Alumna Lauren Maxwell Shares Sustainability Lessons From Europe

Netherlands sustainability and marketing expert spoke to Crummer students about the importance of creating a sustainable future.

Stepping off the plane entering the United States for the first time in two years, Lauren Maxwell `13MBA started experiencing what she describes as “reverse culture shock”.

From the sizes of the meals, to the seemingly endless choices at the grocery store, and large 8-cylinder pickup trucks – it was a profound experience for both her and her boyfriend, who had never visited the United States.

Her trip back to Central Florida included much-needed family time and, of course, a trip to Disney World, but also to speak to current Crummer students about the importance of sustainability and how she built a career out of it.

It was the first time she realized how everything has come full-circle since packing up her bags and leaving for Europe after her time at Crummer.

Lauren Maxwell caught the travel bug early in her Crummer days and hasn’t looked back since.

Taking part in the International Business education track through Crummer and then also the international business trip to China, the sustainability project in Costa Rica, and then living in Lyon, France, for the EM Lyon Exchange program, Lauren took the global aspect of Crummer’s mission quite literally.

Lauren Maxwell

When she had an opportunity to move overseas full-time, she jumped.

“I always said it would be cool to do marketing internationally, but I put that aside because I thought ending up abroad would be super hard,” said Maxwell.

In her first job out of Crummer, she took a job in marketing at First Green Bank in Florida. After a year there, an opportunity opened up to work at Triodos Bank in the Netherlands, one of the world’s leading sustainable banks, and she found herself living in Europe full-time.

“It was supposed to be a temporary contract for 6 months, and after about 4 months, I said I’d be interested in extending, and as luck would have it, they needed help in sales,” said Maxwell. “It was an adjustment, but I ended up then securing a permanent position on the marketing team full-time.”

Making a Career Out of Sustainability

Although she is now a model of sustainability—as evidenced by her locally-crafted jewelry and hand-made boots–Lauren will admit, she hasn’t always been a sustainability expert.

“Sustainability is definitely not something I’ve been into my whole life; I didn’t know the impact of my daily decisions,” said Maxwell.

It was her experience at Crummer that opened her eyes to reducing her global footprint and impassioned her to make sustainability the crux of her career.

“It started for me with Dr. Whittingham and Dr. Conway Dato-on’s classes. When I went to Costa Rica and saw sustainability was also about livelihood, it really opened my eyes,” said Maxwell.

At Triodos bank, she was working on the head marketing team, travelling to different branches to train them on storytelling and how to communicate the company’s sustainability focus to the public.

While working abroad, Lauren’s ambition has grown beyond marketing and into social entrepreneurship. As of this year, Lauren is dialing it down to a part-time role at Triodos Bank, furthering the company’s learning and development program instead, and is also taking the time to focus on her budding coaching business where she hopes to help social entrepreneurs communicate their brands more effectively and motivate individuals to become more aware of their own leadership capabilities – tying in sustainability where she can.

“It’s a coaching business that will someday have a specific target that is more narrow and specialized than it is currently, but for now it’s a coaching business that is evolving and exciting,” said Maxwell.

Being in the United States makes her realize there is even more of a need for strong entrepreneurship in the sustainability sector than ever before.

“As a nation, we are innovators and entrepreneurs, which I’m really proud of with America, but what I would love to see is following through with that to the fullest extent,” said Maxwell.

In the United States, she sees some large corporations making strides to be more sustainable, but not at the level she hopes.

For example, some restaurants will no longer use plastic straws, but still cover everything in plastic wrap. In most states, almost all of the grocery stores still use plastic bags as well, while that’s a foreign concept in the Netherlands.

“While still at Crummer, I studied in Lyon. And I remember going to buy groceries for the first time at the largest grocery chain in the country. It was about 1.5 miles from the campus and I had walked there. After purchasing all of my groceries, I saw they didn’t give the option for plastic bags. It was either: you have your own reusable back or you don’t.  I had to carry all my groceries home. It was an adjustment but I loved the mindset of not giving the option and thus generating a new habit,” said Maxwell.

Lauren would love to see more of a focus on sustainability in the United States, but she will also say that nobody is perfect, and it’s more about creating the awareness of our actions on the environment.

“There is a forgiveness element. I’m trying to educate people that we are not perfect. I’m certainly not perfect and a lot of my decisions are not 100% the most sustainable. But the point is to try and to make small steps,” said Maxwell. “If one person starts using reusable bags at the grocery store or makes other steps to reducing plastic, I feel really good.”

Intentionally Winging It

A common corollary throughout much of Lauren’s career thus far has been her ability to “wing it” and branch out into areas she otherwise thought she wouldn’t go.

She didn’t know what she wanted to do at first, so she said “yes” to every opportunity at Crummer until she found that she was passionate about sustainability and international business.

Much of the same has happened in the Netherlands, where she recently took up improv comedy.

It’s helped her with her confidence and as a budding entrepreneur, and has helped her feel more comfortable with the uncomfortable.

“It gives me confidence in winging it, to feel the room a little bit. I changed up my whole introduction when speaking to the Crummer students and was okay with that. Improv has given me the confidence to trust the process and be flexible – to not stick to the script,” said Maxwell.

As she starts 2019, working part-time with a full-time investment in building her own business, Maxwell is continuing the same approach that got her to the Netherlands.

That’s why she’s thinking of the name Happily in Progress for her business.

“Just like my life, just like the coaching business, just like from a sustainability perspective, it’s always in progress,” said Maxwell.

Just don’t ask her for a business card yet.

“I haven’t fully decided on the name,” she laughs. “I’m also worried about wasting ink and paper, so I am looking at seed paper.