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Abby Litchfield: Non-profit Advancing Sustainable Development To Build a Fairer and More Environmentally Sound Future

The Network for Business Sustainability (NBS) is a non-profit advancing sustainable development to build a fairer and more environmentally sound future.

We aim to improve business practice by facilitating knowledge sharing across an international community of business leaders, scholars, students and policy makers. With these stakeholders, we co-create high-quality content and resources that enable practical action. Our content focuses on 6 critical sustainability themes, from climate change to social justice.

Tell us about yourself?

I grew up in Guelph, Ontario — this is where my passion for the environment and sustainability was born, as these valued are baked into the community.

Then, I went to Western University for my undergraduate degree. I studied Environmental Geography for my first two years, before completing my HBA degree at the Ivey Business School for the latter half of my degree, with a certificate in sustainability. My goal was to set myself up for a career creating positive impact in the sustainability sphere.

This is when I was introduced to the Network for Business Sustainability (NBS), which is housed at the Centre for Building Sustainable Value at Ivey. I fell in love with NBS because it sits at the intersection of different fields and fosters communication. After spending a lot of time trying to decide in which sector (business? government? NGO?) it made the most sense to pursue a career for positive impact, I decided that no option was perfect. Instead, I wanted to help people across these sectors work together and leverage their respective strengths.

NBS helps people share knowledge that often speak in entirely different languages (academic or business jargon). I’ve always been passionate about communication, so this was a good fit for me.

If you could go back in time a year or two, what piece of advice would you give yourself?

I’d tell myself not to be afraid to speak up.

Navigating the sustainability career space is hard and scary because the path is uncharted in many ways. Until recently, there weren’t many roles or opportunities available. It’s only by putting myself out there (hello, cold calls!) and really embracing an identity tied to this passion that I’ve been able to connect with the right people and learn about the right things to find myself where I am today.

What problem does your business solve?

NBS helps leaders around the world learn how to integrate sustainability into their work with evidence-based guidance.

What is the inspiration behind your business?

For years, many researchers around the world have been building important knowledge about sustainability — and how business can embrace it.

Now, with more attention towards climate change, diversity, equity, and inclusion, ESG investing, and other sustainability topics, many people are asking questions about how they can integrate sustainability in their lives and organizations. But — they’re not looking to heavy academic papers for answers. They’re looking to google.

NBS aims to answer the questions people are asking about sustainability in business — with insights based in research — in formats that people actually want to use.

What is your magic sauce?

Our magic sauce is bringing together people in academia with people who have “boots on the ground.” We often say our sweetspot is facilitating conversations that include people from both these worlds.

The academics bring the theoretical perspective from years of research; practitioners (leaders in business, NGO, government etc.) bring practical experience that ground these theories in realities that others like them can understand.

What is the plan for the next 5 years? What do you want to achieve?

NBS is focusing our attention on 6 knowledge hubs – around which we aim to build our upcoming content, and our community. They are: Climate Change, Circular Economy, Sustainable Innovation, Social Justice, Sustainable Finance, and Sustainability in Business Schools.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?

The challenge when building communication bridges between groups that often speak different languages is finding middle ground.

For example, to ensure our content reaches the broadest audience possible (thus maximizing the potential impact of people integrating the lessons in their work), we need to align it with “Search Engine Optimization.” This means using key phrases and terms that people are looking for, related to sustainability in business. The challenge is that sometimes these phrases and terms don’t align with the knowledge in the academic community. Often, there is a lot of nuance there about which terms are correct or accurate. It can be challenging to find a compromise!

Also, in a world where there is increasingly so much “content,” we sometimes struggle with the viability of using content creation as a mechanism for impact. But, meanwhile, we continue to experience significant growth in the users of our content (it’s all free!) — we’re currently around 40k users/month. We really value feedback from our audience to help us understand how we can best support them and create content that will truly catalyze impact! Hearing about the value our work brings to our users is what consistently gives us the motivation and inspiration to continue.

How do people get involved/buy into your vision?

There are many ways to get involved with NBS.

To incorporate cutting edge sustainability knowledge from our content in our work, you can subscribe to our newsletter: https://nbs.net/subscribe/ and follow us on social media.

To amplify this knowledge through your channels or on your website, you can republish any NBS content following the guidelines here: https://nbs.net/republish-an-article/

If you have knowledge and/or experience to share related to sustainable business, tell us about it. We’re always open to publishing new case studies and articles, and learning from you: https://nbs.net/contribute-an-article/

If you’re passionate about our mission and want to use your skills to serve it, volunteer with us here: https://nbs.net/volunteer-with-us/

Finally, if you want to support our cause by building capacity among our small team, you can donate financially, here: https://nbs.net/donate/

If you have another idea about how to collaborate, reach out to me: a[email protected]

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