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Please tell us what you do?

In her first job after college, Prerna Chatterjee recognized what most businesses don’t yet understand and her own employer, Oerlikon, didn’t see until she pointed it out: the business value of sustainability. She calculated that the energy savings in how Oerlikon’s newest products were manufactured cut carbon emissions by 26 percent — and furthermore, how that data could garner commensurate value in the marketplace.

“When I started my career, sustainability was a field where the tangibility and profitability of a business were perpetually questioned,” she said.

Now she’s changing that. At BASF, she helps customers identify and pursue sustainability opportunities. She created a webinar series called “$u$tainability Win$.”

“Prerna’s managerial skills and technical background help this young sustainability champion hunt, seek and drive business opportunities through the lens of sustainability,” says one of her supervisors.

While a Columbia University graduate intern at Dow Chemical, Chatterjee did lifecycle analyses (LCAs) on the company’s Styrofoam plants, which Dow published as an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD).

She said she’s determined to make environmental benchmarking the norm. “Just as every packaged food has its own nutrition label today, I hope that every product has its own LCA and EPD one day.”

How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?

Prerna has a Bachelors degree in Mechanical and Energy Engineering from Vellore Institute of Technology and a Master of Science in Sustainability Management from Columbia University. Her journey took her literally around the world as she fine-tuned her sustainability career, starting in India and ending up (for now) in New York. At first focused on renewable energy, she soon discovered carbon footprint analysis was a more compelling pursuit for her. This shift took her to Germany and work with Oerlikon, where she soon realized there was even more to sustainability. She decided that a Masters degree at Columbia would give her both a wider perspective and a deeper knowledge of the field.

Can you describe your career path?

Going into her final semester Prerna took an internship at DOW Chemical company, where she performed the Life Cycle Assessments to support an Environmental Production Declaration (EPD) for STYROFOAM production in North America. She is now a Sustainability Specialist with BASF, on the Strategy and Business Implementation team. She works with clients to map out their entire value chains and helps to analyze ways in which BASF products can be made more sustainably and in line with the company’s business model and strategy.

Your advice to students?

Prerna’s advice to career searchers is not to rely only online job postings. As she was graduating from grad school she applied for well over 200 jobs online without much luck. Then it hit her–she was in one of the best places to network, New York City–and that became her new strategy. Her advice for networking: “If you go for informational interviews, it’s OK to meet with junior level people first. Just make sure you come away with a contact that would be in a hiring position.” Do your homework, research on LinkedIn, find out who the hiring manager is, and ask to be connected.