Sustainability CEO Angela Nagy on the Value of Long-Term Thinking

The mission-driven entrepreneur uses incremental goals, and plenty of time, to affect powerful change.

Angela Nagy, CEO, Greenstep

When I was 18, I lucked into a contract position as the grants coordinator for the Mission Creek Greenway Project, an initiative to protect an important watershed in my community. In this role, I had the opportunity to research how human developments and businesses affected the local ecosystems, and how these behaviors and activities were having a negative impact on nature and ultimately on our drinking water.

Until then, I’d assumed that government regulations would prevent these types of negative impacts on the environment and human health. When I began learning that regulations are not always evidence and science-based, and can be heavily influenced by lobbying efforts, I began to get angry and knew that I wanted to do something about this.

As I considered my options, I wondered if I could use my love for writing and public speaking and change the way business is done through entrepreneurship? What if I could become a policymaker, and work to influence regulatory changes and policies that I was learning were important?

So, at the age of 18, I had that epiphany: I decided that my purpose in life was to change the world through business and politics. And that’s what I set out to do. Ten years later, I was elected to public office and started my company, GreenStep Solutions. In the process, here’s what I’ve learned about long-term thinking to drive real results.

Mission-Driven Ambition

Sadly, most businesses don’t make it past five years. Now in year 14 of entrepreneurship, I can say that being mission-driven and having a strong sense of purpose has kept me going during the most difficult times of my journey. It keeps me energetic, and drives me to keep improving the work that we do.

Although I didn’t have any post-secondary education, I just knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I voraciously read books on relevant subjects, attended a number of different conferences and meetings, undertook training that would help me to develop the knowledge and skills that I thought I would need to successfully start a company to change the world.

My advice to others who want to make a difference in their careers: Get out there and apply for those dream jobs that are in a purpose-driven field. Your specific background is less of a potential obstacle than you might think. A lot of purpose-driven founders and executives are looking for values alignment and passion before they’re looking for the perfect resume.

Long-Term Goals, Incremental Steps

At GreenStep, we have a vision of the world that we would like to see and what success looks like for us in 2030. We stay on task—and stay motivated—by benchmarking our performance with much smaller intervals along the way. We break down our goals and plans into smaller pieces that we can conceptualize. Many things will change between now and the end goal, but we do have some very specific targets. We think in three-year time blocks. That’s 12 quarters, and for each of those quarters, we map out the actions we’re going to need to take to get us down the path to our ultimate goal.

We work with our clients in a very similar way. The first thing we typically do is to establish their baseline sustainability performance. That could mean measuring their carbon footprint, working through one of our sustainability assessments, or perhaps surveying stakeholders in an industry association. We then work with their team to set goals of what success looks like and by when, and then build out a sustainability strategy and plan to make these goals a reality.

A key to the successful implementation of these plans is the prioritization of actions. For example, when it comes to things like renewable energy or fleet electrification, our clients may not be able to make a significant capital investment in the short term, but they can get started on the low-hanging fruit opportunities that will provide a quicker return on investment, which can then generate the savings they need to invest in tackling the bigger projects down the road.

By having a roadmap or blueprint, you can see where you are on a quarterly and annual basis, and measure success using these benchmarks along the way. It’s about thinking big, and executing in smaller pieces. That—coupled with truly believing in the mission—is how you get there.

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