Growing up in the late 1980s, doctoral candidate Kate Parrot SM ’07, favored the big-hair look that was popular at the time.
“It was fashionable to have 4-inch bangs,” she says, laughing at the memory. But, probably unlike most of her peers, Parrot was worried about the growing hole in the Ozone layer — she remembers scouring the shelves of the local drugstore in search of chlorofluorocarbon-free hairspray.
So, it’s not surprising that this environmental awareness radiated throughout Parrot’s life and spurred her interest in a doctorate in behavioral social science at the MIT Sloan School of Management, where she was also a pivotal force in sustainability efforts across the Institute.
Parrot came to MIT for the Technology and Policy Program (TPP) in the Engineering Systems Division (ESD) in the School of Engineering. She earned her SM in 2007 and simultaneously enrolled in extra classes at MIT Sloan to complement her interdisciplinary science background. In her master’s degree research, she studied the Global Water Partnership, which brought people from business, government and civil society together for sustainable water planning and management. She questioned how communication among these groups could happen effectively.
“People in business speak a very different language than people in civil society, and vice versa,” she says. That conundrum inspired her to pursue a PhD. “I’ve always been interested in how people can learn to see one another’s perspective and have more positive interactions that create the outcomes they all want,” she says. She is currently studying how companies and their stakeholders can engage most productively around sustainability issues. She will complete her doctorate this summer.
“Environmental issues are tightly coupled with sociology, and psychology, and economic and political issues. You really have to think about a lot of different perspectives in order to solve a problem — like cleaning up trash on the ground,” she says.
Parrot has also been involved in accelerating sustainability efforts at MIT. In 2005, she and Dina Goldstein MBA ’06, who led the Sloan Net Impact chapter, launched the Student Working Group for Sustainability@MIT. The core launch group included students from different academic programs and student groups across the Institute. They set a goal of infusing sustainability into the entire Institute’s curriculum, research and operations. The group’s student members also participated in Sustainability@Sloan, which was born from a steering group of faculty, staff and students, including Parrot, Goldstein, Kara Penn MBA ’07 and Jason Jay PhD ’10.
Today, MIT Sloan has committed to sustainability with courses like Sustainability-Lab (launched in 2007), a LEED-certified Gold building (E62), and an MIT Sloan Sustainability Certificate. The annual MIT Sustainability Summit is hosted by Sustainability@MIT.
“There’s a lot going on now and it’s happened through the efforts of hundreds of people,” Parrot says. "So many people have worked so hard for years on these issues … way before I got here.”
Jay, now a lecturer in sustainability studies at MIT Sloan and the director of the Initiative for Sustainable Business and Society, called Parrot a “key protagonist” in sustainability advances at the Institute.
“There have been many people involved [in sustainability efforts] over the years,” Jay says. “But Kate’s unique contribution was to show up at the right time and place to get people focused and mobilized on an issue, then to step back and let others lead.”
During the past three years, Parrot has been immersed in her doctoral program work, but she’s never forgotten the education she received from the embryonic days of sustainability at MIT Sloan.
“It was a real lesson for me in how change happens,” she says. “It’s what I love about MIT. It’s such an entrepreneurial place.”