Editor’s note: Stacie is now a sustainability program coordinator for the City of Madison.
Today, Stacie Reece is the director of sustainable business initiative at Sustain Dane, a nonprofit in Madison, Wisconsin, but her career began in a very different place: the private sector working with numbers. After a decade doing bookkeeping and accounting for banks and law firms, she had a wealth of experience in business and was bound for the cubicle of her choice.
Then her career took a sharp turn.
Finding the Path to Sustainability
Stacie was always interested in environmental topics and had her career “aha” moment in 2010 while helping a previous workplace go paperless. It wasn’t the project that inspired her, but a conversation with a coworker.
In her professional bio, Stacie wrote:
[My coworker] asked if I had seen An Inconvenient Truth and if climate change was a “real” concern. This gave me pause as I tried to pare down one of the largest issues of our time into a water cooler conversation… I pointed to the hallways of lights, to the several offices connected to the hallways and to the multiple floors the law office filled and asked: “How many light bulbs do you think this office has? And not only in this office, how many do large manufacturers have?”
Stacie quit her job at the law office shortly after this conversation, explaining that she simply realized it was time to join the movement to help businesses become more sustainable.
Success in the UW Sustainable Management Program
“I get really excited when people start connecting the dots about how sustainability is really good for business.”
She looked into several college programs and decided on the online University of Wisconsin Bachelor of Science in Sustainable Management program because it was more affordable than other degree programs. UW Sustainable Management also offers scholarships each semester, which helped Stacie offset some of the cost of tuition.
As an adult returning to college, Stacie was the vision of success. “I had a plan. I had the drive. I think that’s why I flourished in the online program.”
Stacie preferred the online learning environment to what she calls “traditional campus education” of a brick-and-mortar degree program. “For me, each course had a different pace. I know accounting and math really well, so I was able to fly through the economics courses, but in policy courses, I had to re-listen to lectures and study harder.”
While she earned her Sustainable Management degree through UW-Parkside, Stacie also worked full-time and was a skater and general manager for the Mad Rollin’ Dolls roller derby league in Madison. “Being that busy forced me to establish a strict routine. It worked. And when I finished an exam or project, no matter what time it was, I ran to the store to get a treat to reward myself. I think it’s so important to celebrate your successes.”
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The Capstone Project That Led to a Full-Time Director Job
Now, Stacie has her bachelor’s degree and three years at Sustain Dane under her belt. She was introduced to the organization during her final Sustainable Management course, the capstone experience.
At the end of the program, all students are required to complete a hands-on project at a real workplace. Stacie chose to join Sustain Dane as a business intern and research how local breweries finance sustainability projects.
“I loved the capstone because I could bounce ideas off coworkers who were familiar with the community, and they put me in touch with people I could interview for my research. I gained a ton of connections to sustainable businesses. Even if I hadn’t gotten the job I have now, I am confident those connections would have led to other career opportunities.”
During her stint as an intern, Stacie developed a deep understanding of Sustain Dane’s mission and a connection to its staff. After graduating in December 2013, she returned to the office to volunteer. When her former supervisor, the director of sustainable business initiative, resigned the following spring, Stacie was asked to fill the role.
Designing a Business Sustainability Boot Camp
At Sustain Dane, Stacie and the staff are committed to fostering sustainability champions in Madison. They create outdoor learning classrooms, help neighborhoods become more eco-friendly, and spur many other projects in the community.
Stacie works with local businesses—such as UW Credit Union, Trek, Isthmus Publishing, Ian’s Pizza, UW Health, and Compass Properties—introducing them to emerging trends in sustainability and inspiring passion for green efforts. She is the “coach” for MPower Business Champions, a nationally recognized program she describes as “sustainability boot camp.”
She often uses what she learned in the economics course when interacting with professionals from a diverse group of companies. “I tell them, ‘Yes, you’re a business and you want to be successful and grow, but you have to remember that you are part of a finite, interconnected planet.’ Then we talk strategy for everything from transportation to energy efficiency to waste management.”
Essentially, Stacie is still pointing to that hallway of light bulbs—but on a much larger scale. She helps each organization develop a sustainability plan and connects it with the resources it needs to get projects off the ground.
“My work harkens back to what I learned about in the systems thinking course. I get really excited when people start connecting the dots about how sustainability is really good for business. They walk away from the program with the base knowledge and skills to start even more sustainability projects.”
Right now, Stacie is reaching out to more organizations about joining MPower Business Champions. “I try to seek out organizations where employees think their workplace could never be a sustainability champion. They don’t realize how much potential they have to make a difference. I love being able to show them that.”