Women Adore Tech

Forging a path towards high-impact sustainability – Shriya Suriyanarayanan

Identifying one’s core strengths, likes, and dislikes is important for pursuing a career. Shriya started her journey with a bachelor’s in Instrumentation and Control engineering at the National Institute of Technology, Tiruchirappalli, she applied quickly her technical knowledge in a managerial position, as a supply chain manager at P&G and later found her passion in the field of sustainability. She is currently pursuing an MBA at the University of Michigan after working briefly as a sustainability consultant at Ubuntoo. She has worked on projects that have a large-scale impact, such as recycling around 600 tonnes of plastic piled up in landfills in Bangalore. She wants to use her background and skills to help the world move towards net-zero carbon.

How did the time during your Bachelor’s degree influence your role at Procter and Gamble?

I chose to study Instrumentation and Control Engineering. In India people who are good at academics are encouraged to take either Engineering or Medicine, so honestly, I didn’t think too hard about my undergraduate degree choices at the time. However, what helped me figure out what I liked was extracurricular activities. From childhood, I took part in elocution and from there I got into debating. I enjoyed the activity because it wasn’t just about speaking, but rather about learning how to articulate your thoughts, learning how to structure them, conducting research on the world and issues and how to look at them from various perspectives. I regularly took part in Model United Nations and other speaking-related activities. I also represented India in the World Schools Debating Championship in Turkey, as part of the national squad, and the months of preparation for that tournament really shaped my interests and perspective.
At university, I continued to participate in a lot of extracurriculars because I’ve always felt that that’s where the most growth and learning have come for me. Not because there’s any specific technical knowledge that you gain from it, but more so because it shapes you as a person. It teaches you interpersonal skills, leadership, taking the initiative, organisation, and time management. In general, I got some exposure to the management side of things, basically project management and skills like that. So then I decided that I wanted to work in a role that is techno-managerial and not purely technical. I did not want to do something that was very research intensive because I didn’t enjoy my curriculum in college so much. Instead, I chose to focus on something that was techno-managerial where I would be able to apply the knowledge that I learned in college, use that technical aptitude, but at the same time, my end deliverable wasn’t a technical deliverable, it was more about making something come to life as a project.

What is your role at P&G and what does it entail?

At P&G, I interned in product supply engineering, in Hyderabad and the role is again very techno-managerial like I had described. I received a pre-placement offer from P&G, and joined full-time in the Goa plant in the Feminine Hygiene division. I was a project manager for initiatives, and when I say initiatives I mean commercial initiatives or savings projects or performance improvement initiatives. I worked on the brands, ‘Ariel’ and ‘Whisper’ during my time as an intern and a project manager respectively. We worked in a manufacturing plant with huge, high-speed complex machinery that would manufacture these products and we were a team of engineers who worked on delivering changes to the product as the business demands. For example, my role involved trying to launch a new SKU/product within a given time-period with our existing equipment and dealing with the problems that arose from that.

What was your role like after P&G and what made you shift to another role after taking up P&G?

P&G is a company that launches a lot of sustainability initiatives and while I was there during my first year, P&G announced a partnership with this company called Loop in the US. To give a brief background, packing laundry detergents requires the use of fossil fuels and plastic bottles. The items disposed of are rarely recycled and end up in a landfill despite being energy intensive to produce. Loop was proposing that we would have a milkman concept for this, which means they will come with the packing equipment, to pack detergents and other items, they’ll give you the container they deliver and after you use it, you just leave it out. Loop will take it back, clean it, and fill it with more detergent. It’s like a subscription service, so they were eliminating the plastic packaging. I found it very fascinating– how had I never thought about this before! I watched some Ted Talks by Tom Szaky, the founder of Loop and he makes you think about garbage in a completely different way. I was obsessed with this and realised that this was a big problem that we all should be working on. So over the next year at P&G, I tried to take up some projects voluntarily which were related to sustainability. I started following lots of people on LinkedIn, people who were Chief Sustainability Officers or experts in the field who would constantly post the latest industry news. Essentially, without realising it, I accumulated a lot of knowledge and interest in the subject over a year.

What was your role like after P&G and what made you shift to another role after taking up P&G?

Once I had accumulated all the knowledge about sustainability, I looked at opportunities where I could apply them. I applied to Ubuntoo which is a startup based in Atlanta. They are essentially a technology platform that compiles solutions from across the world which are aimed at solving climate change or other sustainability challenges. They help connect these solutions. For example, there could be a lab somewhere in say, Argentina, which has come up with a way to manufacture a plastic film out of potato starch instead of actual plastic. That’s a great innovation, but usually, people don’t have the budget to market this or reach the big players to scale up. Ubuntoo aims to fill that gap where they kind of compile these solutions and highlight them and then when have corporate clients who have their own sustainability challenges, we match them with the right solution so that they can scale it up and implement it.

What was your role at Ubuntoo?

I was a sustainability consultant with Ubuntoo and one of the projects that I worked on was with Mondelez India to recycle all of their plastic waste. Mondelez is the manufacturer of Cadbury, Oreos, and Dairy Milk – all of which come in plastic wrapping. It’s usually not possible to recycle that because it has both aluminium and plastics, so you can’t separate the two without it being expensive. So Mondelez wanted to be able to recycle their plastic waste so that their net plastic output is zero and they wanted to be able to do this at scale across the country. Ubuntoo helped pilot a unique 3-way partnership programme, they’ve successfully launched it right now and it’s fully functional. That was a very exciting project that I worked on.

Any memorable parts where you felt so happy that you didn’t give up?

The most important and memorable milestone in the past few years has been getting admitted into my MBA programme at the University of Michigan. It’s been my dream to do an MBA, ever since school. I was also a traditionally very young candidate for an MBA since people usually apply after around five years of work experience, but I felt the time was right. I felt I’d had the right experiences and I was ready for this transition. So it was an uphill battle and I had a lot of self-doubt during that time. I also didn’t know anybody in my peer circle who had done an MBA in the US. So during that time, I tried to reach out to lots of people on LinkedIn who I didn’t personally know or who had done an MBA and I asked if they would be able to talk to me and just help me out with, and people were nice. Lots of people responded but the advice I got from a lot of people at that time was that I was probably not going to get it and that I should wait a bit longer. I felt like I had a compelling story and the time was right for me. I’m happy that I decided to prioritise my instinct and I went for it because it worked out and I’m able to do it at the right time.

What were the greatest challenges for you during the entire journey?

I’d say probably the biggest challenges have been just compartmentalising my time and life into giving importance to both professional development and growth as well as my personal life. I tend to neglect my health and relationships when I get very consumed at work and that has a detrimental effect on my health. My mother says that our career trajectories are not a sprint but a marathon. We need to remember to pace ourselves, take it slow when it needs to be taken slow and be intense when it needs to be that way. Take the time to do things that nourish and enrich you. Whenever I have faced such issues, I have taken a step back, look at what I was doing wrong and then learn to manage my time better.

Shriya wants to extract as much value as she can from the MBA program to lead high-impact work in sustainability, with the aim of someday starting her own firm. She wants to be able to make a positive difference in the world; to leave it better than it was before; to leave a good footprint.

-Shriya Suriyanarayanan

Content Editor: Sraddha S Bharadwaj
Reviewer: Maanasa Sachidanand, Giripriya Pai
Interviewer: Maanasa Sachidanand

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