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Lift As You Climb: Our Conversation With Acuity Brands’ Lauren Scott

This article was originally posted by Commercial Construction & Renovation. Read the interview with Lauren Scott on trends in the sustainability industry and advice to women in leadership.

This article was originally posted by Commercial Construction & Renovation.

Several years ago, Lauren Scott was nominated as a “Woman of Inspiration” by the Universal Women’s Network and shortlisted as “Industry Woman of the Year” by the ControlTrends Awards (2020).

What the VP of Marketing & Sustainability at Acuity Brands’ Intelligent Spaces Group continues to show is a passionate bent toward sustainable and climate-related initiatives. Today, she specializes in translating climate initiatives into meaningful action to deliver on commitments to the building and renewables sectors. We sat down with Lauren to get her thoughts on the industry, what she does and where her love for climate change started.

Tell us your story. How did you get started in the industry?

When I was a university student, Al Gore and David Suzuki were on tour to promote their film, “An Inconvenient Truth”—one of the first documentaries showcasing the effects of climate change and why we needed to urgently act to prevent the real, catastrophic future we were facing. I attended a screening near my campus and realized in a room of thousands, there were hundreds of Science and Arts students, but I was one of only a few business students there. At that time, there were no mainstream ways to pursue degrees that combine business and environment. I had to pioneer my own career path. I gained experience in marketing and public relations at different nonprofit organizations and cleantech before
I came to Acuity Brands, where my role as VP of Marketing & Sustainability of our Intelligent Spaces Group merges my passion and expertise together every day.

What are some of the biggest changes you have seen over the past two years?

Sustainability is becoming more highly valued by the business world and the workforce alike. Businesses increasingly need people who can help them make their operations sustainable and adjust to differing regulations and customer/investor interests. And there are more young professionals who can meet that demand, who care about the environment and want to make a positive impact at their workplace. Overall, it is becoming a more valuable asset in the market, where employers want workers familiar with these business needs, and workers want to be at companies that
actively prioritize and value sustainability.

What opportunities are out there for the industry as we move forward in 2023? For women?

There are a lot of opportunities to contribute to sustainable operations in the construction and commercial real estate industries. We need sustainable materials for buildings, smart technology to efficiently manage buildings, data expertise behind carbon reductions and reporting, and communications strategies that help make these ventures profitable. These are great industries to get into right now if you are passionate about how our built spaces impact our respective
communities and planet. It has been observed that the role of Chief Sustainability Officer has become a
place for gender diversity in most companies—the number of women represented in this position jumped from 28% in 2011 to 54% just a decade later. Perhaps this is because women are seen as nurturers and caring for the environment aligns with those stereotypes. Perhaps it’s because companies taking meaningful environmental action tend to be socially progressive and this makes the field naturally diverse and inclusive. Perhaps it is because, as the World Economic Forum puts it, women in leadership positions do better in crisis situations and the state of our environment has become a crisis. Net Zero coming from companies small and large. Choosing to make your operations sustainable is just good business, and it starts with the buildings you work in.

What advice can you share?

I truly believe that health (mental and physical) is wealth. We need to remind ourselves that meaningful careers are marathons and not sprints. No one else can do it for you, so make sure that you are taking the necessary steps to fuel your body and your mind along the way. I view wellness as an important part of doing your job. And do what you can to find a career that combines a) what you are good at and b) what aligns with your values. I promise you, it is so worth it.

What’s the best piece of advice you have ever received?

You can do anything but you cannot do everything. I remind myself of this regularly.

What’s the single best thing every woman can do to make sure they continue to get a seat at the table?

Be a pioneer and create the opportunities you want—or wanted—to have. I believe that creating space and opportunities for others is the best way you can also serve yourself and your goals. For example, at the end of my educational journey I co-founded the John Molson Sustainable Business Group, which served to help students learn the knowledge and tools to become more environmentally aware future business leaders. Now called the John Molson Sustainable Enterprise Committee (JSEC), I currently serve as a mentor 15 years later. JSEC is exactly the kind of resource I wish I had when I was younger and which I’m glad to be a part of now, at this level in my career. Similarly, while my role of VP Marketing and Sustainability did not previously exist, I was able to work hand in hand with internal champions to carve out a space that embraced the plurality of my expertise. And always remember: Lift as you climb.

What’s the biggest item on your to-do list?

Now that environmental and social responsibility are on everyone’s radar, the next big step for businesses and leaders will be to weave these concepts directly into strategy. Gone are the days where ESG considerations can be siloed away from the rest of the company. Going a step further, industries as a whole (including traditional competitors) are going to have to come together to find solutions to address a problem as monumental as climate change. I am genuinely excited about the opportunity to work side by side with stakeholders as we move forward together. And outside of work, I have also recently taken the leap and launched a podcast: “The Resilience Report.” With so much doom and gloom out there, I wanted to highlight the amazing work of businesses and leaders paving the way for a sustainable
future. The hope is to then, by sharing these stories, spark further engagement so that we can go beyond just business as usual or sustain the status quo to one where we can be truly resilient. The polarizing nature of headlines would have us believe that sustainability is a controversial topic. But I would submit that most people you speak with want to leave the planet in a better place for the next generation (and enjoy saving on energy). I truly believe that longform dialogue is necessary to step out of binary thinking and into constructive, collaborative action.

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