NIB Career Q&A: Asheen Phansey, Manager, Sustainable Innovation Lab, Dassault Systemes

asheenAsheen Phansey, Manager, Sustainable Innovation Lab at Dassault Systemes is the keynote speaker for the Net Impact Boston Career Summit on February 21st. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to hear Asheen – sign up for the Career Summit today. Here’s a sneak preview of what you’ve got to look forward to.

How did you first become interested in sustainability?
I first became passionate about the outdoors through many nights of camping and wilderness survival training in my journey to become an Eagle Scout. I attended my first (out of five and counting) Net Impact conference in 2006 and started reading books like Biomimicry, Natural Capitalism, and Cradle to Cradle, and was inspired to pursue environmental sustainability as a career path.

Tell us about Dassault Systemes’ approach to sustainability and the potential positive impact on the world?
I’m glad you used the phrase “positive impact”, because this is a key phrase in our pursuit of sustainable innovation. Our environmental footprint (e.g. 35,000 tons CO2(e) in 2012) is fairly small for a €2.5B company, but our potential positive footprint – what’s now being called a handprint – is much greater. With 170,000 companies and 10M users that design, engineer, simulate, manufacture, and manage their products using our software technologies – making products that range from the planes you fly in and the cars you drive, to the guitars you play and the lights and air handlers that make your office livable – we have a huge potential to help our customers reduce their footprints. By influencing the sustainable development of so many of the objects you interact with every day, we can really move the needle for the world. At the recent Davos World Economic Forum we were named the #5 most sustainable corporation in the world – a fact I’m proud of, but I don’t think our true positive impact has even begun to be felt.

What’s the most interesting/most fun/most challenging aspect of your job?
My job is to save the world; what could be more fun, interesting, and challenging? More specifically, I love being able to contribute something new and innovative to the sustainability profession; for example, we’re working on collaborations to develop a worldwide “handprinting” (net-positive impact) methodology, and to bring biomimicry (nature-inspired design) to mainstream engineering. I also love getting to visit and chat with the CSOs and sustainability teams of our partners and customers, such as Ford, Jaguar Land Rover, Boeing, REI, Dell, eBay, Disney, Microsoft, Google, etc.

What innovation in sustainability are you most excited about?
The two concepts of net-positive impact calculation (handprinting) and biomimicry will change the world. In addition, the practice of life-cycle thinking is finally starting to break out of the dry, academic, expert-driven world of life cycle assessment (LCA) and, slowly, to be integrated into business best-practices. We’re doing our small part to help democratize life cycle thinking.

What would you most like to change?
The one thing that I struggle the most with is the lack of strong bridges among all the relevant sustainability players in a company and its extended ecosystem. Sustainability is a multi-disciplinary challenge and a team sport, but so often, corporate responsibility departments (sustainability/CSR) are not deeply connected to all the other teams (R&D, design, manufacturing, HR, IT, finance etc.) that they need to play with in order to achieve the greater vision. I’d love to figure out how to change that.

What advice would you give to those looking for a career with a positive social or environmental impact?
First and foremost, redefine what you think of as a “sustainability job”. As I’ve mentioned, sustainability is interdisciplinary; in fact, you can often more easily drive change from outside of a “traditional” sustainability or CSR role, whether in a company, nonprofit, or social enterprise. Instead of trying to walk the straight path to CSO or high-profile NGO Director, consider taking a job in product, supply chain, manufacturing, etc. (in a for-profit) or development, stakeholder relations, program management, etc. (in a non-profit) to create change from within.

Sign up today to come to the Career Summit on February 21st and join hear more from Asheen.

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