: My name is Hannah Sherman and I'm a recent graduate from the University of Michigan. I graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Earth and Environmental Science. I grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan but I am now living in Washington D.C. and working at the organization that manages Coca-Cola's water implementation programs across Africa. So water access, sanitation, and hygiene.


ZACH: Alright. So, the first question: you know there isn't a job opening at Blu Skye. What made you agree to do this interview in spite of that?


HANNAH: For me it seemed like a really great opportunity to have an interesting conversation about sustainability between two people who are clearly very passionate, and I think it's always fun to talk about why I'm interested in this work and really through having these conversations with other people, I feel like I always learn something new about myself and about the different areas that I really am looking to work in, in the field throughout my career. And it just seemed like it was too good to say no to. I always feel like why not. You know it it's always better to do something and try it out and you know you, see how it goes. But I figured it would be a lot of fun.


ZACH: Well, I hope I can deliver. I've been surprised you know like I've been reaching out to people to see if they've been willing and it's basically 100 percent agree to it. Yeah. And I've been surprised by that. I didn't expect such a wiliness.


HANNAH: Well people like to talk about themselves and their interests. I think you know when you get when you get an opportunity to be able to do that, it can be fun. You know, to vocalize that in plain terms.


ZACH: It's true. Do you ever feel like sustainability work is just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.


HANNAH: That's a great question actually, and yes I do. I definitely do, and I have gotten a lot of questions about my interest and people that push back and say well isn't a lot of corporate sustainability greenwashing. And is it really impactful, and I think that the idea isn't necessarily where we are right now. But I do think it's necessary to really understand what is the current landscape of corporate sustainability and compared to that, what is the future going to look like and what is innovation in this space. And what do I feel needs to fundamentally change. I don't think that how corporate sustainability operates in its current iteration is what will continue to be going forward. I think there's really going to be a lot of a lot of movement. And so yes, I think right now there's definitely a lot of space for further action and really doubling down. But that's the exciting part. I have a professor who said, I took his, he is a professor at Ross for the School of Business at Michigan for graduate students, for MBA students, and I took his course in sustainable enterprise and he would say to us all the time, enterprise integration will get you a job but market transformational get you a career. So it was really taking the long view if you're entering into the current space right now as you begin as a professional. But it's really as you continue to go through your career and as you go through the different paths and you know you recreate what you're working on and it's really the goal is to recreate the space that you want to work in and recreate the field. And you know expand it and see how it changes. And to me that's really a guiding principle and has become what I what I refer back to a lot. When I have it through my experience and through reading and keeping up to date on what's going on across a lot of different companies. You know always questioning and trying to look with a critical eye in a way, but also having you know the drive to say OK it's not perfect now or it's not where it needs to be, but that's going to be what my generation and my contemporaries are working towards. So in a short answer, yes but in a long answer not for long, if that makes sense.


ZACH: I heard you say something like maybe you need to change your words but you can tell me that is not true. I think you were talking about tactics versus strategy for the movement. And I've been thinking about those things a lot too. And specifically you know I was watching the vice presidential debate, and everyone was saying that Tim Kaine was trying to win an argument while Mike Pence was trying to win the audience. And thus Tim Kaine lost the debate because he was not thinking about his audience he was just thinking about the logic. How do you think that applies to the sustainability movement.


HANNAH: I have I love that question, because I really I think that's so important and something that isn't necessarily taught, is how to how to speak to your audience and how to connect with those who may not see you know who may not agree with your stance and really creating a place where there is mutual trust. And I think where there's a lot of issues where you know people can say you know they don't believe in climate change or they don't believe in sustainable, you know corporate sustainability or they're very cynical about the field and that can there can be a lot of the conversations can really take a turn for the worse. And I think that knowing your audience and knowing how to speak to people and understanding where they come from and laying out your perspective in a way that they can understand is really necessary and I think it's really a critical training that future sustainability leaders really need to have that guidance. Because you can't just you're never going to change someone's mind by berating them or by saying how do you not understand. Look at all the evidence X Y Z that's not how people make decisions. A lot of how we view the world is emotional  and based on you know where we grew up and how we see things in our faith and whatever it may be whatever values we ascribe to and how that shapes how we interact with the world around us. I think it's imperative that you understand and that you come and meet someone where they are. And when I was at Michigan I had really a lot of experience with that. When I was a junior I started a student organization that redid the recycling program at Michigan Stadium. And through that work, we partnered with Michigan Athletics and it was an amazing experience but it was students wanting to change something in the stadium. That was you know going to take a fair amount of work in and our partners in Michigan Athletics were so great but it was also having to frame what we wanted to do in a way that they could understand and see the benefit because fundamentally this wasn't something that Michigan Athletics at the time was was looking to do. They weren't looking to improve their sustainability or improve their recycling rate. It wasn't at the top of their list. It was it was pre-Jim Harbaugh, so there was some different concerns. So being able to hold our own beliefs and really understand this is what we believe. But this isn't how we need to frame it for this audience. We need to make it so that it's you know we're putting it in a way where they can understand it and where we can come to a compromise. And understanding also that sometimes you need to concede, depending on who you're dealing with and depending on what you're trying to accomplish, sometimes you hear no and you have you have some wiggle room but not as much as you would like. And so I think again, you need to you know. So going back to the original question. Yes. You need to know who you are how you need to know how your audiences. And I don't see that as an issue. I don't see it as a problem of not holding true to what you believe. It's like you said it's about being strategic. And if you want to get something done you have to know how you can do that within you know within the framework that you're working in. And sometimes I think there's a hesitancy to do that or if it feels like you're going against something, your morals, but I don't see it that way.


ZACH: It's really Well put. You fell right into my trap. I was looking at your resume before this call. And I it's very clear that you're spending a lot of time thinking about and working on these sustainability issues. What other political or cultural issues or movements are you also passionate about.


HANNAH: Yeah absolutely. I am very passionate about women's rights and in this country we definitely have work to do. I very much believe that and it's something I really intend to devote more energy and time to. But I also think that in that through my travels to other countries and through, my dad travels a lot for work and goes all around the world and spend a lot of time in Saudi Arabia last year and came home and was was really distraught at what he had seen and what he had experienced in his interactions with women and just seeing that around the world. A lot of women really don't have the same rights and freedoms that women in the United States have. And we know that of course, and as I said there's there's work to be done in this country as well. But definitely around the world thinking about how can... and I really don't have the answer it's really this is a half-baked thought and something I've been considering a lot lately is how can I play a role in in any kind of advocacy or progress in women's rights around the world, as well as because I do think it is important if you're focusing on issues abroad that you are also doing work domestically. That's, that's something that I feel strongly about. And and I also feel strongly about against drunk driving which I haven't I haven't really figured out how I can be involved or if that's just really strongly held belief of mine. But to me that is an issue and I see it really, I see getting behind the wheel when you are intoxicated as the height of arrogance. And I and I don't I think that what you know it happens, it happens very frequently, and it happens a lot. And I have seen it happen and what I the only action that I have taken up to date is when I see cars that are driving and the person operating the vehicle is clearly drunk I will call the cops and let them know and you know if they do something to do something and if they are drunk then I believe they deserve to be caught. And if they're not then it's all OK and it was you know better to be safe than sorry. But those are two issues that have really started to be more prominent on you know as I think about, I am working now and what else do I want to be involved in and how do I want to influence the world around me those are two things that come to mind as outside of sustainability.


ZACH: Two good answers. I started this podcast because I am obsessed with podcasts myself. And you know often when I'm listening I have to pause it and write something down or, Something similar to that. And I'm wondering if you are able to recall the last time you had one of those driveway moments, if any?


HANNAH: When I was listening to a podcast and had to write something down?


ZACH: or the radio or reading you know oh the last thing last piece of media you were consuming that made you just stop and take notes or make a mental note or whatever it was you know it doesn't have to be a literally.


HANNAH: No that's that's that's a great question and actually I am reading a book right now. And I it's just this I went into a bookstore in Ann Arbor I was home and they had a review of it and it looked great. So I picked it up and it's just really short little stories and it's told it like it doesn't... It's just a lot of like maybe two or three pages and it's it's written as memories. And one of them was about a family that didn't have a TV or something and there was, like the family saw a TV. And those things and they called the rectangle of imbecility, and I underlined it. And that stuck with me and thinking about screens and time spent on screens and staring into whatever it is that is captivating my attention and thinking about how much time am I spending and how much of my life collectively will have been spent staring into a rectangle of imbecility and I just love that term because it so captures to me so much of what comes through our phones or television or my computer. And I'm a lover of technology and in a lot of ways I believe very strongly in technology and the good that it can do. But I do also see the shadows of technology and thinking about what I'm spending my time doing. So for me, I just love that and it's clearly stuck with me.


ZACH: It's a great phrase. But every time if I'm going to push back a little bit yeah. Every every time I've seen this machine where it's like the people on their phones on the train and nobody's talking to each other. And then below it is a black and white picture from, who knows when, sometime at least 50 years ago everybody on the train is reading a newspaper. Right. So I think a lot of stuff has changed. But also I'm not totally convinced that so much has changed. You know humans have always sought knowledge and distraction and all of these things.


HANNAH: Yeah. Yeah absolutely and I don't see it as an issue of maybe seeking knowledge or distraction that they think that you know being on a train and not necessarily want to be wanting to talk to somebody, that's totally normal and healthy, you know we need a certain amount of time to ourselves. But I do think that there are so I mean there's so much out there that can pull us in and pull us away from  feeling and engaging in the world around us. And I think that there are a lot more methods for us to easily numb out of this world and just distract ourselves to the point of not really doing anything or are you know, and not wanting to deal with what's going on around us and not really having to if we don't want to. And I'm not saying that a lot of people feel that way but I think it's very easy, and for me, you know there are a lot of issues going on and there are a lot of problems that it can be easy to check out because they feel like they're unsolvable, or like we've reached the past the tipping point or what is it worth. I'm just one person and you know in all likelihood how much impact can I really have. And I think that it can be so easy to just spend our days and not really remember what we do or not really create anything with them. And this is most likely. I mean this is honestly just coming more from a place of me being wary and wanting to make sure that I spend my days creating and thinking and not getting sucked into whatever can be entertaining me through my phone or online or on TV. So if that, if that makes sense.


ZACH: It does. Just last week my aunt told me a story she just started a new job and she's now has a long commute via train and she performed this experiment on herself where she deleted Facebook from her phone and vowed to keep her phone in her purse during the entire commute. And she said it took three weeks for another person to talk to her.


HANNAH: Yeah I mean you know it can be it. That's not surprising. But but I do I will say and and on that on the theme of podcasts. Podcasts are incredible. And that is one thing that you know as I said I think technology has really expanded our role that has brought so many amazing things and even though there are shadows and things to be you know you have to keep it in check in a way like there are a lot of things that have undeniably made our world so much better. And for me podcasts, I listen to podcasts almost constantly. I love them and I love I love more like, story based. So hearing from people and I feel like that's something that's so special that you get a window into somebody else's world and into their experience and these brief moments where someone is just sort of opening the gates into their life that you wouldn't necessarily get otherwise. And it can be so hard to do that you know face to face. I think that so so many times it's a difficult thing to do. So that is one thing that, so it's fun to be able to play a small part in the big world of podcasts.


ZACH: The big world. What have you been raised to be afraid of?


HANNAH: Oh gosh. I would say I have been raised to be afraid of risk aversion from both sides both sides of my... My mom and my dad. They have I mean since forever that if you reach a point in life where you're too afraid to fail or too afraid to take risks that you stop doing and you stop being creative and you stop putting yourself out there that that's when life... I mean that's when you're really not living. And both of my parents are really courageous people. And we have people in our in our broader family that have more of a risk-averse tendency and they have drilled down and me and my siblings, that what makes life worth living is doing things you're not really sure what the outcome may be. And saying yes because why wouldn't you say. And that and that there's such a big world out there that you. It's it's really you know your duty to go in and be active and engaged and take risks. So I would say I've been taught to be afraid of getting to a point where I wouldn't do that or that I would be holding myself back. And so it's definitely an interesting thing. Yeah I've never thought about that question but that's a good one.


ZACH: I love your answer you know. Well, let's take it one step more. What risks are you taking right now?


HANNAH: Oh that's a really good one. Right now I would say really just saying yes to whatever comes my way whatever it may be, and also reaching out to a lot of different people I'm in a new place. I've been to D.C. before I moved here I'd been to D.C. for like three days. So coming to a new place and having faith and kind of taking a leap, like I'm here and there's so much going on and I am just going to try and connect with as many people in as many places as possible and kind of see where it takes me and not have an expectation and it's not really like a risk/daredevil kind of risk but just sort of being open and putting myself out there in a new place. And you know developing a community and in doing that that does require a certain amount of personal risk and that can be, you know defined in a lot of different ways. But as we were saying, you know it took so long three weeks it took you know. Nobody spoke to your aunt for three weeks they think it can be even small risks in the day to day like talking to somebody, or that you know, going out to be a way to talk to somebody or going out of your way to make plans with somebody or kind of you know sending an email through contact us to go to an event, or learn more about what somebody does in their work and then thinking about longer term risks of how do I want to creatively shape my career and what you know what comes with that and not necessarily taking the safe path. But thinking about really forging myself professionally and that it'll take a lot of twists and turns. But I think it's. For me it's, the it's like, yeah. Not staying in a comfortable place for too long. And so it's for me right now it's the smaller risks. It's the the moments of maybe insecurity that you need to push past and decide that you want to at least try. And it may be you know and it may be a NO,  not worth it but going back to the very beginning where we were talking about you know how you're getting a lot of yeses to people wanting to do this podcast and why I wanted to do this podcast. It's that same you know belief that it's a little scary and that's a little uncomfortable but it's you know it's fun. And that's that's what's worthwhile.


ZACH: That's great. Do you have any projects you want to plug or anything else you want to say before we hang up?


HANNAH: It is important to create a network of people who are passionate and committed to sustainability and are really going to take this field into the future. I think that it's creating that kind of network is really going to get us far. So. So you know for guidance and whatever else just good conversation it's always good to find those people and hang onto them when you do.


ZACH: It's true. Well, Hannah again it's just it's been a pleasure.


HANNAH: Yeah. Thank you so much, zACH


ZACH: Let’s stay in contact.


HANNAH: Yeah. Absolutely. have a great day.


ZACH: Awesome. Thanks so much.


HANNAH: Thanks, bye.


ZACH: If you want to get in contact with Hanna. Head to the Blue sky Web site. That's B-L-U-S-K-Y-E dot com. There you will find a full transcript of this interview as well as a link to her resume. Thanks for listening to the Blu Skye podcast. If you enjoyed this or any episode please leave a review on iTunes. See you next time.