Chelsea Hicks-Webster: Interdisciplinary Interests

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NBS Staff discuss their interests, their goals, and what drove them to pursue business sustainability.

What is your official job description at NBS?

I’m the team’s operations manager, making sure that NBS’s daily activities are efficient and effective. Our activities fall into three main areas: understanding today’s critical challenges, sourcing the latest in credible knowledge, and package and mobilizing knowledge in a way that’s useful to business leaders. I act as a sounding board for staff leading work along this pipeline, ensuring they have the information and resources they need to succeed.

I’m also the lead on NBS’s digital engagement. I think about how we can build a strong sense of community and engagement amongst the 6,000 researchers and managers who comprise the network. Our global members contribute the knowledge that we share, so building those relationships digitally is critical to our mission.

Oh. And my background is in environmental science. So, I’m deeply grateful to others on the team who are skilled in social media, website development, search engine optimization, multi-media content production and other digital tools. Without them, I’d read A LOT more blogs.

Who should contact me?

I'm a good initial point of contact for anyone with an interest in NBS. I can help clarify whether someone's interests are a fit for our organization and identify a relevant subject matter expert within NBS.

How did you come to NBS? 

My journey to NBS was not linear. Over the course of my 6-year undergrad, I changed programs three times, eventually landing a degree in environmental science and French. My cross-disciplinary education gave me the chance to explore sustainability through many lenses, including biology, chemistry, politics and international development. Then, I had the opportunity to complete my master’s research on an interdisciplinary team, studying the connection between human and environmental health in Naivasha, Kenya.

As I completed my master’s in 2012, I knew sustainability was complex. I wanted to help change the structures that funnel humans into unsustainable behaviour. I knew business was a key player, but saw it as a black box. When Tima invited me to apply for a job at NBS, it was exactly the learning opportunity I wanted.

How did you become interested in sustainability

I’ve always found it fulfilling to make a positive change, at the individual or collective level.

My interest in sustainability, in particular, developed in my second year of university. I took an international development course, and I think I cried after every class. It was my first glimpse into the inequities and externalities of capitalism. I remember asking my instructor (during one teary session), “How can you work in this field? Doesn’t it wear you down?” She told me that the key was to focus on what you can change.

In my science courses, I was learning about the carbon cycle and how climate change would impact ecosystems. I saw that everything was connected. Humans were just part of the ecosystem. Our fate is tied to that of crashing fish and bee populations. And the social and economic systems we’ve created are altering the ecosystems in which we’re embedded. I wanted to understand more fully how the pieces fit together and contribute to solutions.

What are your interests outside work? 

I have a four-year-old daughter and twin boys who are three. Mostly, they are my interest outside of work. I value going home at the end of the day to have dinner with my family, bathe the kids, read them some books, and put them to bed. Then, if we have energy, my husband and I might have a drink and talk about our day. But often, we just go bed!

Outside of family, I’m also interested in the field of life coaching. My own coach taught me the transformative idea that our thoughts control our feelings and actions, and that all thoughts are completely optional. The key to maintaining mental health and being effective is choosing thoughts that serve you.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?

Manage your mind deliberately. If left on autopilot, our brains often feed us thoughts that don’t serve us. Taking time to recognize our thoughts, even the unconscious ones, and be deliberate about whether to keep thinking them, has helped me a lot. For example, choosing to think, “I’m figuring this out” instead of “I don’t know” produces much more positive results.

Who – past or present – would you like to invite to a dinner party?

I’d invite my extended family and my closest friends. Given the amount of time I like to spend with my children and my job, the leftover time feels a little scarce sometimes. If I had the time to throw a dinner party, the next priority on my list would be to strengthen the relationships that matter to me. I’m sure I’d learn less than if I invited Gandhi, but that’s OK. I’m happy with the tradeoff.


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