Professor Bruce Usher did not expect a warm welcome when he entered the sustainability arena.
“But the opposite was true,” he says. “People were really looking for expertise to come into the field because it’s new. And I think that generally applies to those working in sustainability issues. They really welcome and encourage people to come from the more traditional business or policy areas and support what they are doing.”
Usher, CEO of EcoSecurities Group plc, spent several years working in finance on Wall Street before changing industries.
“I noticed it wasn’t where I wanted to spend my time,” he says. “Students will appreciate that the most valuable asset after graduation is their time.”
EcoSecurities originates, develops and trades carbon credits. Its projects are primarily in developing countries, but some are also in the United States. One of his favorites is a landfill in Brazil called Marca Landfill.
“The guy who owns and runs it is a real environmentalist, even though he’s a Brazilian businessman,” Usher says. “It’s really interesting to see someone who’s a serious business guy in a developing country involved in a business that’s not exactly well known for environmentalism. He works with us to reduce the greenhouse gasses and also sorts and recycles the waste. It’s good to see that.”
The business of sustainability is a family matter for Usher, who was encouraged into the field by his brother, Eric, a solar engineer working for the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP).
“He has worked in renewable energy his entire life and introduced me to a number of people in the industry,” Usher says. “But the differences [from Wall Street] are not as big as one would imagine.”
Usher argues the biggest distinction is having a double bottom line, rather than just focusing on profit.
“In my particular line of work the second bottom line is really measuring our impact on the environment and the tons of greenhouse gasses that we’ve reduced,” he comments. “Having said that, our company is not that different from other for-profit companies.”
Usher also notes similarities with his colleagues working in the nonprofit sector or the NGO sector.
“At the end of the day, it’s about working hard on an objective and getting that task completed,” he says. But he points out that his role has drastically changed since EcoSecurities became a public company.
"Three years ago my day was very much involved in working with our team on specific projects—we would get the methane out of the landfill to produce electricity, which also reduces the emission of greenhouse gasses,” he says. “Unfortunately, I no longer spend much time on work sites anymore. Because we’re now larger—we have 280 employees in 25 countries—my work is almost exclusively with investors and with our board and is more related to strategy and policy rather than specific projects.”
Usher accredits having a mixed background in both finance and entrepreneurship for his success with EcoSecurities. His message to those wishing to enter the field is that sustainability issues are not new.
“They’ve been around for many years. You always want to get into an industry that’s rising in importance, and sustainability is becoming increasingly important,” he says. “There isn’t really a road map in many cases, and the way people are tackling these issues is much more innovative. Pursuing innovation requires an entrepreneurial mindset.”
Written by Liz Bello