Chaitrali Ketkale, a graduate student in sustainability science at the School of Earth & Sustainability, has been spending the summer on a fellowship from the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), one of the world’s largest environmental advocacy groups.
Ketkale is working in the New York office of Cushman & Wakefield, a global, multibillion-dollar commercial real estate firm. She is set to graduate at the end of the year with a master of science degree in sustainability science, which is designed to create interdisciplinary problem-solvers and prepare students for sustainability-focused positions in industry, government or nonprofits. We asked Ketkale how she has worked toward this fellowship over her academic career.
How did you arrive at corporate social responsibility as a track for your studies and career?
A combination of several factors came together to push me here — primarily my education and family. My father leads sustainability initiatives at Toyota India, which gave me a ringside view to how companies are trying to make a positive change and reduce their carbon footprints. Also, in my undergrad studies in biotechnology, I choose to focus on the environment and sustainability studies. As such, I performed several internships and projects at Toyota and Tata Global. By the time KPMG India came calling, I had set my sights on sustainability in corporations and the UMass sustainability science program fit the bill perfectly.
What does a sustainability officer do within a corporation?
I help companies explore opportunities to implement planet friendly initiatives and programs to give back to communities, and also to report concisely to all people involved on how the company plans to achieve all these goals. This summer, for example, I’m focusing on the company’s corporate social responsibility strategy, including carbon disclosure methods and reporting, and I will help activate software to better track, manage, analyze and report energy consumption and patterns.
How has the UMass program helped advance your career?
I received a lot of guidance from Darci Maresca, my advisor and the assistant program director. Starting from day one she always encouraged me to expand my boundaries, network more and attend everything I can so I learn more, interact with people who are doing great things in this field, and ultimately better myself.
This fellowship is one of the best in my field, and it’s very competitive. My work experience at KPMG and the various projects and internships I undertook throughout my undergrad studies helped give me a strong foundation with respect to skills and also about what I wanted to achieve. Those experiences were also instrumental in helping me prepare for the case interviews at EDF since they were closely related, which enabled me to better understand the case and provide viable solutions.
What's next for you?
I want to create an impact as an EDF fellow at Cushman and Wakefield this summer, and drive more community sustainability initiatives. My goal is to find a position at a corporation where I can create impact and perform meaningful work in the sustainability practice. I’m inspired to work in environmental conservation after seeing my hometown, Bangalore, India, grow increasingly polluted and suffer an overall degradation in the standard of living, in spite of increasing riches. I believe in this cause.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of UMass Amherst or the College of Natural Sciences.