Alumni Profile: Jana Holt ’08

Nick DiUlio for the Princeton Environmental Institute ・ High Meadows Environmental Institute
Jana Holt
Princeton alumna Jana Holt graduated in 2008 with an undergraduate degree in politics and a certificate in environmental studies. (Photo: Courtesy of Jana Holt)

Even before graduating from Princeton in 2008, Jana Holt knew she wanted to pursue a career in environmental advocacy. What she didn’t know was that she’d find an outlet for her passion in the corporate world. 

“I certainly didn’t see myself ever going into the business sector when I was at Princeton,” said Holt, a politics major who graduated with a certificate in environmental studies from the Princeton Environmental Institute (PEI). “But I can see now how my path is closely linked to where I started out in PEI.” 

Currently completing her third and final year of graduate school at Duke University, Holt is working toward an MBA from the Fuqua School of Business and a masters degree in environmental management (MEM) from the Nicholas School for the Environmental. It’s a journey that finds her fusing business acumen and environmental sustainability, and it all began in the Firestone Library basement several years ago. 

It was there, while working on her senior thesis, that Holt found herself spending countless hours combing through myriad senate hearings on climate legislation. She was particularly struck by how hearing after hearing contained testimonies from individuals working for the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) in several capacities, including science, economics, and law. 

“I was just so impressed with the organization’s approach to environmental advocacy, and I knew I wanted to work for them,” recalled Holt. 

Shortly thereafter Holt became interested in applying for a High Meadows Fellowship, a Pace Center program that places graduating Princeton seniors in two-year positions with one of three non-profit organizations aiming to protect the environment and build environmental sustainability. 

She was particularly intrigued when she found out the fellowship offered positions within  EDF, working either in the marine biology or the corporate partnership program (CPP), which teams up with Fortune 100 companies to spur innovations that reduce environmental impacts throughout the supply chain. 

Holt applied for the fellowship and was accepted. “I figured it would be a good way to learn about a new area of environmental work that I knew nothing about while also being a part of an organization I really admired,” said Holt. 

During that time Holt worked as a research associate on half a dozen project teams, perfecting her management skills while also learning just how extensive and engaging the world of corporate sustainability can be.

“Through measurable results, CPP partnerships demonstrate how environmental benefits and business benefits go hand in hand,” said Holt. “By defining new best practices and working with market leaders, EDF works to transform industries by motivating other companies in the same sectors to make similar environmental improvements.”

Holt’s work as a research associate included a wide variety of projects and topics that were completely new to her, including everything from increasing the number of hybrid trucks and clean fleets on the road to making the business case for commercial energy efficiency. 

“Working on so many teams, I got a sense of the breadth of opportunities within corporate sustainability,” said Holt. “And I also saw how companies, in many different industries, are tackling the same environmental problems.” 

Holt also got a taste of how challenging and slow-moving sustainability initiatives can be. 

“In late 2008 and early 2009, I watched climate policy stagnate, and I got to see first hand the kind of frustration that can go along with this kind of work,” recalled Holt. “Our partnerships, however, were moving forward and companies were doing really innovative things and finding ways to save millions of dollars through sustainability, regardless of what was happening politically.” 

It was the entirety of this experience that led Holt to pursue a career path in corporate sustainability. Not only is she excited by the thought of making real and permanent change from inside corporate America, Holt said she now knows how important it is to understand the ways companies approach sustainability. Without that, she explained, policies designed from the outside looking in aren’t going to be as effective. 

“I could definitely see myself eventually going to the non-profit side, or into sustainability consulting, but I think that to really understand what the challenges are for companies looking to be more sustainable, you need to have experience on the inside, because it’s hard to understand how decision making authority and incentives can influence a solution to a problem from the outside,” said Holt. “I think that if I do go back to nonprofits or into consulting someday, I’ll be in a better position to work with companies because of it.” 

Ideally, Holt said she’d like to work in the food and beverage industry after graduate school, either on the food service or consumer products side. 

“I’ve always been really interested in learning about food systems and I think there is so much opportunity out there,” she said. “Food is one of the few product categories that really affects everyone, and sustainable food should be something that everyone can afford. Small changes at a company like Kraft or Unilever could have enormous impacts.” 

Holt is currently in the beginning stages of her master’s project at Duke. Along with three other students, she is working on a client assignment involving the World Wildlife Fund’s Market Transformation Group. Over the next several months, Holt and her colleagues will be creating a value chain analysis of the Brazilian beef industry and will be discovering ways corporations can exert pressure to reduce deforestation in the Amazon. 

In the end, she said, none of this journey would have been possible without her experience with PEI. “PEI gave me a good foundation for work in the environmental field,” said Holt. “I had a solid foundation in the environmental science I needed, but also got to put it in real world contexts. It taught me how to incorporate my passion for the environment into any path I chose.” 

Moreover, Holt said her experience has led to this bit of advice for prospective or current Princeton undergraduates. “Don’t go to grad school right away. You’ll get so much more out of it with a few years of work experience behind you, and you’ll have a better sense of what you want. Like I said, I never thought I’d eventually end up in business school when I was at Princeton.”