Cathy Combs, director of sustainability at Eastman, shares why Eastman invests in social initiatives to drive business value. Cathy also explains how FOMO (fear of missing out) influenced her 30-year career at Eastman and how she eventually found herself driving sustainability initiatives throughout the business. Keep reading to learn more!
What project are you most excited about right now?
CC: I’m excited about engaging downstream with parties in our value chains. It’s an opportunity to learn what their challenges are and what matters most to them regarding sustainability. Eastman is a company with a broad materials portfolio and world-class technology platforms. This provides us a lot of flexibility to collaborate on challenges and partner to develop solutions. It’s exciting to work with partners to help them achieve their goals.
An example is our collaboration with Clorox Healthcare. Given the need to protect patients from the increasing occurrence of hospital acquired infections (HAIs), it’s imperative that medical devices can withstand aggressive cleaning protocols. Clorox and Eastman joined forces to protect patients by improving disinfectants and strengthening devices through the use of Eastman’s Tritan™ copolyester, an innovative material that can withstand aggressive environmental rigors.
We’re engaging with some of our SB member peers, but still relatively early in our conversations. As those collaborations advance, I look forward to what we can achieve together to elevate more sustainable solutions.
How is social or environmental innovation driving value for your business?
CC: Social innovation is a space that is exploding with opportunities that can impact the competitiveness of our businesses and create new demand.
One of the areas we’re committed to is expanding education in the communities where we operate and throughout other parts of the world. We believe education is key to an improved future for everyone – elevating the caliber of our workforce locally and fostering new entrepreneurial opportunities in other parts of the world.
Another way social innovation drives business value is through our support of economic development efforts. Urbanization can create new business opportunities where our technologies and materials can positively contribute, providing solutions to the challenges that come with urbanization.
We also support our employees being actively involved in initiatives that support social innovation such as Engineers Without Borders, STEAM initiatives, mentoring robotics teams, and capstone courses related to ocean science, to name a few. We subscribe to the philosophy that “a rising tide lifts all boats”.
What inspires and drives you to work on sustainability?
CC: Our world is changing fast – I want to contribute to making it better.
To that end, I’m excited about the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) framework. These global goals that have been set for 2030 are ambitious. Businesses must take their part; it will require collaboration and partnerships for us to make the impact needed. The SDGs can also serve as a frame for us to consider where we need to innovate. At Eastman, we’re in the process now of identifying where our company can contribute the greatest impact.
I love nature and being out in it – whether it’s hiking, biking, or sitting on a rock. I want to protect it for others to enjoy, as well. I think we all have a responsibility to take care of the world around us. The SDGs also give us various options to frame how we demonstrate that care.
Can you share something about yourself that would surprise us? Any hidden talents?
CC: Some might be surprised that I’ve been with Eastman for 30 years. My educational background is in Accounting, but I love to learn and I’ve reinvented myself several times over the course of my career.
Eastman has afforded me the opportunity to pursue a variety of interests and continue to expand my horizons. I’ve worked in a vast array of positions across the company including Financial, Manufacturing, Business, Communications, HR and Marketing roles and then joined the Sustainability group. It’s a somewhat unusual career path, but has turned out to be a great foundation for my current role in Sustainability. It all comes together there!
I also have FOMO (that’s Fear of Missing Out, in case you didn’t know). I think that factors into my curiosity about so many different areas and wanting to learn as much as I can about how things fit together.
If you had unlimited time and resources, what type of work would you want to collaborate with fellow SB Members on?
CC: I’d like to engage with fellow SB members to learn more about their specific challenges – what keeps them up at night, how they set their priorities and goals, how they view their purpose, how they approach meaningful social innovation, and what’s next on their list to tackle?
Why is your participation in the SB Member Network important?
CC: Inspiration and collaboration. The SB Member Network is a community where we can connect with others that get it and want to make a positive impact – it’s our tribe, if you will. I’m excited about the opportunity to learn from and collaborate with peers at other companies on ideas and projects that can move the needle on some of the big issues that are so important for all of us.
Anything else you'd like to share with fellow SB Members?
CC: I’m intrigued with trends, Futures views/scenarios, and strategic foresighting. It’s amazing to me how rapid the pace of change has become, and I know it’s going to continue to accelerate. It fascinates me to think about Sustainable/Smart Cities, the Future of Mobility, etc. I’m interested in the alliances and partnerships that will be forged to support these initiatives.