E2A 039: Data Science and Sustainability – Writing on Complex Topics with Alessia Falsarone 

 October 4, 2022

By  Scott A. MacMillan

Data science and ESG metrics. They’re vital concepts for generating lasting enterprise value and must be integrated into organizational strategy. But how to communicate these complex topics in a way that is practical and actionable for business leaders?

In this episode of The Entrepreneur to Author Podcast, your host Scott MacMillan speaks with Alessia Falsarone, a sustainable finance expert and award winning author of The Impact Challenge: Reframing Sustainability for Business about how her book is enabling corporate sustainability efforts and further establishing her as a leading expert in the field.


Website: https://theimpactchallengebook.com

LinkedIn (@alessiafalsarone): https://www.linkedin.com/in/alessiafalsarone/





Scott on LinkedIn @scottmacmillan

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Episode Transcript

Please note: The transcript is produced by a third-party company from an audio recording and may include transcription errors.

Announcer 00:00
This is SSN, the Story Studio Network.

Scott MacMillan 00:04
You're listening to the Entrepreneur to Author Podcast.

Announcer 00:11
Welcome to the Entrepreneur to Author Podcast, the podcast that brings you practical strategies for building authority and growing your business. And now, here's your host Scott MacMillan.

Scott MacMillan 00:24
Today, my guest is an award winning author, and sustainable finance expert, who discovered her passion for the science of impact while studying mathematics at Stanford University. Her work bridges the gap between sustainability, financial innovation, and risk taking behaviors. She's the recipient of the 2019 honoree award from the Women's venture fund, and of the 2021 Global Leadership Award by the she inspires foundation in the UK, a fellow of the Aspen Institute, she is an avid advocate of the role of impact science and business education, contributing to educational initiatives on the topic in the US, Asia Pacific and Latin America. And she's also the author of The Impact Challenge. Reframing sustainability for business. Please join me in welcoming Alessia Falsarone to the show.

Scott MacMillan 01:24
Alessia, thank you so much for joining us.

Alessia Falsarone 01:26
Scott, it's wonderful to be here today. Thank you for inviting me.

Scott MacMillan 01:30
Of course. So to start, I'd love if you could share a little bit about you and your professional journey for audience so that they can get a bit better sense of where you're coming from.

Alessia Falsarone 01:40
Sure. So I would say that my journey, at least the past 25 years, have been spend half half, on one hand working with banking organizations around the globe, and the other half with investors in your city. So when I look at that, though, it doesn't really tell them much about me, other than I can tell you more, which is I'm a strategist by trade. Meaning I enjoy and earn a living thinking big picture, anticipating trends, and helping organizations financially find the best path to stability and growth. But I'm also mathematician, as you, as you said, by by educational background, which leads me always to try and quantify even the most esoteric things and to be able to compare and analyze them. And therefore, not surprisingly, that my current work as an investor lies at the intersection of financial innovation and in how we can build tools to fast track companies, clearly in their need to adapt to something that from esoteric or one off has become a strong need, climate change and sustainability. Whether companies are looking to fund environmentally friendly product offerings, or their communities and social initiatives, or simply grow their share of responsibility and working collaboratively and transparently to achieve their sustainability goals.

Scott MacMillan 03:08
Well, that's great. We so we love strategist, we love big picture thinkers, and we love data on the entrepreneur to author podcast. So you're in the right place. your area of expertise is in sustainable finance, and you talk a lot about science of impact. Could you talk a little bit more about these? What do they mean in layman's terms?

Alessia Falsarone 03:28
Yeah, well, interesting, Scott. Sustainable finance, to me is the new finance. And when I talk about it, I, I describe it as the field that encompasses all the set of regulations that are emerging around the world, which demand transparency over decision making, or financial institutions, and also the creation of value for the longer term, not just for short term profit. I also think, personally is more than that. I believe that as part of the broad economy, financial institutions, and whether they're banks or insurers or investors play a tremendous role in in growing the wealth of individuals of countries in where they operate, but also that prosperity cannot be at the detriment of our planet, and civil society. So when I hear sustainable finance, I think of old individuals, especially the new generation of professionals that have either entered the workforce over the past, call it three to four years, or are looking from college days to start their professional journey. And they want to place their integrity, their values, their ability to grow the shared prosperity, the right way, in the field of finance. Now to your point on on the science of impact. I discovered a passion for what I call the science of impact as a noticeable multidisciplinary field. A field that researches all those hard to quantify comes that businesses in particular in society are responsible for CO creating, and whether these are positive or negative. And that's an important component and a part that financial institutions have not necessarily taking a stand on prior to prior to even our COVID days.

Scott MacMillan 05:20
So one thing that I've always wondered, and this is a little bit off script, but I've always wondered what the what the common metric or even if there is a common metric around things that are difficult to quantify. I recall in my years in management consulting, you know, we always use dollars and cents as the common denominator, even when we're trying to value things that are intangible. Is that is that the metric that you use around science of impact? Or is that or do you look at it a different way?

Alessia Falsarone 05:53
So it's interesting, you mentioned that, Scott, and I think that that's, in fact, the divide, and the biggest challenge for individuals to actually go and approach impact and outcomes such as, I don't know, social value created by our company, or the environmental protection that our company is responsible for, or the adverse impacts of a company on on the broader ecosystem. I think people, especially in in, in traditional businesses struggle with the idea of how do we reconcile metrics that are dollar driven, or currency sort of denomination driven or profit driven into something that is in completely different metric, metric, right? So it's interesting also how the way a lot of organizations, especially non for profits that operate in areas such as financial accounting, have started to articulate a set of standards where you look at metrics, yes, in terms of how much of all the resources that a business has access to whether it's human capital resources, or their resources drawn from the environment, are needed for a business or an organization to actually create value, if that value is in dollars, for example. So how much of your human capital is needed to create $1 worth of your good, and that's the intensity right on your production in a way. And that's just one way of looking at it. But it also tells you, how much of those resources do you invest into or reinvest into. And so there's a series of of metrics and tools that are are becoming more and more utilized over time. And companies in different sectors are starting to appreciate a lot more in trying to bridge the gap between only dollar denominated, again, discussions into the resources that we're utilizing. And there's not necessarily manufactured goods or parts or there's a human capital, and there's talent in our business, there is part of the ecosystem we live in that obviously, we draw resources, whether it's water usage, energy, or the likes, and how much how is the intense use of these resources, not met by replenishing those resources? And should businesses actually be accounted for and account held accountable for that? And I think the resounding answer to that, globally, that we are hearing we are having is yes, you know, we just have one word, and we are responsible for replenishing that. And it doesn't, you know, we're not creating conditions for it to do it naturally. Or we could do it naturally, if we let it end if we give enough time. So I think that that common shared balance between again, creating profits and understanding the utilization of resources, when resources are limited. It's a shared responsibility of all that sort of organizations are in need for more data, for the ability to share also the scientific methods that allow them to translate, right one need ecosystem need to do business day to day.

Scott MacMillan 09:10
Very good. So that's a good transition. And so you've written your book, The Impact Challenge. Could you talk about who that book is written for? And what's what's the book's overarching message for its readers?

Alessia Falsarone 09:23
Yeah, so that that's, that's an interesting question, because it started actually with an audience in mind was an academic audience at the very beginning. And since its launch on our day, this year, that week of April 23, I'm finding more and more streams of audiences that had not been necessarily targeting to begin with, which is probably a dream come true for for for for someone that writes their first book, but the audience I had in mind at the beginning with the Impact Challenge being the first in in an academic series called The impactful data science. Were the editor of that series. You is a global association called grm DS global association of research methods and data science. And they're connected over 40,000 data scientists globally and offer just continue practical training, what I call from the lab to industry, on creating, again, two set of tools and applications for data to become more available to solve business and societal issues. So from that perspective in mind, I had an academic, you know, I was looking to bridge the gap in between how do we translate the concepts that go on and that get dissected in in academia into making, you know, be somebody's information available as a stepping stone for businesses to actually implement sustainability programs in their day to day. On the other hand, I'm also finding that audience in the traditional business world that are not necessarily sitting in sustainability oriented roles are actually looking to, to get informed about data and about processes and about how the overall infrastructure organization needs to adapt to sustainability, whether they believe it or not, whether they believe in the needle it or not. So it's interesting. And that's what I say that the true challenge for organizations probably across the globe, it really is. And it's simple. It's just getting started in an intentional and data driven way. That can be accomplished, again, grassroots at first and then evolve to actually drive meaningful cultural change within a business.

Scott MacMillan 11:34
It's funny, though, what you talked about around writing for one audience, and then it having appeal across multiple audiences, that's something that I talk a lot about when I'm talking to people about how to approach writing their book. Because often, you know, if you try to appeal to a bunch of different reader groups, the book will fall flat, and it won't resonate with anybody. But if you really focus on one audience and try to resonate deeply with that audience, then it's funny how it then does resonate with with people outside of that group. So it's really interesting to hear you hear you say that, how did you find the writing process as you were writing the book?

Alessia Falsarone 12:13
Ah, it was a marathon. When I look back at it, it was complete focus on the task at hand. And the good news is, or I don't know if it's a good news, but for me was, I was following a traditional publishing journey. And so I had already a specific for example, table content and development plan for my manuscript, which I had, had developed to get my idea through the publishing network. And and it was quite a strict timeline are located then to the follow up of the actual writing. So what I'm what I'm getting at it is, writing probably starts in my experience much, much earlier than actually, when you put yourself in the table and start, you know, typing all your notes. I would say that when I mentioned it was a marathon as I feel it helped you in a way maintaining focus and taking it a step at a time. I also found out how many ideas I had accumulated, and also humbling it was to realize that my path and my journey is actually mine. But there are highlights that can benefit others in shaping their various journey, and experimenting with the topic of impact, and others that don't necessarily need to end up in the book. So the trimming part of the writing process was was the heart part are in the last few miles of the marathon? I believe?

Scott MacMillan 13:42
And what about publishing? Was there anything that was you found maybe surprising, or frustrating or particularly exciting about getting the book from manuscript into the hands of readers? Readers?

Alessia Falsarone 13:55
Yeah, so I start with the maybe surprising part, the surprising part was days are working with a global team. A team global from both the publisher perspective, from both from the content definition and refining perspective, I had a network call and I and that team was you know, that has worked across the globe on that and so across time zones, but also network of, of people that were looking at my manuscript from a global perspective on a global problem, which is sustainability. And so I also got the you know, sort of off the record or one off feedback from the actual people, not not just them as professionals but people looking into this, you know, from from their own perspective, which was, which was great and it was probably my first readership, so to speak. So that was the surprising part. The frustrating part I would say was a had a lot more and probably much more. Then, you know, material than for one book, I could have probably written like mad The volumes of this series. But again, the exciting part also was that this part of a series. So I also felt that the beginning that was, you know, being the first author of a series, and being the sere school impactful data science, I was almost like, you know, just given a chance to actually shut up, you know, like, over, you know, data science methods, but how those could advance, you know, the work of so many that are trying to do good in the world. So being the first is was also been the Pace Setter for other proposals to follow to my publisher. And and that was also like, I found it exciting. Although I could sense, you know, as I look back that maybe there was a component of being feeling under pressure, you know, to do an extremely good job.

Scott MacMillan 15:47
Yeah, absolutely. And you did, you did do an excellent job at it. But yeah, you're right, it can often be tempting to just cram everything that you could possibly want to publish into your first book. But like you say, there's, there's always the opportunity to publish subsequent books. What are your goals, personally and professionally for your book? And how are you using it to to accomplish those?

Alessia Falsarone 16:09
Well, I have really one goal, which is essentially ensuring that there's a practical education surrounding big challenges that our world faces, and that practical education is easily accessible. And that misinformation is flagged and removed. And that anyone working in the private sector, whether for a large organization or a smaller scale, one can feel empowered, and ask the tools at hand to contribute, and help building and making these tools and frameworks available to people. So I'm using the book in that sense as a conversation starter on this point, with with colleagues across, in across industries, really. And I'm realizing that making the access to data and building data capabilities and knowledge is essential. Specifically, an important step in my journey was also the decision to open the door for broad cooperation in in an open source way, which for another is is an important question, especially, you know, in my case, I was contributing to an academic series. And the academic series also was contributing royalties to an association. So opening the door to actually put all the manuscript on an open source way and help grow professionally. platforms that advocate for that open source knowledge. And sharing of data methods. Is is definitely a key area of interest of mine. And I think is the is the is the real tool to get more sustainability education out there.

Scott MacMillan 17:49
And I understand this has led to a pretty exciting engagement with the University of Chicago. Can you tell us more about that?

Alessia Falsarone 17:56
Yeah. Okay. This is another very, very, very exciting, very, very exciting upside from writing the book. The School of Professional Studies, University of Chicago is about to launch their very first course in Sustainable Business Management this fall. And I will be joining them as an adjunct instructor to lead that effort as their very first course. So it will be offered in hybrid format, to working professionals, which is again what I was hoping for from the beginning, and will target both English and Spanish speaking professionals. And they will be sharing an eight week journey on the green economy, on concepts such as circularity, to digitization of sustainability information, and also how to drive change within their organizations, wherever they are in the world. And that's the part that inspires me the most

Scott MacMillan 18:52

Scott MacMillan 18:54
So our audience, for this podcast, there are kind of two types of people there are people who have written a book and they're looking for understanding how can they best use it. But then we have a segment of people who have maybe considered reading a book or writing a book, but haven't yet taken that leap. For those who have considered writing a book but haven't done so what advice would you give to them?

Alessia Falsarone 19:17
First off, I would say start writing down ideas. Whether as a utilizing a voice note on your mobile device, or sketch, or you know, a note that keeps floating in your mind and keep flushing them out. Up until they find a home, usually a home I say a whiteboard. And I think once you start recognizing trends and think about why your voice is needed, and to whom, then it's really time to go right with the intent and with the goal of having your book in people's hands so they can benefit from it. And they can learn from that. I think the biggest mistake is never to write because we are unsure. Are you worried, yes, we'll be useful and to whom. So starting with that is important. But also again, this idea of having a whiteboard and flushing ideas out and storing them putting them someplace is better than just keeping our heads which only leads to headaches or possibly.

Scott MacMillan 20:16
Absolutely. Alyssa say how, what's the best way for people to learn more about the work that you're doing and and to potentially reach out to you if, if they're interested in in connecting around your work?

Alessia Falsarone 20:29
Well, they Impact Challenge is a beautiful website. And it's theimpactchallengebook.com And it has a conduct form that will reach me immediately. So you also list all the events I'm participating to and talking about the book or specific areas I cover in the book. Many have also online access to the recording. So they can be actually reshard over time. And they also include book clubs, where the Impact Challenge is being featured so you can actually join it and share that with others. You also contains a monthly blog, which I love because keeps my audience up to speed with my work.

Scott MacMillan 21:15
Wonderful, and we're gonna make sure to include that in the show notes so that people can easily reference it. Alessia, thank you so much for sharing your time with us today. The work that you're doing is fascinating. And it's so important, and it's been really interesting to learn more about your authorship journey. So thank you again.

Alessia Falsarone 21:31
Thank you, Scott.

Scott MacMillan 21:37
As we wrap up this episode of the Entrepreneur to Author Podcast, remember, now is the time time to write, time to publish and time to grow. I'm Scott Macmillan until next time.

Announcer 22:07
This is Story studio Network.

Scott A. MacMillan

Scott A. MacMillan is a speaker, international best-selling author, entrepreneur, and the President and Executive Publisher at Grammar Factory Publishing. He and his team help expert entrepreneurs write and publish books that build their authority and grow their business.

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