Working on the front lines of sustainability at Autodesk

Ryan Sheinbein spent his summer helping Autodesk—the Silicon Valley software company—expand new initiatives. “I wanted to work with the decision makers driving change on the front lines of sustainability within the context of a large company,” he says.

I wanted to apply what I was learning in the classroom to help solve some of the sustainability challenges facing real organizations.

As a first year MBA student at MIT Sloan, Ryan Sheinbein, a mechanical engineer, received several offers of summer employment. But when he heard the pitch from Autodesk—the Silicon Valley software company with a market cap of about $9.6 billion—he was sold.

“I wanted to work with the decision makers driving change on the front lines of sustainability,” he says. “It was, after all, one of the reasons I went to Sloan in the first place: I wanted to apply what I was learning in the classroom to help solve some of the sustainability challenges facing real organizations.”

Autodesk—best known for its computer-aided design program, AutoCAD— sought Ryan’s help to expand new initiatives within its Sustainable Design Living Laboratory. The Lab’s primary goals are to improve the company’s environmental performance, refine its software tools and capabilities, and highlight how Autodesk’s software tools can be used in the architectural and engineering community to have a greater impact on green design.

“I sat on the same floor as the CEO and my team got feedback on our initiatives at the proposal stage, the funding stage, and the implementation stage,” says Ryan.

One of the most memorable aspects of his internship involved participating in a monthly lunch series where sustainability leaders from big Bay Area companies—including Salesforce and Facebook—gathered to discuss environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues. “It gave me a lot of insight into the challenges these organizations face,” says Ryan. “I got to hear how initiatives gather momentum as well as where things got stuck.”

Ryan’s internship was part of the Sustainability Internship Program, made possible by a generous gift from Anna Gabriella C. Antici Carroll ’92 and Joseph D. Carroll ’91. The Program, supported by the Sustainability Initiative at MIT Sloan, helped Autodesk invest in sustainability in new and important ways, says Lynelle Cameron, President and CEO of the Autodesk Foundation, and the Senior Director of Sustainability at Autodesk. “The subsidy enabled us to leverage higher caliber talent than we may have been able to attract otherwise,” she says. 

“Having an intern focus on how our cloud products can be used for sustainability within our own business was above and beyond what we are able to do day to day,” she adds. “Having a skilled individual explore this area with fresh eyes was essential.”

Today Ryan works at Google, where he is a program manager focused on renewable energy storage strategies. He says the lessons he learned at Autodesk stay with him. “A lot of the conventional wisdom around the best ways to implement corporate sustainability programs is that a steady, even approach is best,” he says. “But what I learned is that the mood of the company and the economy plays a big role. When you have support and momentum to put real dollars behind sustainability, you need to run with it.”