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UW-Eau Claire grad supports businesses as they establish new sustainability-related strategies

| Judy Berthiaume

Photo caption: Helue Vazquez Valverde is a manager in the Climate Change and Sustainability Services practice at EY, where she supports corporations as they establish and execute their Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) strategies.

Helue Vazquez Valverde remembers worrying about climate change as a young girl growing up in Mexico, but the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire graduate never imagined it would someday shape her career.

“As a girl, it seemed like such a huge, irreversible problem, but none of the adults seemed worried about it,” Vazquez Valverde says. “They talked about air pollution, acid rain and the hole in the ozone layer — all components of climate change, but certainly not the full story.”

Vazquez Valverde was a Blugold when she finally learned the “full story” after joining a research group that was studying public opinions on climate change in China and the U.S., a project led by Dr. Eric Jamelske, professor of economics.

“That was the first time I really understood that climate change and sustainable actions could be linked to any topic on this earth,” says Vazquez Valverde, who earned degrees in economics and finance in 2016.

While always interested in climate change, Vazquez Valverde was planning a career in the corporate world, so she didn’t expect sustainability to be part of her work life.

However, after taking a job at EY (Ernst & Young) in Minneapolis, she was pleasantly surprised to learn that EY is very involved in environmental and sustainability-related topics. She’s now a manager in the Climate Change and Sustainability Services practice, where she supports corporations as they establish and execute their environmental, social and governance (ESG) strategies.

“The link between sustainability and business only became clear to me once I started working at EY and learned what my current practice, Climate Change and Sustainability Services, does with our corporate clients,” Vazquez Valverde says. She says her experiences as a Blugold — including the climate change research and an internship with the city of Eau Claire’s economic development department — helped her get and be successful in her current position.

“Having those experiences under my belt definitely helped me land my job as a sustainability consultant, even though I didn’t have a degree in an environmental topic,” Vazquez Valverde says.

Since joining EY, Vazquez Valverde has noticed a “huge shift” in how businesses talk about ESG topics.

More governments and regulators are proposing or enacting regulations that put more responsibility on businesses to disclose their impact on the environment and people, and hopefully, reduce that impact, Vazquez Valverde says. “That shift in responsibility is what, in my opinion, has gotten corporations’ gears churning,” she says.

She says customers and potential employees also are demanding more transparency and action from businesses.

This “huge tidal change” is creating new career paths, Vazquez Valverde says. For example, investors need analysts to research a company’s financial performance, but also their ESG performance. Businesses are building their sustainability departments, and there’s a growing demand for sustainability consultants, she says.

“Engineers and project managers are needed to implement the sustainability initiatives — a waste-reduction project at a corporate cafeteria, installing solar at corporate headquarters, upgrading office buildings to be more efficient. The list is endless,” Vazquez Valverde says.

To make the most of these new opportunities, current and future Blugolds should embrace the many experiences UW-Eau Claire offers in and out of the classroom, and build relationships with other students, faculty, staff and alumni, Vazquez Valverde says.

“My experience at UWEC was certainly world-class,” Vazquez Valverde says. “I always felt the faculty and staff truly cared about me, and, as an immigrant, having an extra set of role models shaped me in a very positive way.”