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Career in CSR? Interview with Lisa Day, 20th Century Fox

Name: Lisa Day
Occupation: Associate Director, Energy Initiative at 20th Century Fox
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Age: 39

Lisa Day and I were coworkers many years ago at a Los Angeles-based environmental nonprofit, Earth Communications Office. Now, as down to earth and practical as she ever was, Lisa has the intimidating job of managing the Global Energy Initiative for 20th Century Fox, taking the studio carbon neutral by the end of 2010 as part of Rupert Murdoch’s pledge that News Corporation reduce its subsidiaries’ energy impact on climate change.

“Associate” may be her official title, but in reality, Lisa is the top green hen in the den of Fox’s companies. In addition to launching and managing all environmental and energy initiatives on the lot and in all international offices of Fox Filmed Entertainment, she is responsible for greening the production of all of Fox’s movies and television shows filmed around the world.

Her job in corporate responsibility touches many more bases than just the sustainable food movement but according to Lisa, because everyone has to eat, no matter where she goes or what she does, the question of sustainability on Fox’s employees’ plates must be an integral part of what she does. Besides that, the sustainable food movement is a personal passion for Lisa. She recently scoped out the farmers’ markets in different LA neighborhoods before deciding where to move.

I caught up with Lisa recently at Fox’s main cafeteria. In addition to enjoying a typical LA sunny day sitting under palm trees and ogling actors taking press photos next to us for a new piIot, I learned a lot more about what power green foodies can have should they pursue corporate jobs similar to Lisa’s.

CG: How and why did you choose your career?

LD: It wasn’t until I was in law school that I discovered I didn’t want to be a lawyer. I was always interested in environmental issues, so I got a grant from UCLA for a summer internship at Earth Communications Office. I began working for ECO full time after I graduated.

At that time, if you wanted to work for the environment, one of the best choices was a nonprofit career. Green corporate positions were largely non-existent.

CG:What path did you take to get to your current job?

LD: Not long after I left ECO, the chance to work at Participant Media came up. Then it was a small experimental company, and taking a job with them was an opportunity to combine the two worlds I knew – the movie business and green and social justice issues. Then we filmed Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” and I spent two years working on green issues, which prepared me for Fox.

I found this job posting on the Fox website. I had a friend working at the studio, but she didn’t make the initial connection between my interest and the opportunity. It took me spending time looking on companies’ websites to find jobs.

CG: What do you love most about what you have done to make the studio’s cafeterias and production kitchens more sustainable?

LD: What I do is very practical. I can easily see a positive impact because of the size of the company – the food that several thousand people are eating every day – is local, coming from sources within 200 miles of the studio, and where we can, we buy organic. We also got rid of plastic water bottles completely two years ago, reducing our consumption by 240,000 – 840,000 bottles a year depending on production.

When I started my job, we switched to a new food supplier, US Food Service. They weren’t as large as other suppliers and their contract with Fox was a big deal, so they happily worked with me to figure out how to get us what we needed. They have helped us source local and organic suppliers and they put a new program into place that helps us track food miles. Now, anyone doing business with them can use this new Circle of Responsibility service.

They were just awarded a big green certification and I feel comfortable saying that since Fox as a company was pushing them to make changes, they stretched and grew to help. They wanted us as a client and then they started seeing the business pluses. It’s a win-win situation for both companies.

When I went to work for Fox I thought, I can’t believe I’m going to work for “the man.” But I am able to accomplish more than I ever did in the nonprofit world because everything I do has a big impact.

CG: What’s the most challenging aspect of what you do?

LD: Moving from the nonprofit to the business world, I see the realities that corporations face. They may want to make changes, but currently there are practical cost differences between organics and suppliers of mass-produced food who can easily provide the quantity and quality needed.

Since the order to go carbon neutral came from the top (Rupert Murdoch himself) it became possible to be creative and take time to make change.

There’s still concern and fear from managers for how employees will react when being asked to change their eating habits. For example, there are a lot of guys working on set who just want a burger for lunch. So we don’t tell them they can’t have it. Instead, we do a lot of employee education and offer a variety of choices. What we’ve learned by doing it this way is that none of the changes we’ve made has had a bad reaction from employees.

CG: How can someone get started in your field? What did you do?

LD: If you are still a student, try to find as many internship programs as you can at companies you might want to work for and get your foot in the door that way.

For everyone, Businesses for Social Responsibility and Social Venture Network have great websites with job listings. You can also sign up for the CSRWire (Corporate Social Responsibility Wire) enewsletter, which includes job listings.

If I know of a company that has a strong environmental or CSR bent, I check their website regularly. I created a list of companies that I liked kept tabs on jobs openings they listed.

CG: What education/apprenticeships would be helpful to have a job like yours?

LD: Environmental Defense Fund has a program for MBA students

They train for 6 weeks and you do your internship at one of those companies. It’s a very cool nonprofit- corporate partnership. For food-minded business students, greening food at corporations has a lot to do with reducing overall energy costs.

The World Resources Institute is an interesting think tank that works with business markets, government, agencies, etc. and has a job board as well.

CG:Are there opportunities to network with others in your field or conferences you recommend?

LD: There’s Green Drinks, which started in Seattle. Every month, everyone in a sustainability field can get together informally to have drinks.

CG: What is your recommended reading/resource list for newbies (blogs, websites, experts, books, articles)? Who inspires you?

LD:Fast Food Nation” and The Omnivore’s Dilemma” are both fantastic primers.

In addition to what weI’m signed up for Environmental Leader, daily emails of different articles that have appeared and leading environmental stories of the day. Once a week they send a special feature to keep on top of what’s going on in corp environmental world.

I also like the articles on Ethical Corporation, Grist, and Civil Eats.

CG: What do you wish you knew then that you know now?

LD: I wish I knew then how popular green would suddenly begin to blow up in the corporate world. This sector is completely different than it was when I got started. Then, I felt my only option to make change was in the nonprofit world. Now it’s a completely different place. Who would have ever foreseen it?

ABC’s of Food: Starting with Our Kids

Today the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity released its recommendations for Solving the Problem of Childhood Obesity Within One Generation.

No matter your politics or geography, it’s become impossible to ignore the truth about food and kids. The statistic that 1 in 3 children born in the year 2000 will develop diabetes in their lifetime is actually inconceivable, as big numbers like that usually are. We’re all reduced to numbers by statisticians but we think the scary number in the equation isn’t referring to us.

In the 3rd grade I had one diabetic friend. I was horrified when Xenia had to prick her finger and give herself shots. She said it was no big deal. The day she began to shake and turned white, then ate the apple she always carried was the first inkling I had of the ominous force controlling her life, more frightening than any of her rituals.

Xenia had Type 1 diabetes. My mother explained that children with this disease had horrible things happen to them as they aged. Blindness, kidney failure, early death. In the 80s, only older adults got Type 2 diabetes, when they began to wear out and their bodies couldn’t tolerate sugar.

Nicholas Christakis’ new TED talk on the Influence of Social Networks begins with an explanation of how obesity spreads across networks of friends and families. He calls it a “multi-centric epidemic” and notes it’s not just behaviors that spread across social networks, it’s actually social norms.

I can’t comprehend that Xenia’s experience has become the norm – and therefore must seem normal – to millions of children who are sick, or whose parents, friends, and siblings are diabetic.

The happy news is that Christakis says while networks spread bad stuff, there must be an evolutionary reason they developed and persist. He believes benefits outweigh the costs and “social networks are required for the spread of good and valuable things” like ideas. Now our social networks are rapidly expanding online, spreading good stuff that will hopefully outweigh the proliferation of keyboard cat videos or pics of Beyonce in unflattering swimwear.

A great example of good things spreading was given today in a live chat on Grist.org, by author of Diet for a Hot Planet, Anne Lappé. She talked about what she’s seeing happening at the government level:

“I think…solutions have to be multifaceted: from education to media literacy to policy change. It can feel overwhelming, but from my vantage point, I’ve seen such incredible action on the ground that I’m really encouraged…from the Manhattan Borough President (who just legalized beekeeping to promote urban agriculture) to the City of Santa Monica (which banned non recycled take out packages) to the City of San Francisco (which just released a local-emphasized food procurement policy) to the City of Seattle (which declared this year the Year or Urban Agriculture) to the City of Portland (which just rededicated its edible garden, that replaced its lawn, in front of city hall). It’s happening.”

Sorting through all the the good information out there is a different challenge and it’s hard to find a place to begin personally, let alone the right checklists for how to make change in our own lives and throughout our local social networks. I’ve added another box on the left with what I think are the best basic resources for getting started. Go forth and garden.

Photos: Blast from the past: a “normal” pantry of yesteryear, Sierra gets saucy in the garden.