Meet Executive Master of Sustainable Leadership alumnus Dan Colton

Although he had been taught to live sustainably before he even knew the meaning of the word, Dan Colton’s interest in sustainability wasn’t sparked until he got to — of all places — law school.

“I was in law school taking classes such as Environmental Law, Water Law, and a newly formed class called Sustainability," Colton said. "I realized then that there are some incredibly powerful tools in our society that can help us responsibly use the world's resources in a way that protects them and makes them available for future generations. From that point on, I was always looking for ways to tie my profession back in to my interest in sustainability.”

Colton went on to obtain a degree from the Executive Master of Sustainability Leadership program in the School of Sustainability. He currently works for Intel, but will soon be transitioning to a new role with Apple in California. To learn more about Colton and his journey from law to sustainability, continue reading his Q&A below.

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study sustainability?

Answer: I have been interested in the idea of sustainability as far back as I can remember. However, I didn't always call it "sustainability." Taking care of the environment and leaving a place better than I found it was something I was taught at home growing up.

Professionally, my "aha" moment came 13 years ago when I was in law school taking classes such as Environmental Law, Water Law, and even a newly formed class called Sustainability. I realized then that there are some incredibly powerful tools in our society that can help us responsibly use the world's resources in a way that protects them and makes them available for future generations. From that point on, I was always looking for ways to tie my profession back in to my interest in sustainability.

Flash forward, and after six years of practicing law, I made the decision to go back to school to get an MBA, with an emphasis in Supply Chain Management. I had learned that many businesses do amazing things in the sustainability space through their supply chains, and that career path sounded like the right one for me. After graduating, I was very fortunate to get a job working in Intel's Supply Chain Sustainability group and my amazing experience on that team confirmed my decision to focus my career on sustainability and corporate social responsibility.

Q: Why did you choose the Executive Master of Sustainability Leadership (EMSL)?

A: When a co-worker of mine began the program, she regularly told me about how much she enjoyed it. Her enthusiasm and the content of the program got me interested in the idea of pursuing a degree in sustainability. After learning about the program, and hearing about the phenomenal reputation of the School of Sustainability and the EMSL professors, I was hooked! I felt confident that the program would not only add valuable tools to my sustainability toolbox, but it would also allow me to meet some fascinating sustainability professionals within my cohort and through the amazing guest lecturers that regularly address the class.

Q: Are there any particular classes or nuggets of information that have really stuck with you or inspired you?

A: There are two ideas that that deeply resonated with me during the course of the program.

1. When you look at problem solving through a "sustainability lens," you can find solutions that are equally or more effective and simultaneously allow you to solve the problem in a way that can reduce negative consequences to our natural resources or even create an overall net-positive result for the environment.

2. When creating a sustainability-focused communication strategy, you can increase the likelihood of successfully influencing your audience by helping them view themselves as the "hero" of the sustainability journey on which you hope to guide them. By doing this, you help your audience see themselves as an essential part of the journey while providing them with the tools, inspiration, and confidence necessary to accomplish the something that they may have previously thought impossible to achieve. As I have applied these principles, along with others I learned in the EMSL course, I have found them to help me be more successful in my role as a sustainability professional.

Q: How has the EMSL advanced your career?

A: My EMSL education has helped open new doors for me professionally. Shortly after I added my EMSL degree to my LinkedIn profile, recruiters began reaching out to me about job opportunities. This had never happened to me before. Through one of these recruiters, I received a job offer to join Apple's Supplier Responsibility team, which I recently accepted. I begin my job on May 18th.

Q: Can you tell us about your current position at Intel?

A: At Intel, I am a Technical Program Manager in the Supply Chain Sustainability Group. I work with many of Intel's major suppliers to ensure that they are meeting Intel's Supplier Code of Conduct expectations in areas such as environmental, health and safety, labor, ethics, and sustainable management systems. I partner with Intel's commodity management organizations to evaluate their suppliers' performance in these areas and to encourage suppliers to make changes when we identify gaps.

Q: Will you be performing a similar or different role at Apple? If different, could you elaborate?

A: My new role at Apple will be somewhat similar, however, I will have also responsibility over the strategic development of a segment of Apple's Supplier Responsibility assessment program. Additionally, I will have a more hands-on role in the actual assessment and development of suppliers' sustainable business capabilities.

Q: How did you balance your classes with your work/personal life?

A: For me, achieving an "A+" in my role as a husband and father always comes first. Throughout the different graduate programs I have completed, I have always taken the approach of putting my family first and then working within the time I had left to do as well as I could in school. This program was different because, in addition to balancing family and school, I also worked full-time throughout the year. Fortunately, the EMSL professors were very flexible in allowing me to use work projects to fulfill my school assignments.

The School of Sustainability and the EMSL professors crafted this course for working professionals, and there is an understanding that when things pop up in life that throw a wrench in your school work, the program can flex with you to allow you to take care of those obstacles and then get back on track with school. It was definitely a busy year academically, professionally, and personally, but maintaining balance in life was made possible with the support of my wonderful family, friends, classmates, coworkers, and professors.

Q: What does sustainability mean to you?

A: To me, sustainability is recognizing that ownership of the resources available to humanity spans generations and geographies. Sustainability is demonstrating that although we may have physical control over Earth's resources during our lifetime, we are merely temporary stewards, tasked with the responsibility of using and preserving Earth's abundant resources in such a way as to leave the planet in as good a state, or ideally better, than that in which it was when we inherited it.

Q: Is there anything you’d like to add?

A: I think that a lot of people get stuck on the idea of that they need a job title that includes the word "sustainability." In my experience, you don't have to be in any specific role in order to engage in sustainable business or government efforts. To those people, I say, start now, regardless of your current title or position! You can always find opportunities within your existing sphere of influence to look at problems through a "sustainability lens." I have found that there are countless opportunities to make changes that will help improve the world around you and better whose lives your efforts touch. Don't wait to get a job in sustainability before you feel you have the power to make a difference. You can do it, and you can do it now!