Meet Heather Gadonniex (28), LEED AP, Principle ~ The MindClick Group, Inc.
Tell us about how you chose your career/business and what your responsibilities include?
I often feel like my career chose me. Since childhood, I’ve had a deep appreciation for nature. During my teen years, my father and I would argue about his job as General Manager for a stair parts company. At the dinner table, I would take him to task for cutting down trees. One day, he finally got fed up and started taking me on tours of sustainable forestry plots in Western PA and West VA. This was when I first learned that serving people, our planet and profit were not mutually exclusive goals.
I have never stopped visiting the forest. Since those childhood trips, I have gone on to receive a degree in Environmental Studies and Sustainable Development from The University of Pittsburgh. I have had the privilege, from the outset of my career, to be involved with leading-edge sustainability initiatives. As a college sophomore, I worked for Conservation Consultants Incorporated and The Green Building Alliance, where I spent time educating the public on sustainability and working with the LEED rating system. During my senior year, I traveled to Africa to complete my honors thesis on women’s co-op micro lending systems. Administered loans were used to implement sustainable agriculture programs that served a dual propose: increasing economic development and preventing desertification. After graduation, I spent two years working abroad before returning to the States to serve as the Sustainability and Marketing Director for Timbron International. During my tenure, Timbron received two awards for their efforts in social sustainability and one award for their recycled polystyrene green product.
Today, as a Principal of The MindClick Group, I help global companies incorporate cutting-edge sustainability platforms that result in innovative marketing opportunities and drive bottom line growth. I recently published my first book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Greening Your Business, to continue my mission to educate individuals and businesses about the urgency and value of sustainability and to help them launch and maintain sustainability management systems.
Tell us about the company you work for or own?
For the past two years I’ve run my own sustainability consultancy organization, Green it Group, This Spring, I merged Green it Group with the award-winning market research firm, The MindClick Group, to further expand my capacity provide business-driven sustainability assessment and performance solutions. I feel blessed to work with an amazing and innovative group of people who share my commitment to serving people, planet and profit. Every day we get to educate our clients on social and environmental issues and affect positive change by creating the business case for sustainability.
In our work at MindClick, we are focused on creating correct metrics for ongoing sustainability performance measurement. Looking at both a company, as a whole entity, as well as its individual products through life cycle assessment, we are delivering an integrated approach to sustainability. After we develop metrics, we help organizations create sustainability action plans, incorporate sustainability throughout their organization and work with them, or the branding/advertising agency, to create credible messaging.
What are some of the most fulfilling projects you have been involved with so far?
The most fulfilling part of my work is seeing the light go off in people’s heads when they realize that corporate sustainability is not only achievable, it is a better way of doing business. It is like people suddenly awaken and become fueled with a passion that has been lying dormant inside of them. They take greater pride in their jobs, bring suggestions home to their families and get genuinely excited about how they can make a difference in their companies and communities. It truly is an amazing thing to watch.
But it is more than just raising awareness and passion. In my current work, I am focused on leveraging valid metrics that help companies quantify the environmental and social impact of their practices, operations and products. This has a direct benefit on employees and consumers who are becoming able to make more and more informed decisions about products, companies and brands and how they affect their health and wellbeing.
I am extremely excited to be working, right now, on creating the first Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) for a major category in the construction industry. An EPD is a marketing document that is based on a full life cycle assessment of a product. The assessment tells us what the major environmental impacts of that product are, from resources, through manufacture, distribution, usage and disposal. The EPD information is then used to create transparent information that consumers can understand and use. (Just in case you are interested in learning more, I’ve included a copy of one of my recent articles on environmental product declarations below)
Are there any people in your field you would like to meet and/or work with and have not yet had the opportunity?
Of course! However, because Sustainability is an emerging industry and I have been working in it for almost 10 years, I’ve been lucky enough to have met and worked with many of those I’ve looked up to. I’ve also had the privilege of interviewing many thought leaders while researching my book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Greening Your Business. Still, because I am a stickler for following best practices and standards — particularly when it comes to green marketing and metrics development – I hope to have the opportunity to meet, and ideally work with, the people at the Federal Trade Commission who are developing global green marketing standards with organizations such as The International Organization of Standards and The World Resources Institute.
What are some of your favorite ways to network?
I love speaking at conferences. It accomplishes two objectives: educating about sustainability and connecting with people. I always meet fascinating people after speaking engagements. I also enjoy staying deeply involved in my local community. Living in San Francisco, I am surrounded by a network of business colleagues, many of whom have become friends. I never get tired of meeting new people and collaborating with them.
Do you have a mentor – if so how did you choose one another?
At this point I have many mentors. When I was starting out, sustainable business was not the hottest topic. I had to seek out people who could serve as mentors and guides, particularly on the business front. My current business partners are enormous mentors to me. They’ve been entrenched in the business world working with leading brands for over 20 years and have advanced degrees from top notch schools. I also rely on a few women who are very experienced in both business and sustainability and who act as mentors and collaborators. I honestly do not think I would be where I am today without mentorship. I highly recommend that everyone (especially women!) find a good mentor and look forward to one day becoming a mentor to someone else.
What have you learned from your mentor? What do you hope to learn?
I’ve learned how to deal with the ins and outs of working with in complex organizations and how to fine tune my ability to assess challenges and situations from every possible angle. I also learned to refine my written communication style when addressing clients and how to manage and interact with multiple personalities. And, on a more personal note – how to step away from work. It is very difficult to really separate yourself from your work — particularly when you are deeply entrenched and invested in your organization. Yet, this is one of the most important things to do for self health – both mentally and physically. Through mentors, I’ve learned that you are only as effective as your body and mind will allow you to be and sometimes you just have to shut down, literally. Sometimes it is OK to turn your computer off and enjoy a few hours in the park on a Friday afternoon!
What’s been the most surprising thing that has happened to you so far in your career?
For me, the question is “What hasn’t been the most surprising thing that has happened in my career?!” I started out by choosing a major that was extremely unpopular. When I tried to make the business case for sustainability people told me that I would be stuck working for non-profits for the rest of my life. Even my classmates thought I was a bit crazy for taking business and environmental courses in the same semester. When I used to speak about the nexus of product sustainability and corporate sustainability and the importance of product labeling, people looked at me like I had two heads. Then, one day while working in Asia, I received an e-mail from the President of Timbron International asking if I had a degree in “green.” One month later I was in California working as Timbron’s Sustainability and Marketing director – that was a shocker! Now, green/sustainability is one of the hottest topics. I just published a book on the subject, Wal-Mart just released a massive point-of-purchase environmental product label commitment, and not a day goes by without headlines, blogs or Oprah talking about our planet and sustainability. Honestly, at this point every day is surprising and exciting!
What do you do for fun/relaxation?
I do not have one specific way of relaxing. I enjoy keeping my activities varied. Museums, hiking, tennis, running, seeing live music, traveling, spending time with friends and family – are all relaxing to me! One thing I like to do that is quite odd is match people up from personal ads. I got into this while I was working/traveling in India. The classified ads for marriage in India are so interesting. During long trips I would match people up to entertain myself and keep my mind off of the insane driving. The habit followed me back to the states. Nothing like a soy latte, The New York Times and the personal ads to keep me entertained! Who knows, maybe I am secretly searching for my ideal man.
Any parting advice for someone who would like to follow in your footsteps?
I know this sounds cliché, but follow your gut. If I listened to everyone and majored in something safe, such as business, or didn’t quit my job to start my company with nothing, I would never be where I am today, or have the passion I have about my career. Build your network wisely and treat it with respect — these are the people who will help propel you to your goals. Last but not least, give as much or more than you take.
How can our readers connect with you?
Linked In – http://www.linkedin.com/in/gadonniex
Twitter – Green it Group
Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/heather.gadonniex
Visit her website at www.mindclickgreenitgroup.com