Across industries around the world, McIntire alumni are driving positive change. Case in point: Linda Bach. As a Strategist for Northwestern Switzerland’s IWB, she’s leading sustainability efforts aimed at meeting the Canton of Basel-Stadt’s ambitious CO2 emissions goals, and helping plan its ongoing transformation of heating systems away from oil and gas to renewable alternatives.
Such a substantial undertaking requires a great deal of collaboration and know-how, abilities in which Bach specializes.
Hailing from Switzerland, Bach was initially attracted to UVA by diverse interests that ranged from cultural studies and behavioral economics to the complexities of human relationships with the environment. An Anthropology major at the College of Arts & Sciences, she decided to apply to McIntire when she learned about the School’s hallmark third-year Integrated Core Experience (ICE) program. Intrigued by ICE’s hands-on curriculum, which dovetailed nicely with her anthropology studies, Bach chose to enroll at McIntire, acquiring a well-balanced education that offered her the skills to tackle 21st-century global issues.
“My McIntire major enabled me to analyze economic problems and evaluate the numbers, while anthropology provided me with the necessary cultural tools,” she says, adding that her concentrations in Accounting and Management provided her with further preparation, with “a neat focus on human interactions, as well as the basis of how businesses function.”
Upon graduation from UVA, Bach accepted a position with PricewaterhouseCoopers as a forensic accountant, with a first major assignment for the firm seeing her commute regularly from Washington, D.C., to New Orleans. Her work related to the multibillion dollar class action settlement established in response to the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
“While the work was challenging and gave me insight into the consequences of the oil spill, I came to the realization that I would much rather focus on preventing such damage to businesses and the environment by means of sustainable economic development—instead of remedying the damage caused in the first place,” says Bach. “Further, I observed the massive economic and social potential of renewable energies in the global economy, which would be a great platform to eventually start my own business venture.”
With that entrepreneurial aspiration in mind, Bach enrolled in the Environmental Change and Management master’s program at the University of Oxford in 2016. The renowned long-running program combined managerial business with topics such as environmental economics, policy, climate science, and energy systems. Bach says her time at the Comm School prepared her well for the challenges of her new career trajectory.
“My experiences at McIntire, specifically the ICE courses, provided me with the perfect set of skills for the various coursework group projects, and the business acumen that I acquired enabled me to place the new environmental knowledge into a real-life context.”
Strengthened by her additional studies, she assumed her current role with IWB. We recently asked her about her work, her vision of future energy solutions, and what motivates her to continue to strive to create positive change.
How have your studies in business, anthropology, and environmental change and management informed your work? What are some specific environmental challenges that are unique to Northwestern Switzerland?
My interdisciplinary background informs my everyday work. Specifically, human beings are always at the center of what I do. As the saying goes, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Without understanding the social context within which you are trying to do business, the chances of success are limited.
As a Strategist for the largest utility company in Northwestern Switzerland, I work on decarbonizing our energy supply. While Switzerland’s CO2 emissions from the electricity sector are low, given the country’s reliance on hydro (60%) and nuclear power (30%), heating by means of oil and natural gas makes up 40% of the country’s emissions.
Basel is one of the first Swiss regions that has passed an energy law prohibiting homeowners’ replacement of their fossil heating systems if a renewable heating option is feasible and/or available. My job entails actively seeking alternative heating solutions for all our customers.
Natural gas currently makes up a significant part of our current revenue stream. Successfully managing the transformation of a business model based on natural gas heating to one based on renewable heating requires not only predictive financial planning and the development of innovative new products and solutions, but first and foremost, closely working with our customers. Understanding their preconceptions, aspirations, and decision-making context is crucial to keeping our customer base.
Can you explain the strategic work you do on a day-in, day-out basis? What might we find you doing on, for example, your average Tuesday around 10 a.m.?
My work as a Strategist for a company with more than 850 employees isn’t repetitive. Since I started my job two years ago, I have created business strategies for our e-mobility and telecom divisions. While I was working to create the companywide heat transformation strategy, the need for a new division for small-scale renewable district heating solutions emerged. Subsequently, I helped implement this new division, including conducting market analysis of interesting first projects, creating marketing and sales concepts, as well as setting up the needed processes and product development initiatives.
My work includes collaborating with coworkers in our various divisions, ranging from product developers, engineers, and salespeople to C-suite executives. Besides my strategy and implementation work, I self-started the development of a new climate-neutral product concept, which is currently in the validation phase of a typical innovation cycle.
As such, the only constant you will find me doing on a Tuesday around 10 a.m. is having a cup of coffee next to my laptop.
What do you see as the greatest upcoming opportunities in the energy and environmental fields that people aren’t—but should be—talking about?
What a question—there are so many exciting opportunities in the sustainability field! I have seen many business schools across Europe starting to offer classes closely related to sustainability topics, as whole new markets are in the process of being created. Let me just name a few: electric mobility; hydrogen applications for the shipping and long-haul industry; circular economy business models transforming entire business models; solar and wind energy (which are by now the cheapest form of energy in many countries); new substitutes that are reducing and replacing plastic waste; sustainable clothing and food; climate-neutral finance tools and investment funds… The list keeps going.
I see incredible business opportunities for people who want to combine an impactful career with attractive new markets. Alongside the digitalization transformation, I believe the sustainability transformation will change business models globally and therefore should be incorporated into today’s curricula.
I understand that you ran for election to the Swiss Parliament this fall. What were your motivations, and what changes were you hoping to promote?
I did not think twice about running for election to push viable solutions to decarbonize our energy and transportation sectors. When I moved back to Switzerland two years ago, I joined the Green Liberal Party. I believe that with my interdisciplinary background and diverse work experience, I can actively contribute to the discussions around climate change and gender equality. While I did not get elected, the Green Party and the Green Liberals made landmark gains, reflecting voters’ concerns over climate change. The outcome of the election truly motivates me to continue to pursue my political involvement and drive change inside and outside of my daily business.