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Case Study Series

The purpose of the WCC Case Study Series is to generate awareness and recognition of leaders and climate champions who have faced challenges and opportunities that provide lessons learned and advice for women entering or currently in the field of climate change.  Previously featured individuals have included:


Janet Friday
Director of Environmental Sustainability


About the Interviewer:

Connie Sasala
Director of Strategic Energy Solutions, Altenex & ACCO Advisory Board Member

Connie serves as Altenex's Director of Strategic Energy Solutions, assisting in new client origination, strategic energy analysis and alignment of sustainability goals with renewable energy procurement.

Prior to joining Altenex, Connie worked on the forefront of defining and implementing best practice for sustainability, energy and carbon management in the U.S. and abroad. As Chief Sustainability Officer of a consulting firm to Fortune 500 clients in every sector of the economy, her experience is both broad and deep. Successfully creating hundreds of strategic frameworks that aligned business objectives with sustainability goals, implementing impact reduction projects and reporting results on every major platform and program for clients. She has also served as a Senior Scientist in major hazardous waste management firms, and as the Director of the Policy and Technology Innovations Division at U.S. EPA.

Beyond Compliance: Career Evolution in the Environmental Sustainability Field
An Interview with Janet Friday (Director of Environmental Sustainability at Merck)
Fall 2016

For 125 years, Merck has been a global health care leader working to help the world be well. Merck is known as MSD outside the United States and Canada. Through the company's prescription medicines, vaccines, biologic therapies, and animal health products, it works with customers and operates in more than 140 countries to deliver innovative health solutions. Merck also demonstrates its commitment to increasing access to health care through far-reaching policies, programs and partnerships.

Janet Friday is the Director of Environmental Sustainability at Merck, bringing over 30 years of environmental compliance and sustainability experience to address the company's challenges. She earned Bachelor's Degrees in Mechanical Engineering and Economics from Bucknell University, a Master's Degree in Urban Studies from Georgia State University, and an MBA in Sustainable Business from Marylhurst University. Prior to joining Merck, Janet worked for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and an environmental consulting firm. She joined Merck in 1993 and has worked in various roles supporting Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS) compliance for pharmaceutical manufacturing operations. In 2013, she joined Merck's corporate staff in her current role, where she manages the execution of Merck's sustainability strategy and goals. She is currently working to embed sustainability thinking into the design, manufacture and marketing of Merck's pharmaceutical products.

Janet is the subject of this month's interview by ACCO's Women's Climate Collaborative (WCC) series on women leaders.

Connie Sasala: You have an interesting educational background, with degrees in mechanical engineering, economics, urban studies and sustainable business. How has this range of disciplines helped you navigate a regulatory agency, a consulting firm, and now a Fortune 500 company?
Janet Friday: I am always eager to learn something new. I tend to think about my education and career as an integrated series of stepping stones. Each "stone" provides me with experience, knowledge and insight into what to do next. I started out in Engineering because I was fascinated with how machines worked and liked solving problems. Once I started down that path, I realized that I needed more than the fine details of engineering calculations. I wanted a bigger picture understanding of how the world worked, so I changed my major to include a BA in Economics. After I graduated from college, I started working at EPA in the air quality program, with a focus on urban air pollution. After several years there, I started a graduate degree in Urban Studies, which led me understand the multi-faceted issues facing cities, including both social and environmental. After spending 20 years in the private sector, I wanted to do more to promote the triple bottom line – the intersection of environmental, social and economic performance -- so I pursued my MBA in Sustainable Business. My current role allows me to utilize all the knowledge I have gained along the way from my degrees and my work experience.

CS: A substantial part of your career has been in the compliance realm up until the transition into your sustainability role. What sparked this change?
JF: I have spent most of my career working to understand and comply with environmental regulations. At some point, I realized that simply complying with existing regulations would not address some of the biggest environmental challenges facing the world…like climate change. Sustainability has been my passion for as long as I can remember. In second grade, I joined the Ecology Club so I could help clean up the stream behind my local school. In one of my science classes, we learned about the exponential population growth curve, and I was terrified because I intuitively knew that our planet would have a hard time supporting that many people. So, I guess it was just a matter of time until I moved into a sustainability role.

CS: What has been your biggest challenge as the Director of Environmental Sustainability, and how are you tackling it?
JF: My biggest challenge seems to be the "status quo" and the tendency of people to do things the way they've always done them. One of the best things about my current role as Sustainability Director is that I am very externally focused and interact with a lot of people from other companies and industries that are also working on sustainability. This has opened my mind to alternative ways of thinking and inspired me to be bolder about driving change internally. One of my main responsibilities is to bring the "outside-in" and educate my colleagues about the business benefits associated with pursuing environmental sustainability improvements.

CS: Embedding sustainability thinking into the designof products is challenging for most manufacturing companies, but even more so for pharmaceutical firms whose products are taken by patients. What is your near-term and longer-term focus toward the goal of sustainable products?
JF: We've actually had a Green Chemistry program in place for many years that helps drive environmental improvements in the design of our manufacturing processes. Recently, we renamed this program to "Green and Sustainable Science" to be more inclusive of both our chemical and biological products. Another area of focus for the last few years has been Packaging "Design for Environment" where we assess the life cycle environmental impacts of our packaging and try to reduce our footprint. We've seen that our customers are starting to develop environmental criteria for the products and packaging they buy from us, so we are focused on making changes to meet those requirements. We're also building our capabilities in performing life cycle assessments to help guide our decision-making in this area.

CS: Given that reducing greenhouse gas emissions is still largely voluntary, how do you rally support for these reductions across a large organization?
JF: It's all about the business case. Initially we emphasized cost reduction as the biggest driver for pursuing energy reduction projects. That worked in some situations, but not all, due to the need to meet internal financial return requirements. We've expanded our business case to include things like risk reduction, customer expectations, investor interest and even talent retention. As the energy markets are changing, renewable energy is becoming more economically attractive, and that helps. Getting management sponsorship for these types of activities is critical, and you need to make sure you can make a credible business case. 

CS: Looking back on your career, were there pivotal moments when you figured out how to achieve your aims in a new or different way?
JF: Not really. I learned early on that you need to have data to back up your proposals. Once you have the facts, then you need to deliver your message in an effective way. I always try to be myself, speak confidently, and lay all my cards on the table. The most challenging thing for me recently has been to figure out how to tell my sustainability story in a short, crisp and compelling way. I only have a limited amount of time to make a case to senior management, so I have to have a well refined "elevator speech."

CS: What is the single most important piece of advice you could give professionals coming up through the ranks now in the environmental field?
JF: I guess my best advice would be to keep your options open and don't specialize too quickly. I've worked as a government regulator, an environmental consultant, an environmental compliance manager in industry, and now a Sustainability Director. There are things to be learned from each role you take on, and you need to figure out what type of job fits with your talents and interests. I would tell them to take some time to explore different roles and use what you learn to choose your next "stepping stone."

CS: As a director-level professional in a Fortune 500 company you work hard. What do you do to relax and reset on the weekends before taking on the challenges of each new week?
JF: I love to be outside, and I don't get to do that enough. So most weekends and vacations I spend doing something outdoors – walking on the beach, hiking in the woods, or skiing in the mountains. There is something to be said for the restorative power of nature.

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