Meet Master of Sustainability Leadership alumnus Joseph Aubert

Joseph Aubert was looking to make a career change when he discovered corporate sustainability. Excited by the opportunity, he applied to Arizona State University’s Master of Sustainability Leadership (MSL) program.

“My impression of the MSL was that it flipped that paradigm, and was much more ‘macro’ in scale, focusing on the big picture instead of the day-to-day management,” Aubert said. “A culture of sustainability needs to start at the top, which is where I want to be.”

This May 2020, Aubert is graduating from the program and will continue his journey to help bring about meaningful change in the world. In the following Q&A, get acquainted with Aubert and his future plans.

Question: Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

Answer: I’m 32 years old and live in Seattle, WA, with my fiancée Marisa. We were all set to get married on a beach in Mexico about two weeks after graduation but we’ve had to postpone it until November. We’ve been planning this for almost two years now so what’s another couple of months? I got my BA in English from Central Washington University with a minor in music and I’ve been at The Boeing Company for almost nine years now; the first eight years I spent as a Quality Assurance and Regulatory Compliance Auditor for Boeing’s international pilot and mechanic training schools, and last August I became an FAA Liaison for the 737 program, acting as contact point between the company and regulators. Most of my family (including my fiancée) are UW fans, so it’s been fun being a Sun Devil surrounded by Huskies. I’ve always been a bit of a troublemaker, so I identify very heavily with Sparky.

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

A: When I started thinking about going back to school, I was at somewhat of a crossroads in my life. It was around mid-2017, I had kind of peaked in my job at the time and was looking to make a career pivot into something I might find more interesting. At the same time, Donald Trump had just been elected and things were way worse than I could have imagined. I was exhausted, felt powerless, and considered leaving the country, but as my professor will tell you, I‘m a fighter. I wasn’t ready to give up yet.

A mentor of mine at Boeing, Dave Hunter, had been hammering on me to go back to school since I started. Boeing’s Learning Together Program is one of the best tuition-assistance programs in the country, covering the full cost of a degree from a school of your choosing, and I would be leaving money on the table if I didn’t take advantage of it. As I was scanning through the list of approved areas of study, the term “Corporate Sustainability” popped out. I googled it, and it turned out to be exactly what I was looking for! I could combine my corporate experience and my activist spirit to help drive meaningful change in the world — or at least get a job I didn’t hate.

Q: Why did you choose the Master of Sustainability Leadership program?

A: I had been looking at doing a so-called “Green MBA,” but those programs seemed to be much heavier on the “MBA” than the “Green.” It seemed to me that traditional economics is what got us into this mess, so just slapping a “green” label on it isn’t going to cut it. My impression of the MSL was that it flipped that paradigm, and was much more “macro” in scale, focusing on the big picture instead of the day-to-day management. A culture of sustainability needs to start at the top, which is where I want to be.

Q: What’s been your favorite part of being in the program so far and why?

A: Interacting with my classmates! I was unsure about doing a cohort program at first but I’m so glad I did. Having the same people in each class was really helpful when I had questions or concerns about something, and having such a wide range of industries and backgrounds present — and the creative and insightful solutions everyone came up with — really helped drive home how universal the concepts of sustainability really are.

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

A: I would encourage MSL students to communicate with each other as much as possible. The virtual nature of the program can sometimes feel isolating, like you’re going at it alone, but you are definitely NOT ALONE! If you’re confused about something, you can bet someone else is, so reach out to your cohort for support. I’ve only met one of my classmates in person, but I feel like I have a personal relationship with each one of them. They know better than anyone what you’re going through, so lean on them when you need it, support others when they need it, and try and be as engaged as possible throughout.

Q: Can you tell us about your capstone project? What inspired you to do the project?

A: For my capstone I created the GAIN Certification, a green certification along the lines of LEED or EnergyStar, but for live music venues. I have been a drummer for over 20 years now and music has always been the center of my life. I have been to countless concerts and have played hundreds of shows around the Pacific Northwest region with my band Devilwood, so I am pretty familiar with how live venues operate.

When thinking of a capstone, our advisors challenged us to pursue something that we truly are passionate about, and this was the first thing that came to mind. I researched existing green certifications, met with reps from venues in the Seattle area for tours and to brainstorm ideas, and wrote a 30-page foundational document, the GAIN Standard. GAIN stands for Green Artist Information Network, and the goal is to eventually turn it into the central repository for the greening of the music industry. For now, though, the next step is to start certifying venues!

(By the way, Devilwood’s latest album, “Transit of Venus,” is available for streaming on all major platforms, and CD and vinyl on Bandcamp.)

Q: How do you envision applying sustainability to your future career?

A: Boeing has really impressed me with the sustainability initiatives they are pursuing, which I had no idea about before beginning this program. Their goals for waste and emissions reduction; investments in biofuels and renewable energy; increased fuel efficiency in models like the 787, 737MAX, and 777X; etc. make it a leader within the aviation industry and amongst other large American firms — but there’s still a lot of work to do. In the longer term I’d like to see what’s outside of Boeing, but there’s a non-zero chance that I’ll end up a Boeing lifer, which wouldn’t be so bad.

Q: What does sustainability mean to you?

A: What really struck me about sustainability is just how simple it really is; certainly the implementation can be difficult, and will certainly take a lot of effort, but the concepts are really very simple: We need to reduce our resource consumption and waste output; we need to invest in renewable energy sources; we need to treat our employees and customers like human beings, etc. These are all things we’ve known about for decades, but just haven’t done them yet. The beauty of this program is that it asks you to consider how these concepts can be applied to your workplace, hobbies, or even your everyday life. The continuous refrain that “sustainability is a decision problem” really drives home the fact that the solutions to these problems exist, we just need to put them into action!

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

A: If you want more information about GAIN Certification, or a copy of the GAIN Standard, please reach out at [email protected].