Undergraduate Blog

Virginia Harris (McIntire ’20) Drives Sustainability Solutions

If ever there was a role that required someone to operate at the intersection of business, data, and sustainability, Harris has it.

Virginia Harris

“Take the classes that interest and challenge you—and look for job opportunities that do the same,” says Comm School alum Virginia Harris. Current students would do well to listen to that advice, as she speaks from experience.

The Richmond, VA, native concentrated in Management and Marketing and took the Comm School’s Business Analytics Track while also pursuing a second major in Global Studies: Global Environments & Sustainability. Now a Consultant with Deloitte in New York, she’s using the skills she developed at UVA to take on some of the biggest challenges facing humanity in the realm of climate change.

Since early 2022, she’s been part of the founding team of ClearCarbon, a digital solution that integrates and transforms project-level carbon reductions and removals data. The product that she’s helped build and deliver creates traceability for large companies in the food, beverage, and agriculture spaces to monetize carbon and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

If ever there was a role that required someone to operate at the intersection of business, data, and sustainability, Harris has it.

Finding Value in Carbon

Most of Harris’s time is spent collaborating with those large firms as they attempt strategies to reduce their Scope 3 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. These particular emissions are known as value chain GHG emissions, those not produced directly by the companies, but by their value chains, such as products they use and dispose of from their suppliers.

“My team helps quantify the GHG impact from these supply chain carbon programs in a credible way and, in turn, identifies commercial avenues to fund these interventions, such as through carbon credits or insets with product premiums,” explains Harris.

She runs workshops with her clients, guiding them as they navigate the complexities involved with the carbon commercialization process. However complicated the material may be, she is not only up to serving as that translator and adviser, but Harris also says serving in that role is nothing less than energizing.

“The group brainstorming and problem-solving in these workshops almost always bring new opportunities and innovative solutions to the surface,” she says, adding that they also provide a platform to share what she’s experienced while giving her the chance to understand new perspectives that her clients share: “I am constantly learning something new in my role.”

Harris and her team’s carbon calculation model is filling a real market need. She recalls that she and her colleagues recognized the need for a digital solution capable of helping large agriculture companies originate, monetize, and manage carbon assets from their value chains in a scalable manner.

And what they came up with helps meet three major challenges the organizations face.

“First, the level of data integrity and documentation required to generate a carbon asset is incredibly burdensome to collect and report,” Harris says. “Second, the accepted methodologies for quantifying GHG impact are full of complex nuances for project developers to interpret and abide by. And third, the management of these carbon projects and the sale of carbon assets at scale require the integration of numerous data sources at various levels of granularity.”

What ClearCarbon does is simplify the process and gives companies a single source of truth with which to manage their projects and report to their various stakeholders. “We hope that it will reduce the barrier for entry for big agriculture players to initiate value chain carbon interventions as it paves the way for carbon to be seen as an asset, not a liability,” she says.

A Champion for Change

Harris notes that ESG is quite a comprehensive area: “By its nature, sustainability, whether in the global food system or any other sector, is very interconnected,” she says, pointing out that every strategic decision comes with its share of trade-offs, and she recognizes that it can be difficult to arrive at decisions that maximize benefits for the environment, society, and the economy.

“For me, the hardest part of working in this space is recognizing the need for scalable change at large companies such as those we work with at Deloitte, while balancing the conflict of interest for smaller companies that may never reach that magnitude of production,” she says. The downside of that innovation is that those smaller organizations may never be able to achieve the economies of scale benefits of the carbon programs she and her team are helping build. “We often work closely with NGOs, universities, and nonprofits, in addition to supporting government grant applications, to remediate this tension and improve the equity of sustainable transitions.”

Many of her previous experiences prepared her for her current role in both business and sustainability within food and agriculture, a position that she holds despite the fact that she joined Deloitte as a Generalist Strategy Analyst. She traces her growing expertise back to Grounds.

“While at UVA, I took several courses at the intersection of food and sustainability, including an independent study course with Professor Paul Freedman, focused on researching and resolving environmental and equity challenges in conjunction with the Charlottesville City Market,” Harris says. “Additionally, through McIntire, I took a J-term course with Professor Mark White called Conservation Finance in Kenya. While at Ol Jogi Wildlife Nature Conservancy, we learned firsthand about various financial mechanisms to support environmental conservation—from impact bonds to tax credits.”

Harris carried those experiences with her to New York when she began her career at Deloitte, where she arrived knowing what she wanted to do: “continue working with Fortune 500 companies leading the way in sustainability to make an impact on a global scale.”

Though only a few short years removed from her time at UVA, she’s already making her innovative contributions well known, having demonstrated ClearCarbon to prospective partners and clients at the World Agri-Tech Summit in San Francisco. She was inspired to have been part of an event that afforded her the chance to be part of the newest sustainability tech for farmers and food companies, while exploring other innovations herself.

“The event was an exciting opportunity to bring together the technical product knowledge I have built with the sustainability strategy work I focus on day-to-day at Deloitte,” she says.

Though she understands that a job is ultimately only that—a job—she is living proof that being wholly invested in what she produces makes a big difference that supports her dedication to make an impact. Current McIntire students would benefit from emulating that philosophy, as there are myriad ways to use commerce as a vehicle for following their own passions—much like Harris has: “It is significantly more motivating and rewarding when you are spending your time focused on something that challenges you to solve complex problems you truly care about.”

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