Janet Friday, Sustainability in Design, Manufacture and Marketing, Marylhurst University

Sustainability in Design, Manufacture and Marketing

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. 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 – the year she completed her M.B.A. in Sustainable Business at Marylhurst University – Janet joined Merck’s corporate staff, overseeing 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.

The following is an excerpt from an interview with Janet Friday, conducted as part of a series on women leaders by Women’s Climate Collaborative.

Women’s Climate Collaborative: 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 B.A. 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 M.B.A 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.

WCC: 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.

WCC: Embedding sustainability thinking into the design of 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?

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.

WCC: 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.

WCC: 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.”

WCC: 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.”

Janet Friday earned her M.B.A. in Sustainable Business from Marylhurst University in 2013.

» Read the full interview with Janet Friday on WomensClimate.org

Republished with the permission of the Association of Climate Change Officers.  » Read more Women’s Climate Collaborative case studies