‘Dig in Where You Can and Get Started’: Driving Ambitious Sustainability Efforts at a Global Company

Sponsored by Aramark

Kate Hanley

Kate Hanley, Director of Global Climate Strategy, Aramark.

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April 20, 2024 at 1:11PM UTC

Aramark, a global provider of hospitality, facilities, and uniform services in 19 countries, knows that doing good for people and our planet by implementing environmental, social, and governance (ESG) goals is imperative — and that’s why they are a key focus for the company. “More than ever, this work is critical — not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because addressing ESG topics helps us identify opportunities for business growth, respond to stakeholders, and manage risks to our business,” explains Aramark CEO, John Zillmer.

One part of this focus is creating actionable and helpful environmental goals for the company. For instance, as outlined in its  2021 Be Well. Do Well. Impact Report, Aramark states that reducing greenhouse gas emissions is critical to the company’s success. That’s why Aramark is setting new targets and goals. In addition to a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 15% by 2025 from its 2019 baseline in the U.S., Aramark has committed to set enterprise-wide science-based targets to reduce GHG emission in line with the Science Based Targets initiative’s (SBTi) new Net-Zero Standard. And this is far from their only planet impact goal. Aramark has goals to source responsibly, operate efficiently, minimize food waste, and reduce single-use plastics. 

As Director of Global Climate Strategy, Kate Hanley is leading the charge in this area, helping Aramark fight climate change and make strides and commitments to sustainability to protect their communities. To do so, she relies on her wide-ranging experience in the field and passion for sustainability. 

“I live and breathe climate. I can talk about it all day,” states Hanley, “but when I hear colleagues talk about their work and how it contributes to our climate strategy, that feels so rewarding because it shows me that this work and our goals are embedded into the organization. Everyone is taking ownership of how their work contributes to making our planet a better place.” 

We checked in with Hanley about her work, Aramark’s environmental focuses, and how she manages such an ambitious set of goals.

Tell us about your job and career background.

My whole career journey, for the last 10 years, has been in sustainability. I have a dual degree, an MBA and a master's in environmental science, with the goal of working at the nexus of business and environment. 

I worked in the nonprofit sector for a number of years, at EDF on a program called Climate Corps, where we trained and placed graduate students to work on various sustainability and climate projects. Then, I worked in the public sector as a sustainability director for the town of Concord, Massachusetts. 

I joined Aramark in June 2021 and was excited to take my nonprofit and public sector experience and apply it to corporate sustainability. The role was newly created to facilitate Aramark’s climate strategy, after the organization launched the Be Well. Do Well. sustainability plan and set climate goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

How is sustainability built into the culture at Aramark?

Our vision, mission, and goals take sustainability to heart. At Aramark, our sustainability plan Be Well. Do Well. is focused on having a positive impact on people and the planet. 

My role focuses more on the planet side of things. Our goal, when it comes to the planet, means addressing climate change. We’re aiming to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprint as a company.

In November 2021, we committed to setting science-based targets, which are ambitious climate goals. We’ll be going through a process of setting new targets that accelerate our efforts on climate. I’m looking forward to being part of that process and setting those new targets. 

As far as how that’s embedded in Aramark’s strategy, Be Well. Do Well. was a huge milestone in clarifying our goals.

What drew you to work in sustainability?

Sustainability is constantly evolving. My interest in the field started in college, when I learned about climate change and the impact that it’s having and will continue to have on the places and people that we care about. 

As an economics major, I was inspired to find a nexus of economics and the environment. Working in sustainability can be very challenging, but it can also be really rewarding — it takes a lot of personal resilience to work in this space. It's a field that changes quickly and requires constant learning. 

As companies and organizations progress on their sustainability journey, the kind of skills and tools that you need to influence them along the way change, too. To me, working in sustainability means having a lot of cross competencies. You need to understand the science at a certain level, but you also need to be able to translate and communicate it to different stakeholders in a way that resonates with them. 

You have to be able to develop strategic plans, manage projects, engage, and motivate different stakeholders along the way. The aspect that I like most is that you get to wear a lot of hats and work with many different functional units and lines of business at Aramark. 

What’s one of your favorite projects that you’ve been involved with since joining Aramark?

I’ve been involved in working on our commitment to set science-based targets for emissions reduction, which need to take a global approach, and raising our ambition level to address climate change. This has involved working with cross-functional stakeholders to understand why we should do it, what it means, and how we should move forward now that we’ve made these commitments. In setting these targets, I’m also involved with measuring data and tracking our progress toward our climate goals through our greenhouse gas inventory.

I’m helping to ensure that we’re setting a coordinated climate strategy and working with individual countries and regions to adapt that strategy for their local environments. I focus on our big goals and the roadmaps we need to achieve those goals over the next several years and in the long term.

What keeps you motivated?

Sustainability and ESG issues are very important on the world stage. It feels like things have shifted, and we've crossed a threshold where they’ve become a business imperative. Increased focus on ESG and sustainability topics gives me hope that this effort won’t subside; I think it’s going to continue to be important for businesses around the world in the future.

It’s exciting to me that the time has come, given that it’s so top of mind and a critical part of business operations, not just at Aramark but at all companies. That keeps me and those whose roles touch on sustainability optimistic that we’re heading in the right direction.

What’s your advice to someone looking to transition to sustainability in their career?

Be open-minded because there are a lot of ways to work in the sustainability space. I've worked in the nonprofit, public, and now private sector. Think about the impact you want to make and how hands-on you want to be.

If you’re just starting out, be open and follow your interests. If you're excited and passionate about something, dig in there. Be willing to give everything a try; a lot of sustainability is learning by doing. Dig in where you can and get started.


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