Based in Atlanta, ScottMadden is one of North America’s top consulting firms in both energy consulting and environmental sustainability consulting. Recently, we had the opportunity to speak with Sarah Vondracek, a senior associate at ScottMadden, who regularly works on many of the firm’s ESG projects. We spoke with Sarah about her background, career trajectory at ScottMadden, what typical days in her working life look like, her advice for aspiring consultants, and more. Below is an edited version of that conversation.
Where did you grow up and go to school, and what did you study at school?
Sarah: I grew up in Pittsburgh and went to Colgate University, where I received a B.A. in Biology and Environmental Studies. After working for an electricity company for a few years, I chose to go back to get a dual-masters degree. Before joining Scott Madden full time, I received my masters of Environmental Management from Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment and my MBA from UNC Kenan-Flagler.
How did you decide to initially work at ScottMadden?
Sarah: When selecting my career path coming out of my dual-degree program, I wanted to go into a profession that would allow me to work on challenging issues in the energy and sustainability space. I was drawn to ScottMadden after learning about its current projects and thought leadership in those spaces and felt welcomed by its company culture. The medium company size was a positive for me as it allows for close connections among project teams and coworkers.
Can you talk a little about your career trajectories at ScottMadden?
Sarah: I started at ScottMadden as a summer intern during the last summer of my dual-degree graduate program. I had such a rewarding experience during my internship that I decided to come back as a full-time associate after graduating. After working a year at the firm, I was promoted to my current role as a senior associate.
Can you talk about your typical responsibilities and duties?
Sarah: I love the variability of my work and responsibilities from project to project. That said, I’ve tended to create a weekly rhythm with my project team. This weekly activity flow includes team check-ins, client debriefs, project content working time, and ad-hoc touchpoints with the project team. Also, I work on firm activities, including creating our Corporate Responsibility Report as a member of the ESG Strategy & Reporting Core Team.
And, I agree there is no true typical day at ScottMadden—every day is unique. That said, on a recent day, I completed the following activities: I checked in with the ScottMadden project team members in a morning touchpoint to discuss ongoing workstreams and what needs to be done during the day. I developed the structure and visual mock-up of a client’s new internal project management site. I reviewed and discussed an updated vendor reporting form with the client’s process improvement team. And I trained our client on how to update project reporting dashboard data.
Can you talk a little about how the firm incorporates ESG into its strategy and business practices?
Sarah: ScottMadden incorporates ESG into our strategy by focusing on practices that support our clients, our employees, the communities we operate in, and the world at large. Our ESG Committee oversees our overarching ESG strategy and specific focus area initiatives. By conducting regular materiality assessments, we understand what ESG issues matter most to our business and stakeholders. Under our six current focus areas, we have many ongoing programs, benefits, and partnerships. We continue to evaluate and evolve these efforts to address stakeholder priorities.
What type of clients do you typically work with when it comes to ESG projects? And can you speak about some of the ESG-related projects you've worked on?
Sarah: At ScottMadden, we have ESG-related projects across many industries and client types. In our energy practice, we’ve worked on ESG projects for electric utilities, gas utilities, and electric cooperatives. For an electric utility client, I supported the development of an Electric Vehicle (EV) Make-Ready Program as part of a state-wide initiative to reduce transportation emissions. We supported the creation of the application review tool, project status tracker, and program reporting dashboard. A component of this work included reviewing potential strategies for adequately incentivizing EV charging infrastructure development in Disadvantaged Communities.
Is there any difference working on an ESG-related project versus another type of assignment?
Sarah: Among the most interesting aspects of working on ESG-related projects are the breadth of issues they address, and real stakes involved with the project results. I especially enjoy working on these projects because they typically rely on utilizing data and stakeholder input to identify recommendations. However, given the maturing and ever-changing policy, technology, and reporting environment, there is rarely a single answer.
Are there certain skills and experiences that students should have if they want to pursue a similar career path as you someday?
Sarah: There are a handful of key consulting skills that I frequently use in ESG-related work, which I would encourage students to develop. I often conduct data analysis in Excel, write reports and guides, and create presentations in PowerPoint. Becoming comfortable with these tools will help students quickly generate insights and communicate them effectively to various stakeholders. Additionally, getting exposure to real-life corporate ESG issues will help students understand the true complexity of the work. During my time at Kenan-Flagler, I traveled with the Global Immersion Elective and learned about sustainable development in Bolivia and Ecuador. Through talking with business leaders, I was able to contextualize the real demands of communities on businesses and how reporting can bolster business credibility.
To learn more about what it’s like to work for ScottMadden and what it takes to launch your career at this top consulting firm, you can see its profile on our site here.
This post was sponsored by ScottMadden.
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