Sustainability Defined

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By Alison Polley

What happens when you have a keen interest in sustainability, the desire to share big ideas and bad puns, and a joint MPA and JD from SPEA and the IU Maurer School of Law?

If you are anything like SPEA alum Scott Breen (MPA/ JD’15, with concentrations in Environmental Policy and Policy Analysis, and a Social Entrepreneurship Certificate), you start a popular podcast called SustainabilityDefined.

Breen, a senior coordinator in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Sustainability and Circular Economy Program, founded SustainabilityDefined with cohost Jay Siegel after meeting at a Net Impact networking event in Washington, D.C., in January 2016. While at IU, Breen engaged with Kelley and SPEA students through his involvement with Net Impact, an organization that mobilizes both students and professionals to use their skills and careers to drive transformational social and environmental change.

“Some may say it was love at first sight.”

The way Breen tells it, it sounds like a first date story. Breen and Siegel (Master of Urban Planning from Cornell University) started chatting, and Siegel followed up over email, saying, “I can tell you’re a good conversationalist, and we both have the same interest in sustainability. I was thinking it would be fun to start a sustainability podcast.” Breen was a big fan of podcasts and eager for a new creative outlet, so a week later they met over coffee to brainstorm how to make the show happen and settled on a format. Each episode would focus on a different sustainability concept where they would first introduce the concept and then interview an expert in the field for a deeper dive and first-hand examples. As Breen and Siegel covered concepts, it would fill in an organizational tree, thus defining sustainability “one concept (and one bad joke) at a time.” Their catchphrase illustrates how the show is educational but has fun along the way.

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Alum Scott Breen (MPA/JD’15, right), featured with podcast co-host Jay Siegel, was attracted to IU because of the dual degree in law and public affairs. “With the dual degree, I was being exposed to a lot of different perspectives, and that’s what gets me going. That’s what we get from SustainabilityDefined as well, by bringing on people who work in the nonprofit, business, and government worlds.”

“Sustainability is a frustratingly ambiguous term. We’re here to define it.”

After covering a few upfront costs, the first episode of SustainabilityDefined debuted on Arbor Day 2016, during which they interviewed a co-founder of Riide, an electric bike company based in D.C. With more than 23 episodes under their belts on topics ranging from solar financing to sustainable apparel to nature deficit disorder, Breen and Siegel have hit their stride. Their podcast has been downloaded more than 15,000 times, with around 15 percent of their listeners based outside of the United States. In January 2017, GreenBiz rated it one of seven “exceptional sustainability podcasts you should tune into.” Breen and Siegel don’t have plans to quit their day jobs, but they are excited to be getting more press and to have both general sponsorships and sponsored content deals with major companies in the works.

When asked about his favorite episodes, Breen mentioned a few: First, an episode on sustainable beer where they interviewed the sustainability director for New Belgium Brewing Company (one of their most downloaded episodes). Second, an interview with the co-founders of Misfit Juicery, which takes “ugly produce” and cold presses it into juice, thereby addressing the major issue of food waste. And third, a challenging but rewarding episode on conservatism and climate change featuring former U.S. Representative Bob Inglis of South Carolina. The challenge wasn’t to be even-handed, but to accurately portray a diversity of conservative perspectives when Breen and Siegel aren’t conservatives. They prepared by doing extensive reading, then running ideas past conservative friends for accuracy and appropriateness.

The goal all along has been to create something that leaders in the sustainability field respect while still being accessible to a sustainability novice. It isn’t always easy, but as Breen says, “We want to break down concepts in an engaging, interesting, informative way, with some funny lines mixed in. I want people to say to others who don’t know much about sustainability, ‘Hey, these guys do it in a way where you don’t need to come in knowing much of anything. You’ll laugh along the way, and have something to talk about with your friends.’”

Most of all, Breen enjoys flexing muscles and skills he didn’t get to do much as an attorney at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – branding, marketing, talking fast, making jokes. All skills that he picked up at SPEA, of course.

For more information on the SustainabilityDefined podcast, visit sustainabilitydefined.com. You can download episodes on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.

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The SustainabilityDefined Organizational Tree that organizes the podcast’s terms and topics, courtesy of sustainabilitydefined.com.