Welcome to the TSSS Series on Canadian Women in CSR. Learn about their journeys, discover what inspires them and explore how they’re making a difference through their careers in sustainability. Please follow the link to read about other exceptional Canadian Women in CSR.
TSSS: Briefly describe your role and responsibilities, and how many years you have been in the business.
Francisca Quinn: I’m President and Founder of Quinn & Partners, a management consultancy specializing in corporate sustainability. I have spent my entire professional career supporting large companies and investors in the areas of corporate strategy and sustainability, working for some of the largest multinational firms. In starting Quinn & Partners I wanted to create a company that partner employees could own and build together.
Although I have worked within many business sectors, much of my current work is centered on the nexus of investors looking to integrate sustainability into decision making and companies responding to investors with more sustainability-centric strategies and reporting. I find this fascinating.
TSSS: How do you see the evolution of sustainability as a movement?
FQ: In the sustainability movement’s early days, many thought it was government policy that was going to drive sustainability in business (as we all know, that has not happened). Then, all bets were put on emerging “green” customer segments (this is going very slowly). In the future, I think we will look back and say that it was ultimately capital markets that became the primary driver for a more sustainable economy. Investors with foresight of the risks and opportunities that sustainability presents to business will be integral to this change.
TSSS: How has the sustainability program evolved at your company?
FQ: Given that we are in the business of providing strategic sustainability support for companies, we have to walk the talk in all aspects of our operations. We also hope to become a B-Corp certified organization later this year.
As a new company, we started with a clean slate, so it was easy to make good choices from the start. For example, we located our office centrally in Toronto so that our employees could walk or bike to work, and most of our clients can be reached via public transit.
In sourcing office furniture and equipment, we were able to obtain used furniture from another firm that was relocating and we sourced odds and ends from websites such as Kijiji and GreenForGood. Our only real “luxury” was carpet from FLOR which, by definition, is made from reused carpet fibres. As both a joke and a testament to our efforts in minimizing our environmental footprint and financial start-up costs, we created a “sustainable office” certification for ourselves. We made a poster to acknowledge this certification and put it up in our board room. It stimulates many great conversations with clients.
TSSS: Tell us about someone (mentor, sponsor, friend, hero) who affected your sustainability journey and how.
FQ: The person who recruited me to my former position, head of sustainability at consultancy Loop Initiatives, has been a great teacher and mentor to me. He taught me the importance of understanding people’s drivers and motivations in addressing sustainability. Is it about creating a better business or is it a reaction to a request from an important customer or shareholder? From this person, I also learned the importance of appealing to both hearts and minds. One must understand people’s personal priorities in leading change. This has helped me to build long-lasting relationships with CEOs, senior managers and client staff.
I also have to thank my husband who has been so supportive, both in my professional and personal sustainability journeys. He has agreed to all of my green experiments – geothermal heating/cooling in our house, a garden centered around a veggie patch, driving first a hybrid, and now an electric, vehicle. He listens patiently to my rants about everything that has to change. He has even committed to becoming a member of the advisory board of a major Toronto sustainability-related charity.
TSSS: What is the best advice you have ever received?
FQ: Don’t try to sell anything to someone who doesn’t get it. Move on, there are more interesting and rewarding things to do.
TSSS: Can you share a recent accomplishment of which you’re especially proud?
FQ: I am always very proud when clients with whom I have worked receive recognition for their accomplishments. A longstanding client, Delta Hotels & Resorts, received the hotel sector’s pre-eminent “Green Leadership Award” in 2012. Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan was ranked “Green Star” in the 2013 Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark Survey (GRESB). They have also been shortlisted twice for the industry organization NAIOP’s annual Green Award. A sustainability report that our team wrote for a client in the real estate sector will be featured at a major industry conference this summer. Of course, I was also proud to be recognized as a member of the Canada “Clean 50” last year.
TSSS: If you had the power to make one major change at your company or in your industry, what would it be?
FQ: Figuring out the technology and processes to allow a truly paper-free office. And enabling virtual communication with partners and clients anytime, anywhere. Good for productivity, the environment and the bank account.
To read about other exceptional Canadian Women in CSR, please follow this link.