EPA STAR Fellow Success
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“Dr. Carol Seagle, Director of Research, Center for Sustainable Enterprise, and Assistant Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship, University of North Carolina, Kenan-Flagler Business School
As a teacher of corporate sustainable enterprise, entrepreneurship and environmental strategy in the M.B.A. program at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, Carol Seagle is driven by the hope that the burgeoning corporate sustainability movement will expand exponentially. With such an expansion, the movement will contribute powerfully to the positive change in human relationships with nature that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and others are striving to advance.Carol did not plan to teach corporate sustainability: “All my life, I thought I’d be a scientist and not have anything to do with the business community.” When she was in high school and at the University of Scranton, in Pennsylvania—where she received a B.S. in Biology in 1995—Carol’s aim was to teach environmental science to help foster care for the environment. Toward that goal, she also pursued a Ph.D. in Biogeochemistry at the University of North Carolina’s (UNC) Department of Marine Sciences.While at UNC, Carol received her STAR Fellowship from 1996 to 1998. The Fellowship helped with her daily living and other expenses, allowing her to focus on her research into understanding the ocean floor as a possible sink for the anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions that are contributing to climate change. It also enabled her to attend conferences, where she interacted with other researchers and graduate students.Beyond that support, however, having the prestigious STAR Fellowship on her resume helped Carol win other grants, including National Science Foundation funding for expensive analysis she needed of pore water samples to identify the carbon-14 signature of dissolved carbon in the water. The analysis required a mass spectrometry accelerator and cost approximately $700 per sample. Without the STAR Fellowship and government-subsidized loans, Carol says, she would not have become the first member of her family to receive a Ph.D.As she was completing her degree, Dr. Seagle found employment at EPA as a science communicator and systems analyst, working for a company that had a 7-year Agency contract. During that period, she realized that EPA is underfunded given its broad and important mission; at the same time, she became increasingly aware that multinational corporations not only have a large environmental impact but also “the power, the research, the resources and the global reach to really make a difference through what they do.”With her growing perspective on corporations’ potential role in environmental protection, Dr. Seagle enrolled in the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School’s Weekend M.B.A. program for mid- to upper-level professionals. “I was convinced that by understanding business—knowing their language and becoming part of that culture—I could make change from within.” During her M.B.A. program, the chair of the program’s Strategy and Entrepreneurship area, Dr. Albert Segars, offered her the teaching position that she has held since 2008.Dr. Seagle notes that Kenan-Flagler has had a Sustainable Enterprise Program for more than 12 years and receives widespread support throughout the UNC campus. A critical challenge for sustainability teachers is to promote similar interdisciplinary efforts in many more educational institutions, as well as in businesses. “You really need interdisciplinary learning and thinking,” but the academic environment and the training that researchers receive tend to perpetuate silos rather than extensive cross-disciplinary collaboration.Consistent with the interdisciplinary approach she espouses, Dr. Seagle works with UNC’s Institute for the Environment and with faculty outside her M.B.A. program, and she serves on the campus sustainability committee where “we collaborate a lot.” With a U.S. Department of Education grant that Dr. Seagle helped procure, UNC is conducting a 4-year series of sustainability symposia that will bring together centers from across the university.
Dr. Seagle says that a breakthrough event for the field of corporate sustainability was Wal-Mart’s announcement of its sustainability strategy in 2005. It “was huge,” signaling that business sustainability was moving beyond well-established small green companies to include large, mainstream corporations. Although achieving the “triple bottom line” of sustainable economic development, environmental and social goals is still far in the future, it is nevertheless “a positive sign” that Wal-Mart, Citibank, Duke Energy and other major enterprises are embracing sustainability. “I’m definitely more hopeful than when I was just studying the science of the problem.” Dr. Seagle has found that the business community “is filled with optimism and the can-do spirit of, ‘There’s a problem, let’s solve it.’”
Outside of her research and teaching, Dr. Seagle likes to row a scull boat four or five times a week.”