The MBA Hub
In 2000, Andrew Essreg moved from Colorado to Portland to pursue a graduate environmental law degree at Lewis & Clark College. However, six months into the program, Andrew had an epiphany: that sueing companies into changing their social and environmental responsibility and behavior was not the wave of the future.
Inspired by sustainability pioneers such as Starbucks, Norm Thompson and Nike, Andrew left law school with the goal of learning how to think like a business decisionmaker so he could become a sustainability changemaker from the inside. This path, he felt, would be more sustainable both personally and professionally.
After interviewing several schools in the Northwest, Andrew was drawn to Portland State, where he eventually earned a sustainabillity-focused MBA (2003), as well as a graduate degree in Environmental Management (2004). After working as a sustainablity consultant for a diverse mix of organizations including Boeing, Starbucks, Nike, Kashi, SC Johnson and Timberland, Andrew joined the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), where he is now a Supply Chain Sustainability Specialist at USPS Headquarters in Washington, D.C.
We recently had an opportunity to chat with Andrew about his role with USPS, building a career around sustainability, and his time here at Portland State:
You're a Supply Chain Specialist for USPS — what does that entail?
I design and lead enterprise level sustainability improvement initiatives supporting the Postal Service’s $13 billion spend with 20,000 suppliers. Focus areas include purchasing systems and processes, contracting, supplier engagement, collaborative knowledge and data sharing in the supply chain and with government and industry peers.
I also serve as Program Manager for the Postal Supplier Council, which is comprised of executives and senior leaders from 125 key suppliers. In a prior role at USPS, I helped lead sustainability and greenhouse gas initiatives, managed goal setting, metrics, benchmarking, and performance reporting. I co-authored the digital 2010 corporate sustainability report: “Leaner, Greener, Faster, Smarter”, and the federal agency FY 2010 and 2011 Strategic Sustainability Performance Plans.
How has USPS's sustainability approach changed in recent years? What are some of the most exciting changes?
The focus has shifted from strategy development and goal setting to engaging our employees and suppliers to help us identify and leverage ways to help USPS save money while reducing impact on the environment. For example, low- and no-cost projects by employee Lean Green Teams at facilities have helped USPS reduce our total facility energy use by 30% since 2003, as well as lower associated operating costs and greenhouse gas emissions. We're trying to scale these efforts out to our 32,000 facilities. We're also increasingly requesting supplier sustainability data and collaborating with our supply chain partners to improve the financial and environmental sustainabillity of how we purchase goods and services to support our operations.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I enjoy being a translator between technical/scientific and business audiences to build a shared understanding. This is oftentimes the core building block for any strategy or program to be effective and sustainable. It's important to stay current on — and anticipate changes — to market trends, standards and certifications, product ecolabels, stakeholder expectations, and communication mediums in a rapidly evolving field where even last month is outdated. Participation in related industry and governmental workgroups is both fascinating and frustrating.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
Implementing enormous scale sustainability initiatives with very limited staff and budget. But the perspective gained and lessons learned from navigating these hurdles is invaluable from a professional development standpoint.
How did PSU prepare you for your future career?
At the time, there weren't any existing sustainability certificate programs or degrees, so we were co-experimenting with the academic curriculum, class formats, and professional externships. I created my program and projects, and so did several other students who got the sustainability bug. PSU embraced it, supported it, and even asked us to participate in co-developing classes, programs, and inputting on the university’s sustainability priorities and strategic direction.
This experience helped me understand how strategy implementation is equal parts content and navigating the complexities and sensitivities of relationships. I was fortunate to get exposed to leading-edge thought and expertise from amazing teachers on-campus, and in projects with world-class local professionals and companies. It has been very advantageous in my career to have been exposed to thinkers who applied the classroom lessons to the real world, rather than just from learning in the classroom. This is a huge advantage (and then secret sauce) for Portland State and the School of Business Administration — Portland and the Northwest are ripe for that kind of learning environment. And now technology and partnerships are expanding that recipe across international borders, bringing in student perspectives from all over the globe. I wish I could I do an MBA reprise and go do it all over again!
Who have been the mentors in your professional career and personal life?
I have deep admiration and respect for the “Sustainability 1.0” leaders who have paved the road for corporate sustainability, and repeatedly “schooled me” on what matters most personally and professionally. And I’ve been fortunate to be mentored on strategy, action and change from several of them. But without a doubt, my 15-week old son, Weston — and the thought of what his generation and his children's generation will encounter — is what is really driving my intense thirst to learn and apply myself to help improve corporate responsibility and sustainability, and leave some positive imprint on the future.
Many of our students are interested in pursuing careers in sustainabilty. Do you have any advice for cracking into this field?
Get your foot in the door by looking for a sustainability internship that allows you to apply skills that are interesting to you, and ideally meaningful in some way you can describe. Some people crave people and others crave crunching numbers. Don’t limit this skill assessment to a current inventory, but also think ahead to skills and professional development opportunities you desire (and that will make you valuable to this and other organizations). This is different for every individual and requires self-reflection. It will make subsequent resume updates and interview discussions more authentic, and you’ll find it’s easier to discuss your strengths, improvement areas, what motivates you, how you overcome adversity, and how they can’t live without your perspective.
You're also a fan of networking — any tips to share?
Go out of your way to put yourself in new situations, even — and perhaps especially — where you’re unsure of yourself. Don’t stick to the usual suspects and most popular business sustainability circles. For example, I try to spend time with community and civic organizations, marketing and branding groups, and attend a mix of conference tracks from product engineering to web design to media relations.
How do you like to spend your free time?
I'm passionate about exploring the outdoors by camera lens, running shoe, hiking boot, bike tire, snowboard, and scuba tank. And an avid basketball fan - but I watch much better than I play.
Where do you find inspiration?
In nature. It amazes me how many insights and lessons can be applied from natural environments to business environments. And from kids – their relentless curiosity inspires me to ask tough questions of people in business... and of myself.
Many thanks to Andrew for taking time out of his busy life for this interview — and we congratulate him and his wife Hillary on the arrival of their son Weston. Andrew tells us they named him Weston ("West") which was a name derived by repeatedly saying how they missed the West a ton, love the West a ton, and can't wait to get back out West a ton. We'd love to see Andrew and his family back in Portland sometime in the future; in the meantime, we wish him all the best with his sustainability post at USPS.
By Kelly Doherty: Kelly is the Director of Marketing and Recruiting for the Portland State Graduate Business Programs. She leads the global marketing and branding initiatives and student recruitment strategy for five distinct graduate business programs including: MBA, Master of International Management, Master of Science in Financial Analysis, Master of Real Estate Development and the Healthcare MBA programs.You can connect with Kelly on LinkedIn.