Roman Smith (@TexasRoman), Director – Sustainability Integration, Corporate Citizenship and Sustainability at AT&T, shares what he sees as the key to shifting consumer behavior to more sustainable lifestyles.
Read on to find out about his life journey from rural Texas to traveling the world and the lessons learned along the way.
What project are you most excited about right now?
RS: My work at AT&T centers on connecting consumers to the enabling impacts of technology, from both the environmental and social aspect. AT&T is bringing together technology, media and telecommunications like no other company before. This will allow us to engage with customers in new and exciting ways to demonstrate how AT&T's technological solutions can benefit their environment and society.
One particular project I'm very excited about working on is bringing the benefits of Smart Cities technologies to the people within communities adopting the technology, especially those who are aging and living with disabilities. This includes everything from digital information kiosks to intelligent lighting to smart energy grids and more. We are passionate about helping cities reduce energy use, enhance environmental resilience and improve quality of life and safety by linking people and city infrastructure.
To give some context to our work, studies show that over 1 billion people in the world are disabled today and as much as 20% of the US population has a disability or are over the age of 65. As more cities evaluate and embrace new technologies to make cities smarter and improve their economic and social well-being, those with disabilities and the elderly are increasingly excluded. That's a big issue.
AT&T recently led the publication of a collaborative white paper, Smart Cities for All: A Vision for an Inclusive, Accessible Urban Future. We worked with BSR, G3ict and World Enabled to develop a report focused on the inclusive deign of Smart Cities, and how technologies can adopt a people-first approach to benefit those with disabilities and older citizens.
What inspires and drives you to work on sustainability?
RS: Each and every day, we are seeing how a population of 8 billion people impacts the world. Quite frankly, it's eye opening. There is progress, but clearly not enough.
However, working for a company that can play a critical role in helping improve our world drives me every day. As AT&T moves into this new world of tech, media and telecommunications, we're going to have an even greater ability to make an impact. That to me is really exciting.
Being a Boy Scout, I always respected the earth and cared about the planet; it is an innate part of my personality. Once AT&T’s sustainability program was made official in 2009, I started in this role because it seemed like the best position for me to make a positive impact – and I haven’t gone anywhere since. It's very rewarding to go home each day knowing that I did just a little bit more at the office to help make the world a better place. I think this is the coolest job there is at AT&T.
Can you share something about yourself that would surprise us? Any hidden talents?
RS: I had a very interesting and varied religious upbringing that shaped who I was and how I view the diversity of the world. My family is Mexican-American and I grew up in a very rural part Texas. Naturally, Catholicism played a major role in my childhood until I was 10 years old, when my mother married my stepfather, a Mormon pastor. People will probably find it surprising that in 1983 I was probably the first Mexican kid from Texas to attend Mormon church camp!
I then ended up joining the Baptist faith and attended Baylor University. It is clear to me that my religious background really helped shape my life. Even though I was a little Mexican kid in rural Texas, the diversity of religions that I experienced at a young age helped me understand different viewpoints. Now, as an adult, that upbringing shaped my desire to understand and respect different people and their beliefs. That’s what's needed in the world right now more than ever.
If you had unlimited time and resources, on what type of work would you want to collaborate with fellow SB Members?
RS: I would love to work with other SB members to demonstrate how technology can address environmental and social issues, changing people's lives and business operations for the better. There are potentially many stories within the SB Member Network that we can put together to share that engaging message – hopefully showing consumers and other companies that collective action can lead to behavior change.
At the upcoming New Metrics conference, John Schulz, Director, Sustainability Operations, will share a case study exemplifying how AT&T works with multiple partners in the supply chain to scale up carbon-saving solutions. This is just one example of the many different ways we work with customers and share these stories, hopefully leading to greater change.
Why is your participation in the SB Member Network important?
RS: The SB Membership is critical to our work. Not only does SB provide a wealth of information on the changing sustainability landscape, the SB team is really interested understanding what AT&T does, our work and how to bring partners together for better collaboration.
SB has always been a beacon for helping me understand the newest emerging consumer issues, best practices and what people are doing in the marketplace to engage on sustainability. It’s one of the main organizations that I use to help move my work forward in my organization.
Even more, from a personal aspect, you are all wonderful people! At SB, the community is filled with people genuinely interested in helping and finding meaningful connections, enabling us to succeed on our own goals. I enjoy working with people at SB.
What do you work on in your free time?
RS: I spend a lot of my free time with my other half. I also have the coolest dog ever, Tex, and I spend a lot of time exercising and trying to be outdoors as much as possible.
Travel is a big part of my life. I’ve always thought that by travelling, you can better understand and respect the societal and environmental issues around the world. My hope is that by getting a better understanding of critical global challenges by physically seeing them, we can understand the magnitude of the issues we face – and we can uncover what to do about them.
The picture I shared for this interview is from a recent trip to Iceland. I’ve been to some really amazing places throughout the years, but this trip was unique in that Iceland feels the brunt of climate change. When I was there in March, I was able to witness the consequences of climate change firsthand. For example, on one of our glacier expeditions, our guide showed us yearly road markers that indicated where the glacier started. It was remarkable to see the exponential increase in kilometers each year of how much further the glacier melted. It gave me an entirely new perspective of the magnitude of the issue, one of those “aha” moments for me.
Travelling around the world and seeing the effects of social, environmental and political changes opened my eyes to how fragile life is. I take this realization with me every day to work and aim to use the assets of AT&T to make whatever change I can.
Anything else you'd like to share with fellow SB Members?
RS: I think cross-company collaboration should be at the forefront for SB members. There are great calls to action addressing environmental and social issues that all of us, as a unified voice, can speak to.
Most of us have been involved in the Member Network for quite a few years and have made great connections. Now, we need to take these connections to the next level and start collaborating. Together, our voice – and our action – is more powerful.