Smeal Sustainability Advisory Board Profile - A Q&A With Uma Moriarity
The goal with this series is to feature the work of our Smeal Sustainability Advisory Board members and show students a variety of business leaders contributing to the advancement of sustainable business.
In this interview with Uma Moriarity, I was encouraged to find a person that supports the pursuit of passions and interests as much as I do. Moriarity believes that there is a demand for influence and change and that Penn State students should capitalize on the programs our university has to offer. She encourages students to create impact in the strength areas we each have and to seek out opportunities to showcase our skills and passions on the same level. It was great to speak with someone that sees the potential for growth and advancement at Penn State and who is yearning for even more opportunities for Penn State generations to come.
Why are you on the SAB?
“Gosh! Well, Erik asked me to!
But seriously, I was interested because when I was at Smeal, there wasn’t a lot of exposure to sustainability, and it is just such a large part of business today. Smeal has the capacity to do a lot of really great things in the curriculum and to reach the next generation of business leaders.
Sustainability, and more broadly ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance), impacts the way that every business works today, and it just needs to be something that we teach our students about across all the different disciplines.
I deal with accountants that think about sustainability when providing audit services to sustainability reports or people in the marketing space that think about how to message around the sustainability or diversity attributes of a company.
Supply chain may have been the only part of the Smeal curriculum that really focused on sustainability in any way though – while I was there at least. I didn’t hear much about sustainability in the business world while I was there, and I think there are so many opportunities for something like that to exist today.
I’m sure there are a lot of people that think Smeal and think, ‘This is all about money,’ but there is so much potential for people to have an impact from an environmental or social perspective within the business world.
I think that what the Center is doing to really push for that is awesome. I want to help as much as I can with that transformation.”
Many students are interested in careers that make a difference. Can you share how you came to be doing this work? What sparked your interest in sustainability and how did you make that a focus of your career?
“My interest in sustainability was definitely a personal value that I have always haIn terms of my career, it kind of happened because a lot of things came together at the right time, and I happened to be there.
How I developed my career in the sustainability space has been a lot of self-education, networking and learning about things that are outside the realm of my expertise.
I am an investor with a sustainability expertise in green buildings and the company I work for focuses on real estate. We question things like: How do you think about creating real estate that is more sustainable? and What is the impact of the space you occupy from a human health and well-being perspective?
Building my expertise has involved talking to people, asking questions, getting involved in organizations in the field and having the curiosity to learn more.
I think for a lot of people that have interest in work in sustainability or want to do things that matter, Penn State has an awesome alumni network. There are so many people within the Penn State network that are making a difference. Reach out to them and have a conversation about what their job looks like, what they do, how they got there. Asking those questions and creating a network like that is helpful for any students that are trying to figure out where, from an impact perspective, they can find a career that works well with their interests.”
Transforming business education is something that the Center has been promoting and is a foundation for what it's trying to do. What transformation do you wish to see within business education?
“I think right now there is a very clear distinction between business education and sustainability, and I hope that 10 years down the road, it’s one in the same thing. That’s where the world is going.”
If there was one world issue that you could solve at the snap of your fingers, what would it be?
I hope we can figure out collectively, globally, how to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. That would be my ‘on brand’ sustainability answer, figuring out how to get carbon emissions under control.
Erik is one of many people at Penn State that are pushing for the university to join in that commitment. Hopefully we have enough champions that are working toward that across a lot of organizations, and we can make some progress.”
What is something surprising about you that most people wouldn’t know?
“I play four musical instruments! I play the piano, saxophone, clarinet, and violin.
I wouldn’t say I’m an expert at it anymore, it’s definitely an occasional thing when I’m at my parents’ house and it’s all there, but from a very young age, that was just something we did.”
Do you have any messages for our students?
“There is a demand out there today for people and companies that are trying to create positive impact – whether it’s on the environmental side or on the social side thinking about things like diversity, equity, and inclusion and how a company works with its community and workforce. If somebody has the technical background and education, they should seek out this demand and fulfill it.
Keep in mind there are so many different things that go into achieving sustainability goals – it's super cross functional. As much as people want to learn about sustainability directly, I think that there are a lot of opportunities across Penn State to learn many ways you can create an impact. Seek out those opportunities.
Whatever issues we’re after, it’s not possible to solve them with one person. It’s not one expertise, it has to be everyone coming together.
You can go out there and influence change and do good things for the world.”