Alumni Profile: Catherine Burnett '93 and Dana Miller '13

Catherine and Dana
Posted on February 5, 2019

Charged by our classmates with designing the sustainability strategy for the 5th and 25th Reunions, we decided to combine our efforts to maximize the positive impact.  We also collaborated closely with Princeton’s Office of Sustainability and student EcoReps to design and implement solutions. We put together a multifaceted approach that aimed to raise awareness of sustainability issues through a sustainability pledge, minimize landfill waste produced by utilizing stainless steel beer mugs and recyclable plastic cups, designated fast lanes for reusing cups, worked with Whole Foods and an entrepreneurial venture to arrange for our used plastic cups to be repurposed into new recyclable products, sourced food locally and organically where possible and repurposed unused food for food insecure community members, reduce carbon emissions through a organized carpooling, offset carbon emissions produced by travel to and during Reunions, and more.

Major:

  • Catherine: AB, English, American Studies Certificate
  • Dana: Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; Certificate in Environmental Studies

Professional Role and Organization:

  • Catherine: Chief Impact Officer, Phillips Enterprises
  • Dana: Current: MBA candidate at Yale School of Management. Prior: Global Climate Analyst for Environmental Defense Fund

How do you define sustainability?

  • Catherine: For me, sustainability is a mind-set marked by taking into consideration how each decision you make affects living beings, natural systems, and future generations with the goal to produce harmony and equity.
  • Dana: I have always appreciated the UN’s definition of sustainable development as a definition for sustainability as a whole: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” To be sustainable, countries in all phases of development need to build systems that promote prosperity while protecting and replenishing earth’s resources.

How does your work relate to sustainability and how did Princeton prepare you for your role?

pile of bags of cups #5 plastic cups collected from the 5th and 25th Reunion HQ Sites
  • Both: As mentioned above, we worked on a multitude of sustainability initiatives for the 5th and 25th Reunions, from reducing plastic waste to responsible food sourcing to improving transportation options. Along the way, we reawakened that Tiger Spirit of collaboration, problem-solving, and results-focus. One example of this was our initiative to reduce, reuse and recycle plastic cups. We worked closely together with the Office of Sustainability to develop a plan for tackling plastic waste. We created a partnership with Whole Foods and Preserve, to send our used #5 plastic waste to be recycled into new products, such as toothbrushes. We made efforts to purchase only #5 plastic cups, plates, and cutlery, and made arrangements to deliver our waste to Whole Foods each morning of Reunions. Student EcoReps and Crew Members played an essential role. EcoReps helped us identify a drop-off location for our recycling bags (pictured) and instructed the crews about our recycling efforts. Each night, EcoReps collected plastic cups and answered questions about recycling. Alumni also did their part by signing the pledge, writing their names on the cups and reusing them, recycling, and cheering on the students. That’s what Tiger Spirit is all about. 
  • Catherine: At work I direct impact investing and sustainability strategy for a platform of related organizations (4 operating companies, a charitable foundation and a family office) to maximize positive social and environmental impact in addition to financial returns.  Princeton cultivated critical thinking skills, creative problem solving, calculated risk-taking, and communication for persuasion, all of which are necessary for work related to sustainability strategy.
  • Dana: I started my role at Environmental Defense Fund as a Princeton High Meadows Fellow. Highlights of my 4 years at EDF included working with Walmart to create a strategy to reduce deforestation from its supply chain and advocating for strong rules on forestry and agriculture in the UN Paris Climate Agreement. Princeton provided me with an incredible entry-level position; a strong foundation in science, economics and research; and great contacts with professors that I still go to for advice and expertise. Above all, Princeton taught me how to learn new topics rapidly and take initiative to come up with my own research questions and ideas (did someone say thesis?).

What advice would you offer to students seeking to focus on or incorporate sustainability in their careers?

  • Catherine: A sustainability lens can be incorporated into any and every job function and career path.  Bring your values and passion to whatever profession you choose, and work to drive positive change wherever you are. 
  • Dana: Partnerships are critical to advancing sustainability goals. I have found this to be true in my work with EDF and Walmart, as well as collaborating with Catherine and Princeton’s Office of Sustainability on Reunions. Students should look for opportunities to build relationships, both during their job search and on the job, and emphasize their partnership skills in interviews.

Planning Reunions?

Learn more about ongoing Reunions sustainability initiatives and examples of other class efforts. Each class’s Reunions committee has the option to designate a sustainability chair to coordinate sustainability efforts in their planning. The Office of Sustainability will provide recommendations and tips to help these chairs green future Reunions. Email sustain@princeton.edu for more information and ideas.