How big business can bring scale to climate action

September 22, 2022 | By Mark Brewer

As an ice cream scooper at Ben & Jerry’s during high school, Ellen Jackowski saw firsthand how a company can integrate environmental and social impact directly into the core of its business.

Determined to make a difference herself, Jackowski sought a career in public policy, interning for her U.S. senator and the U.N. Mission to NATO. But she quickly discovered that Ben & Jerry’s was on to something: The private sector plays a crucial role in driving social and environmental change on a global, local and personal level.

Jackowski took a U-turn and moved to the business world, eventually landing at HP where she rose to become chief impact officer and head of sustainable impact, leading a global team focused on developing and delivering programs on climate action, human rights and digital equity.

Now Jackowski is bringing her experience and track record of innovation to Mastercard, where she will help further integrate the environmental, social and governance goals known as ESG into the company’s strategy as its chief sustainability officer.

The timing couldn’t be better. This week, influential leaders across industries, the government and climate advocacy groups are convening in New York City for Climate Week 2022. In parallel with the United National General Assembly, this 14th convening of Climate Week hosts hundreds of events to share ideas and collaborate on climate action. The Mastercard Newsroom sat down with Jackowski to learn more about how individuals, communities and big business can work together to combat climate change.

What do you think is driving the recent embrace of ESG goals among so many of today’s Fortune 500 companies?

It's the urgency of climate change and other social issues we’re feeling within the ESG landscape. There are real examples where I live in Northern California, where we’re experiencing unprecedented wildfires that start earlier and last longer, not to mention the recent extreme heat wave. Wherever you live in the world, you're feeling this escalation. Companies need to act immediately to accelerate progress toward ESG goals they have set and reporting more transparently than ever before.

"It's the urgency of climate change and other social issues we’re feeling within the ESG landscape. Wherever you live in the world, you're feeling this escalation."
Ellen Jackowski

What achievement are you most proud of in your career?

I helped build one of the first scalable ocean-bound plastic supply chains in the world for HP, where we purchased more than a million discarded plastic bottles per day from Haiti — the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere — to produce printer cartridges and personal computing parts. This program helped to prevent discarded bottles from ending up in the ocean as well as created jobs within the local community in Haiti. It proved that a company’s daily decisions, like where to source materials, can have a disruptive and incredibly positive impact, both environmentally and socially.  

There’s been a growing call from consumers for goods that are made and delivered in more sustainable ways, but people don’t always put their money where their mouth is. What will it take to close this gap?

We need to provide meaningful ways to educate people to understand their impact. You can't manage what you aren't measuring. If we can provide people with tangible evidence of what their impact is, they can make more informed and hopefully better decisions more easily. Tools like Mastercard’s Carbon Calculator provides consumers with a measuring stick to help them do that.

Global organizations possess the resources to address climate change, but there has been a growing acknowledgment that community involvement is also key. What’s the role of local communities in designing and implementing climate action?

The world needs governments, local communities and individuals, at a very personal level, to participate in creating their own change and contribute to climate action. For instance, in the Philippines, Mastercard’s Priceless Planet Coalition, with Conservation International and the World Resources Institute, is working to restore 417,500 trees in the Palawan region as part of its larger goal to restore 100 million trees by 2025. Yet the key players in this huge endeavor are the five local women who will be collecting seeds and preparing the nursery. People make the difference.


What is Mastercard doing in the sustainability space that truly excited you and made you want to work here?

I love how Mastercard leverages its expansive network to truly drive significant impact. We have programs that are already in place, like the Carbon Calculator, the Priceless Planet Coalition, and the sustainable cards program that have made a difference around the world. When I look at the scale that Mastercard has to influence change, I am inspired. The possibilities are endless.

To help make Cambodia's Tonle Sap fisheries more sustainable, womena are supplied with fuel-efficient stoves to smoke their fish. (Photo credit: Kriya Sith/Conservation International)

Let’s talk about the “s” in ESG — the social goals. How can we connect climate action with financial inclusion?

Think about the one billion people that Mastercard has committed to bringing into the financial fold. These are also the people most impacted by climate change. That tells me that it’s time to introduce more holistic solutions that consider both environmental and social impact. For instance, in Cambodia, the Priceless Planet Coalition and Conservation International are working to restore a flooded forest in a community fishery. In addition to cutting carbon emissions and staving off future floods, they are using the moment to empower women by training them to produce Cambodian staples — fish paste and smoked fish — with fuel-efficient stoves. Strategies that incorporate social and environmental impact can go farther faster. And I think there's a real opportunity at Mastercard to do that.

Mark Brewer, Contributor