BEI recently named Courtney Fairbrother as the new Associate Director. Courtney manages student and alumni engagement and creates networks and opportunities that encourage these groups to address climate change. She also oversees the implementation of infrastructure supporting increased career and entrepreneurial opportunities for students.

Tell me about your background. What were you doing before joining the BEI team?

For the last 3 years I worked for the Harvard University Office for Sustainability as the Sustainability Manager for HBS. In that role, I was responsible for student and staff engagement to help reach the University sustainability goals (you can read about the HU Sustainability Plan here). Prior to working at Harvard, I worked for a number of different entities on renewable energy policy, analysis, and construction. I spent time in state government, working for the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority, installing and maintaining renewable energy systems across the state. I also worked for a non-profit think tank, the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), on renewable energy policy and convening of companies, policy makers, and non-profits to advance the electricity industry. Before RMI, I worked for a distributed generation developer that specializes in combined heat and power and ground source heat pumps where I was part of their analytics team, constructing renewables.

How did you become interested in sustainability?

I’ve always been interested in conservation and the impact that humans have on the natural world. Initially, I wasn’t sure what aspect of conservation I wanted to pursue, but after taking an undergraduate class on climate change I became fascinated by the science behind it all. I wanted to learn more about the science of climate change along with what motivates peoples’ actions and behaviors, and that is how I ended up being an environmental studies major in college with a business concentration. I have also taken a number of graduate classes on education, human behavior, and renewable energy systems. I want to further understand how to make people care about a problem that seems to be far in the future, where they may not see a direct link between their actions and the outcomes of those choices.

What motivated you to join Harvard to work on sustainability and, ultimately, the BEI team?

Over the course of my career, my roles became more and more focused on the technical aspects of renewables, such as policy and analytics. After working in these roles, I realized that there is a need for translating environmental crises to people and companies in a way that makes them want to make changes, so I began looking for positions that focused on communication, education, engagement, and network building. This decision to pivot is why I took on the role at Harvard as the Sustainability Manager for HBS. I became interested in BEI because I’m interested in the notion of businesses being the leader in climate change policy and action. My role as Associate Director enables me to help students and alumni with career connections and finding roles within corporations to help them become more sustainable. The role also allows me to focus on the academic side of helping to educate students and alumni about climate change and other environmental challenges.

You’ve now been the Associate Director for BEI for almost a month. How are you feeling about taking on this role?

I’m excited! With all the news coming out from the IPCC, I was thinking about how it feels like we’ve been at this critical inflection point for a very long time in terms of mitigating some of the worst impacts from climate change. At the same time, there’s been an increase in coverage of those issues and in the seriousness of the tone of that coverage. It’s a really exciting time to be in the climate space, and an exciting time to elevate BEI’s position within the space. Over my three years at Harvard, I have seen a huge increase in student interest in climate, so it’s a great time to take on a role where you’re helping to educate students on these issues and helping them figure out careers in this space, as well as helping to support alumni with lifelong learning in the climate space. There’s so much momentum, why not capitalize on it now.

What do you see as HBS’s, and BEI’s, role in confronting climate change?

BEI and HBS can act as a conduit for providing information about what businesses are doing in the climate space and how the latest science might affect businesses. We can help people think through the impacts that climate will have on every single industry because it’s not something that only environmentalists should care about, the impacts will be felt across industries. There are a number of ways we can help people think through the impacts of climate change. We have an extensive alumni base who are eager to engage around climate action and we can help by forming critical connections and networks among them. By developing student programming and career support we can expose current MBA’s to the realities of climate change and encourage them to see the potential career opportunities across various sectors. I see that being an important role for BEI and HBS to play.

What are some of your goals as Associate Director?

On a granular level, I’m looking forward to finding ways to support students and alumni who are pursuing startups around climate. There are huge business opportunities that are currently unmet in terms of products and services that can help mitigate the effects of climate change and promote sustainability. That can look a number of different ways, from elevating the resources that already exist, like the iLab’s Climate Entrepreneurs Circle, Nucleate Bio, and Summer and SEI Fellowships, to exploring possibilities with new, additional programs or those that further elevate the combined power of the Harvard community or the innovation occurring right here in the Boston area. Another aspect I am excited about is being a career conduit for students. One of the challenges about the environmental space is that there are so many different types of careers that you can go into, it’s almost overwhelming. Having a solid understanding of what those avenues are to better support both alumni and students who are trying to transition into that field will be extremely valuable.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I spend a lot of time being outdoors with my husband, our daughter, and our dog. We enjoy hiking and skiing but since moving to Rhode Island, we have been spending most of our time on a beautiful beach right in our neighborhood. I’m also very passionate about animals and I look forward to learning about the local animal rescue organizations in Rhode Island and how I can get involved.