Sustainable Leadership: Making Common Climate Sense a Business Value

Behind the scenes at Williams-Sonoma, Inc. (WSI), WAYB (a new baby-gear startup) and the Environmental Defense Fund, there’s a remarkable team of women using sustainability as a force to unlock deeper value. In our Sustainable Leadership mini-series, they’ll talk to Ms. about fostering sustainability across sectors, and how they bring the values of ecofeminism into the workplace.

Danielle Jezienicki is a Director of Corporate Social Responsibility at Williams-Sonoma, Inc. (WSI), where she oversees sustainability initiatives for the Company and its West Coast brands including Pottery Barn, Pottery Barn Kids, PBTeen, Williams-Sonoma, Rejuvenation and Mark & Graham; prior to joining WSI, she was an Impact Analyst at Sonen Capital, an impact investment firm that prioritizes social and environmental outcomes as well as financial returns.

Jezienicki began her career in corporate communications and investor relations, where she spent over five years at leading firms in San Francisco and New York. She holds an MBA in Sustainable Management at Presidio Graduate School and BA from Brown University.

(andres musta / Creative Commons)

How did you first enter into the sustainability world, and what about working in this space were you most drawn to?

I think, like many people in the sustainability field, this has always been something I feel passionately about and where my heart is. It’s just a question of how you’re going to get into the space. What I realized early on in my career is that I knew I was heading in that direction. I just had to build up the skill set that would enable me to contribute and do meaningful work. So it wasn’t a question that I would get into it; it was just how I would get in. And that definitely took some time and was a bit of a winding path as I explored different skills to learn and this different kind of expressions of sustainability and what positive impact looks like. 

So I think for me the question that I have just kept coming back to is just this intersection between business and finance and sustainability and how we really integrate sustainability into not only business practices but the way we evaluate companies. And so that’s something I’m very excited to have the opportunity to make an impact at Williams-Sonoma. But like you mentioned, the experience at Sonen Capital was really foundational for me and understanding the concept of materiality.

I’d love to hear some of your thoughts on what skills you think will be most valuable for jobs in the future and how you continue to build your skill set in order to be prepared for how your work will evolve.

I feel like the skills that are the most important is that ability to be resourceful—roll up your sleeves, learn whatever systems are at hand, because if you want to work in sustainability, chances are you’ll have a few different jobs until you get there. So rather than saying, I need to definitely learn one system or one kind of specific skill set, it’s really that flexibility and that ability to be pragmatic, work within the confines of the company that you’re in, and not be too idealistic. Progress happens one step at a time and really to keep an eye towards that. 

That being said, being able to manage large data sets, to understand and analyze data, I think that’s always a useful skill set. I’d be hard pressed to imagine anyone in the sustainability field who doesn’t have large data sets to work with, and there’s always the need to present that information in a compelling way. And so your ability to do that is really valuable, as well as the more traditional skills of communicating and making an effective presentation and understanding the room and where people are coming from. There are just different personalities, different people, and sustainability relies on all of these stakeholders. You really have to bring them together. 

Thinking about the future and the next generation of business leaders, what is your opinion on how this rising generation of business leaders values sustainability? Do you have any advice for them, especially for other women, who are looking to enter the field and grow and invest in this work as their life’s work?

What’s most exciting for me thinking about the next generation is that future leaders seem to intuitively understand that sustainability will be the thing that defines them and differentiates them as a company, that customers have different expectations of who brands are as a corporate citizen. And so they are thankfully and inspiringly looking to one-up each other in a way that feels genuine to the brand and also inspires their customers. So to me that is really the most exciting thing that’s happening, and I just love seeing all of these new companies coming out and that you know sustainability is so much a part of the conversation. 

I think for people looking to enter the field, what I say, is don’t get hung up on finding the perfect job. Just take a job where you can make an impact or you can learn something or a skill set that that takes you on the path that you feel you should be on. You don’t have to be a sustainability practitioner to make an impact.


Yesh Pavlik Slenk is the Project Manager at EDF Climate Corps, an innovative fellowship program which places top tier graduate students in leading companies, cities and universities to build the business case for energy efficiency and sustainability.