JAIME NACK ’98, MPP ’02
JAIME NACK ’98, MPP ’02 is the President of Three Squares Inc. (TSI) – an award-winning sustainability consulting firm specializing in creating strategies for corporations, events, and communities. Nack is one of the nation’s most prominent environmental experts and has advised many Fortune 500 companies, cities, and large-scale events. Most notably, Nack served as the Director of Sustainability for the 2008 Democratic National Convention, marking the first time in history where measures were taken to reduce the environmental impact of the event on the host city. In 2011, Nack was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. She also received an appointment under the Obama administration to serve on the National Women’s Business Council, an advisory council to the President, Congress and the SBA on economic issues of importance to women business owners. In 2013, Nack was named the “Environmental Conservator of the Year” by the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce. Nack speaks to audiences around the world about the business case for sustainability and its impact on the future of the global marketplace. Nack has a Master’s in Public Policy from UCLA, where she also earned her Bachelor’s in International Economics, with a specialization in Latin America.
Interviewed by Monique Beals • August 27, 2019
To start, will you please describe your career path from UCLA to your current role?
My career path has not been linear at all. I went to UCLA for both undergrad and grad school. I’m a double Bruin, and I look at my undergrad years as my “life bootcamp” if you will. I feel like a lot of the skills I learned as an undergrad and during those four years at UCLA really helped both refine my interests and helped shape who I was then and who I am today. It also provided me with the skillset that I needed to really succeed in mapping out my career journey especially where I landed as an entrepreneur.
I always had an entrepreneurial leaning or interest. I think the time that I spent specifically in my role within USAC running the Cultural Affairs Commission and programming arts, music, and cultural events on campus allowed me to learn the skills like hiring, recruiting staff and volunteers, budgeting, applying for grants, writing grant submissions, serving on a board that reviewed grant submissions, serving on a student council, and learning all of that really benefited me down the road. Now, I currently serve as a board member for the UCLA Alumni Association. I definitely have flashbacks to my time on campus and USAC. I take a lot of what I learned in my time at UCLA and still use it today. It’s become the foundation of the life toolkit that I use every day now.
In terms of my career journey, I studied International Economics and I specialized in Latin America and minored in Public Policy at UCLA. I was the first class of the Public Policy minor. After graduation, I started to work at the City of Santa Monica in Community Programs and really enjoyed both the work that I did with the youth, senior citizens and Special Olympics in Santa Monica. I also ran some environmental programs including Coastal Cleanup Day on the Santa Monica beaches every year. Through that work, I worked with a lot of local environmental organizations and loved how we were able to educate and engage all different communities throughout Los Angeles about the environmental topics of ocean pollution and pollution in the cities that makes its way all the way to the ocean through storm drains.
After that, I decided to go back and get a Master’s in Public Policy at UCLA, and when I graduated, I decided I wanted to focus more on the environmental topic and joined an environmental consulting firm here in Santa Monica. I worked my way up to a leadership position within that firm, and in 2008, I decided to go off on my own and start my own environmental consulting firm called Three Squares Inc. We’re 11 years in business, and that is what I am doing today.
What inspired you to choose this career path?
I’ve always been super passionate about both how we as humans interact with the Earth and especially how the first nations people always respected and honored the Earth. Their traditions have always focused on maintaining a healthy planet so that we can maintain a healthy society. Part of the reason why I was drawn to serving in the role of Cultural Affairs Commissioner at UCLA is I’ve always been really interested in both learning about different cultures and also seeing how we can work together, learn from each other, and take those learnings and apply them to the health and well being of future generations.
When I was Cultural Affairs Commissioner, I oversaw all of the different cultural activities on campus, including working with the different student groups and cultural groups. My passion project was the UCLA JazzReggae Festival. From my freshman year to my junior year, I served as the head producer of the JazzReggae Festival. I really loved how reggae music had this message of both education and tolerance and taking care of one another and taking care of the earth. I helped to grow the festival from a 5,000 person festival to a 30,000 person festival. The magic was that we were able to bring 30,000 people from all across Los Angeles to UCLA’s campus to listen to really positive music in a setting where they could also learn about other cultures, food, traditions, and art.
I think that allowed me to see the power of using events and using these kind of educational campaigns to help people learn about how to create a better life and a better community. Also, I was able to see how not only can we use these events to bring the community together, but we can address some of the most pressing issues of our time, like the climate crisis and environmental issues, both locally here in Los Angeles and globally. I continued to follow this passion area and joined the environmental consulting firm to turn the passion into a career.
When I decided to go off on my own and start my consulting firm, I really wanted to expand even beyond what we were doing in the US and have a global focus of addressing the climate crisis head on by working with government agencies, corporations, and these powerful players on changing their operations, behaviors, and products, so that we’re actually doing more good than harm. The business is focused on a regenerative strategy where we’re creating a healthier planet versus one that’s damaging the planet.
How did your UCLA experience help shape your success?
I would say one of the strengths of UCLA is its diversity. The campus is located in the heart of a metropolitan region and UCLA is essentially a microcosm of the world around us. As a result, we have diversity in study, diversity in thought, diversity in background, and in ethnicity. It helps prepare the students for going out into the world and to help them realize that wherever they come from, they now have this background of interacting with all different types of people in a major metropolitan area which allows them to think bigger.
For example, the JazzReggae Festival taught me many important lessons, from negotiating contracts with reggae artists in Jamaica to pitching corporate sponsors. The setting may be different today, but the core skill set remains the same and I feel as if it was an advantage learning some of these business skills early on in life. In my early 30s, I was appointed to serve on a White House Council under the Obama Administration. I remember sitting there in the West Wing thinking about how I never could have imagined that this is where I would land, but everything that I’ve done up to this point has prepared me for this day.
How do you participate and support in the UCLA community now?
I definitely stay connected to UCLA. Through the Luskin School, we’ve engaged some of the professors as project partners on some of our clean transportation projects in the region. My company wrote a grant to receive around $2 million to install electric vehicle fast-charging stations throughout the southern California area. We brought the UCLA Luskin School into the project so that they would help with the modeling of where each site location should be for each of these 28 charging stations. It is really neat to be able to pull in some of my old professors into some of the projects that I work on today.
Through the UCLA Alumni Association, I am involved in several activities on campus, ranging from speaking to undergraduate classes focused on sustainability to various career programs. I’m also part of the UCLA ONE website, and I’ve mentored four different undergraduate students through UCLA ONE. We also post internship and job postings on that website as well.
What advice would you give to UCLA students and alumni interested in your industry?
I think some people think my greatest challenge is going out and deciding to start a business on my own in 2008, which was the height of a recession. I don’t really see that as a challenge, because for me, I thought it was the right time to go out on my own. I’ve never looked back, and we’ve had successful growth every year for the last 11 years of the company. I definitely think it was the right time to be entering the sustainability consulting space. There weren’t too many companies operating in this space with the type of experience that I had. Both being very passionate about the topic and having a lot of great experience under my belt set the company up for successful launch.
I had to make some crucial hiring decisions. The core team that I have now is the team that’s been with me, many of them for 8 plus years. I think surrounding myself by a really strong team has been something that has supported me along this entrepreneurial journey, and it’s something that I’m super grateful for. I think when you’re running your own business and building a small business, there are always hills and valleys in terms of the amount of client work that you have. You’re always in a constant business development cycle. I think building strong relationships within the industry and maintaining a strong reputation that people can trust is something that has served us really well over the years.
What advice would you give to UCLA students or young alumni who are interested in pursuing a career that’s similar to yours?
I just had a call with one of my mentees from UCLA yesterday, and the advice that I gave her was to build her professional network. Look at all of your professors and everyone that you meet as part of your professional network, and add them on LinkedIn. If you’ve done great work for somebody in an internship role or work for one of your professors, ask them for letters of recommendation now. Build your online professional presence. The more experiences that you can have related to the field that you’re interested in outside of the classroom, the better. Focus on your studies, but try to be engaged in your professional network and in the industry that you want to be part of while you’re still in school. That means go to networking events and sign up to different industry associations. Many of them have student membership categories, so take advantage of that now. Start to meet the types of people that you think do the job that you would want to do so that you can learn about what their day to day life is like, what their schedule is like, and see if it’s really something that sounds like it’s a fit for both your interests and your personality.
I actually wrote an article on my LinkedIn profile called “Looking for a Career in the Environment? You’re Not Alone”. If you’re a UCLA student, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn, and then read the article that I posted. I get this question almost every day, so I wanted to create a LinkedIn blog article that had all of the resources that I would share with you if I had an hour for a phone call.
What makes you most proud to be a Bruin?
For me, there’s just a great amount of pride in being associated with a university that shares the same values that I share. Every time something happens in the world, whether it’s related to immigration issues or to a shooting tied to hatred, when I see the response from UCLA leadership, like Chancellor Block, it says exactly what I would want to say and reaches out in a tone of tolerance, acceptance, support, and love for our fellow humans. It makes me so proud that I’m attached to a university that represents the values that I believe in.
And finally, what’s next?
Every year has been more exciting than the last one. It’s really been an amazing journey thus far. I never would have imagined that my career would have taken me to the places that I’ve been – from the White House to the Arctic. I lead Artic expeditions tied to climate action for small groups of influencers. I took a group of 20 young leaders to Greenland this year. I’m just grateful for the career that I’ve had so far.
I want to continue to build my company. We’re growing in leaps and bounds every year. With that growth comes additional team members and additional growing pains. It’s an exciting time to be a part of a growing company.
I’m also super excited about some of the potential projects on the horizon. We’re excited that the LA 2028 Olympics are coming our way, and we’ve been working on some projects related to the sustainability plan for the Olympics, so that’s exciting. We’re also working on the plan for the Democratic Convention in Milwaukee in 2020. We previously did the Democratic National Convention in Denver in 2008, in Charlotte in 2012, in Philadelphia in 2016, and now working towards Milwaukee in 2020. We are just excited to push the sustainability efforts to the next level in 2020 as it’s a really important election year.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
Monique Beals is a Communications major and UCLA College Honors student from Memphis, Tennessee. She has previously interned at the Office of Senator Lamar Alexander, the Orange County Register, and Tegna Inc. She has also worked as an Urban Fellow for the City of Memphis. At UCLA, Monique has been involved as Marketing Director of the Community Service Commission in addition to working as a Student Recruiting Assistant for UCLA Athletics. After graduating from UCLA, Monique intends to pursue a career in journalism or law.
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