By Mohamed Talil Abdullahi
“The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a framework for common goals and a common language so that everybody figures out where they can plugin. Nobody can do it all.”
These were the words of Marilyn Johnson, Senior Director, Global Sustainability for the analytics company Clarivate who has been working in the field of sustainability for over 20 years. Before joining Clarivate, Marilyn worked with other corporations most notably with IHS Markit for 10 years, launching and advancing their efforts in sustainability.
She earned two undergraduate degrees: one in biology and one in physical and health education. She then obtained a master’s degree in health science with a focus on environmental and occupational health. She was on the Board of the International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP) for many years, including President the year the professional certification was launched.
Through these different academic and career pursuits, Marilyn has a unique perspective on what sustainability concretely involves and how organizations can practice it.
“I have seen the birth and, really the explosion, especially with the Sustainable Development Goals, of sustainability,” she said. “I think it is a real game-changer for the world to come together.”
When asked about the correlation between business and the SDGs, Marilyn said: “The Sustainable Development Goals were not written necessarily for business, although business plays a key role. The business has to be part of the solution. The challenge is for businesses to understand how they can plugin. There's a lot of great work that businesses are doing around Sustainable Development Goals.”
Sustainability is not only critical for organizations. Marilyn believes that there are many applications for sustainability as it relates to choosing a career trajectory. She advises that people should find what they are passionate about and create a culture that fosters sustainability. In her view, no matter what area the person pursues, one should consider their role through the lens of sustainability.
“It would be nice to have a hybrid perspective, for example, you go into your role as a lawyer that has a focus on sustainability, or you go in as a marketer that has a focus on sustainability,” she said.
This requires gaining more skills.
“So, you'd enhance your college education with more specific certifications around, for example, LEED certification or another certification, where become more specialized in a specific type of area where innovation is happening.”
Marilyn noted the importance of having a vision as it relates to incorporating it into one’s career. It can help to open new opportunities.
“Have a vision of what you would like to see the world to be,” she said. “Also, if you do not have that vision, it's much harder to see how you are progressing.”
Advice for aspiring innovators
Marilyn offers the following advice for innovators who approach their career journeys with sustainability top of mind:
● Find your network. Get connected with different nonprofit entities and professional groups that are focused on the different issues that you are most passionate about.
● Be a team player. Work collaboratively with people around you.
● Communication is an asset in innovation. Interact with people and open new conversations to engage with everyone.
● Be creative. As a social innovator, one must think about how to advance new ideas that contribute to the betterment of the world.
My key takeaways
Marilyn’s learning path and work experience have given me direction. Choosing a career at an early stage is a bit challenging. It is good to allow career changes to evolve. I do know that as an aspiring researcher in the global south, I will use my current and future roles to bring social change. I will advocate for refugee inclusion, eradicate poverty, and innovate new education pathways to the most underserved communities around the world.
To make a difference in these areas, my conversation with Marilyn has motivated me to take the following actions:
● Expand my horizons and how I think in general.
● Take different opportunities and allow my career to evolve.
● Pursue my passions.
● Create a vision that can drive my goals.
● Use SDGs as a framework to solve social challenges.
Marilyn mentioned that during her time as a student there were no sustainability programs in her school or university. She believes there is an interconnection between the social, environmental and governance aspects of sustainability. However, sustainability comes because of the planet crisis which led to the formation of the Brundtland Commission. This gives me a glimpse of the current opportunities in sustainability.
After listening to Marilyn’s advice, I have learned that allowing myself to navigate different opportunities will connect me with peers, networks and organizations that align with my passion. There is a constant need for sustainability and innovation. I call upon myself and social innovators to go beyond their comfort zone and utilize their expertise to create a vision.
Marilyn is also a volunteer with Global Mentorship Initiative (GMI), a
non-profit organization that provides guidance and business skills to underserved college students. We thank GMI for their support in sharing with their volunteers the opportunity to be interviewed by SNHU GEM students who are taking part in the Interview an innovator program.
Mohamed Talil Abdullahi is a student at Southern New Hampshire University Pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in management with a concentration in Public Administration. You can connect with him on LinkedIn and Twitter.