Mindy Lubber is the pres­i­dent of Ceres, a non­profit orga­ni­za­tion that’s mobi­lizing busi­nesses to inte­grate sus­tain­ability into their bottom lines. She man­ages a $10 tril­lion invest­ment fund focused on eval­u­ating the busi­ness risks and oppor­tu­ni­ties of cli­mate change. Her journey to suc­cess began as an eager under­grad­uate student—just like many of those in the audi­ence she addressed Tuesday night in the fifth event in North­eastern University’s Women Who Inspire series.

While fighting for con­sumer rights with Ralph Nader in New York, Lubber recalled, she was chal­lenged by the former leader of the green party and envi­ron­mental icon to take the issue to the state capitol and try to change the law. At first, she won­dered how much an under­grad­uate could really change. But “lo and behold, we passed the law.”

The way that empow­ered me and the way I want the stu­dents in this room to walk out and under­stand  is that we each can change the world,” Lubber said. “It was an extra­or­di­nary feeling.”

The Women Who Inspire series is designed to pro­mote the advance­ment of women and inspire the next gen­er­a­tion of female leaders in tech­nology, engi­neering, sci­ence and sus­tain­ability. Tuesday night’s event fea­tured a panel of inno­v­a­tive women leaders in renew­able energy, cli­mate change, and sus­tain­ability who dis­cussed their own careers and global growth of green industries.

Women Who Inspire: Leaders in Sus­tain­ability from Empower North­eastern on Vimeo.

Sus­tain­ability is one of the most com­pelling and urgent issues that we have facing us today,” Diane MacGillivray, senior vice pres­i­dent for uni­ver­sity advance­ment, said in wel­come remarks.

Joining Lubber on the esteemed panel were Marcy Reed, AP’86, pres­i­dent of National Grid in Mass­a­chu­setts, and Wendi Gold­smith, CEO of Bio­engi­neering Group. Susan Hunt Stevens, founder and CEO of Prac­ti­cally Green, a leading tech­nology provider of sus­tain­ability engage­ment pro­grams for global com­pa­nies, mod­er­ated the event.

Years ago, envi­ron­men­talism was con­sid­ered a four-​​letter-​​word for com­pa­nies, the purview of dreadlock-​​donning hip­pies and “tree hug­gers.” But Reed said in the last 10 years, “the space has under­gone a 180 transformation.”

It’s become a busi­ness imper­a­tive,” said Reed, whose com­pany stands with hun­dreds of com­pa­nies world­wide that are incor­po­rating sus­tain­ability prac­tices and poli­cies into the very fabric of their orga­ni­za­tions. “The world is changing. We need to be part of it, we need to help shape it.”

Reed said that for National Grid, which now relies on a solar energy to pro­duce 400 megawatts of power each year (that’s about the size of a small power plant), sus­tain­ability also presents a social imper­a­tive that affects jobs, cus­tomers, and moving society forward.

Gold­smith, for her part, noted that when Hur­ri­cane Kat­rina dev­as­tated New Orleans in 2005, her com­pany helped the city rebuild—while simul­ta­ne­ously building its own rep­u­ta­tion as a leader in sustainability.

She said com­pa­nies today have to play an increas­ingly active role in iden­ti­fying and embracing the next gen­er­a­tion of solu­tions. “So many people don’t know that we now have the world’s most advanced [sus­tain­able] infra­struc­ture,” said Gold­smith, who noted that such sus­tain­ability efforts helped save Louisiana from more than $30 mil­lion in damage when Hur­ri­cane Isaac struck in 2012.

Dozens of North­eastern stu­dents, fac­ulty, and com­mu­nity mem­bers turned out for the fifth event in the Women Who Inspire series on Tuesday. Photo by Brooks Canaday.

Lubber explained how sim­ilar invest­ments would con­tinue to strengthen the U.S. economy, noting that the clean tech­nology industry is expected to be valued at $36 tril­lion by 2050. “Energy effi­ciency is a mas­sive oppor­tu­nity,” she said. The pan­elists noted that this oppor­tu­nity would take shape as com­pa­nies invest in clean energy tech­nolo­gies that already exist—such as solar panels, wind­mills, and biofuel—and the inno­v­a­tive green tech­nolo­gies of tomorrow.

What’s really exciting is all the stuff we haven’t even thought of yet,” Gold­smith said.

Bringing the con­ver­sa­tion back to the stu­dents in the audi­ence, Hunt Stevens urged them to con­sider oppor­tu­ni­ties in the green industries.

This industry needs you,” she said. “It needs the world’s best mar­keters; it needs the world’s best accoun­tants; it needs the world’s best engi­neers and soft­ware devel­opers, and cus­tomer ser­vice people. There is a huge oppor­tu­nity in this space for you to do well and to do good.”