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Deirdre Frontczak on the Synergy of Business & Sustainability

“We’re here, we’re breathing, and we’re conscious, reflective beings. Therefore, each of us has the possibility of generating something that enhances and expands people’s lives.”

These are the kinds of passionate words that students can expect from taking Deirdre Frontczak’s Effective Communication in Business class (BUSN 179). Deirdre emphasizes the synergy of sustainability and business by training her students to apply the triple bottom line (economy, environment, and social equity) in business situations. One of the main projects for the course requires students to create a sustainable change initiative that improves practices and behavior for an organization where they have worked. Students take on the role of a sustainability consultant and write their proposals as if they were to present them to the senior executives of the organization.  The project is designed to get students to realize the applicability of a sustainability-oriented mindset and to show them how this mindset can be incorporated into both their personal and professional lives.

Born and raised in the Big Apple, Deirdre attended New York University for undergraduate school where she majored in philosophy, and then went on to get her doctorate from Boston College. She also has a second masters in social ethics from Santa Clara University. After graduate school, Deirdre worked for The Hunger Project on the book, “Ending Hunger: An idea whose time has come,” which was designed to be a solution manual for ending world hunger by the year 2000. Deirdre marks this experience as the beginning of her commitment to sustainability.

Deirdre has spent most of her career in the business world, primarily working as a leadership consultant, and has worked on projects for big name companies like Wells Fargo and Cisco. She taught and developed training programs for upper-level executives that went beyond what a normal business education would teach, focusing heavily on implementing a vision and optimizing its impact on the people involved. In addition to teaching at Santa Clara, Deirdre contributes to her local community by teaching at Santa Rosa Junior College and working through Leadership Santa Rosa, a development program for emerging leaders in Sonoma County. "Many small businesses can’t compete with big companies on economies of scale," she notes, "but they can still build a competitive advantage by developing and implementing sustainable practices." Deirdre loves living in Sonoma County, a community on the cutting edge of sustainability that attracts well-educated, business savvy, and sustainability-focused people like herself, who are seeking a more just and humane lifestyle.

Stewarding resources has been a recurring theme throughout Deirdre’s career, from the Hunger Project to business consulting.These practices are now such an integral part of her life that she is constantly questioning how organizations can make better decisions, and how she and her family can improve their home and lifestyles to become more sustainable. There are the obvious ways, like solar panels or hybrid vehicles -- but also smaller more personal choices. For example, Deirdre used to get her nails done at a cheap and convenient salon near her house, but after reflecting on the true costs of the service such as the environmental impact from the chemicals and the wages its workers received, she has since reconsidered. “I knew that if I wasn’t paying the true cost of my manicure, then someone else was absorbing those costs in another way -- and that wasn't okay with me."

Deirdre’s experience in the business world has given her a front row seat in witnessing the enormous impact that businesses have on the economy and people’s lives. She believes that our country has excelled in developing the economy part of the triple bottom line, but that now it’s time to bring the environment and equity components up to speed. “If businesses focus on integrating the environment, social equity, and the economy into their operations, and make reflective decisions that consider those true costs and benefits then we will see a more balanced and wholly sustainable society,” she says.

As a Leavey School of Business professor, Deirdre knows that she is teaching people today who will hold tomorrow’s leadership positions. Therefore, she has the responsibility to educate students to be conscious about their choices and impacts, beyond financial gains. “I want students to understand that every decision in business is making a difference. Business leaders don’t hover; they are either contributing, or diminishing life. The choice is ours.” Deirdre believes that this awareness should inform each decision we make, whether it’s where we shop, what food we eat, who and what we vote for, how we hire, or what business practices we use. She challenges her students with the question, “Are you going to allow others to determine your course, or are you going to be active decision makers?” -- implying that Santa Clara students should be the latter. If there is one thing that Deirdre wants students to take away from her course, it’s the mindset that “my own actions matter, and our collective actions matter; so we must act thoughtfully, compassionately, in light of the overall difference we will make.”

Contributed by Erin Murphy ‘17, Sustainability Intern for Employee Engagement 

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