Sustainability, sustained

Marty Spitzer speaks on stage.

As senior director of climate and renewable energy for the World Wildlife Fund, Marty Spitzer, PhD ’92, works to change the world. 

His current role is the culmination of a lifetime dedicated to the environment, beginning as a specialist at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1990, followed by terms in the White House, on Capitol Hill and a series of environmentally focused organizations.

Starting out, Spitzer says the sales pitch to businesses for sustainability was through efficiency—saving money by honing their processes in ways that also benefit the environment.

At the EPA he focused on what was a cutting-edge idea at the time: pollution prevention. Rather than simply treating the waste companies produce, they started thinking about the design issues that create pollution in the first place.

“We were inventing what came to be known as voluntary programs—environmental plans that go beyond what the law called for, because the law wouldn’t necessarily solve all the problems,” he says.

During the Clinton administration, Spitzer served as executive director of the President’s Council on Sustainable Development. For nearly four years he worked with CEOs of major corporations and heads of environmental groups and labor unions to help accelerate sustainability.

“It was one of the most rewarding experiences but also challenging,” he says. “The federal government’s hard to move, but we were able to bring these different stakeholders together and they found common ground around a whole slew of issues.”

After his time at the White House, Spitzer briefly returned to the EPA before heading to Capitol Hill, where he worked for Rep. Sherwood Boehlert on the U.S. House of Representatives Science Committee. There, he oversaw the science budgets for the EPA and the Transportation Department, and worked on early legislation to try to regulate utilities for climate emissions.

Marty Spitzer standing in front of a waterfall.

When Boehlert retired, Spitzer transitioned to consulting, followed by roles at the H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment, and the Center for Clean Air Policy, before joining the World Wildlife Fund in 2011.

With operations in more than 100 countries, the WWF is the world’s largest conservation organization. Spitzer works in the U.S. office, with a focus on driving Fortune 500 companies to tackle climate and energy issues around the globe.

“Our priorities are on conservation and sustainability around food systems, the oceans, climate, agriculture and forests,” he says. “We seek bipartisan solutions—good economic answers to many sustainability problems.”

Spitzer says the combination of law and business in his doctoral program at UB was the foundation of his career. He earned a PhD in policy studies, which brought economic and management tools from his School of Management curriculum together with law, regulation and policy from the law school.

“That integration was really important and it’s been instrumental in everything I’ve done since,” says Spitzer. “I learned to ask a lot of probing questions, which is something I still do to this day. It was really formative.”

After more than 30 years focused on sustainability, Spitzer says the businesses that develop products that fit into a circular economy will be the winners in the years ahead.

“There are still opportunities for efficiency and to save money while doing good for the environment,” he says. “But there’s also room for top-line growth, and that’s where the most creative side of the equation is—building the economy of the future.”

Written by Kevin Manne