Even the Great Recession of 2008 didn’t keep Jaime Nack ’98, M.P.P. ’02, a member of the Alumni Association board, from launching Three Squares, Inc., a sustainability company that does well by doing good. The walls of her Santa Monica office are crowded with awards, plaques and proclamations. A plain white rectangle turns out to be the agenda from a 2011 White House meeting of the National Women’s Business Council. Three panoramic photos recall Democratic National Conventions — including Denver 2008, where Nack made history by proving that a major political event could be a model of sustainability.
When you’re invited to a picnic, do your friends worry you’ll critique how green they are?
Always! One of the things I don’t like about the environmental industry is that we’re judgy. I find that the best way of effecting change is by people seeing your behavior and modeling it. So if you’re in a restaurant and you order your drink and say, “No straw, please,” everyone at the table hears you. And the waiter asks, “Does everyone else want straws?” And then other people have the option to say yes or no. So you start to influence people.
How did you first get interested in sustainability?
I was always interested in events, in engaging the community around issues that mattered. When I left UCLA undergrad, I worked for the City of Santa Monica. I ran the city’s volunteer program and interfaced with local environmental groups like Heal the Bay and Baykeeper Alliance. And I loved the fact that we were able to use the events medium as a way to educate and engage people about environmental issues.
What’s the most important thing you learned in your UCLA classes?
I was in the first class of the public policy minor, and Michael Dukakis taught an undergraduate course. He always had time for his students, [was] always there for office hours, always wanted to make time. He really inspired me to pursue a career in service.
And outside the classroom?
Student government was my life boot camp. I had to manage a budget. I had to hire and fire staff. I had to hire and recruit volunteers. We had to write grant applications to get funding for our projects. With JazzReggae, we built it from a 5,000-person event to a 30,000-person event in just three years. So it was a big, real-life lesson in how to scale through relationship building: the radio stations, the cable TV stations, the music industry.
What was your first job after earning your master of public policy degree?
I saw an ad for an environmental consulting firm in Santa Monica that was looking for a director of events. And I thought, perfect. It matches my event experience with policy and environmental. In the interview I asked, “Could the title be Director of Events and Marketing in order to include educational outreach?” And they were like, “You’re changing the title in a job interview? We haven’t even offered you the job yet.” But sure enough, I changed the title of the job, and worked there for three and a half years and essentially just self-taught [myself] everything and anything that I could learn about the environmental industry.
What are the “Three Squares” in your business name?
Three Squares stands for people, planet, profit — or social, environmental, economic. I’m very pragmatic. So I wanted the name of the company to represent why we do what we do — that everything we do has an environmental component but also a social component, and it has to make economic sense. Three Squares is essentially the triple bottom line.
Tell me about the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
It definitely helped put me and then the company on the map for handling and implementing citywide sustainability initiatives at the scale of hundred-million-dollar events. We were able to work with the mayor’s office in Denver, the governor’s office and his energy office. I developed a whole cadre of environmental engineers in Boulder. And we were able to work with the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden to develop a super-cool renewable energy exhibit that is on display to this day in the convention center. Denver was a perfect city [in which] to implement a plan like that. I’ve since done the 2012 convention in Charlotte and the 2016 convention in Philly.
Tell me about One Drop Interactive.
Sure. I was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2011. So in 2012, I was at Harvard, sitting in a classroom for two weeks straight with 60 individuals, all under 40, all leaders, all tied to impact. And it opened my eyes to the fact that I wasn’t developing a business model that was scalable on a global level. So I ended up having a sidebar with a technology entrepreneur from New Zealand about developing an online platform. That’s where the seed was planted. In 2013, we launched One Drop Interactive, an online platform with training modules that are also gamified, so there’s an engagement component to train employees on all the different core areas within sustainability.
Do you think Three Squares will be involved with the 2028 Olympics?
I’m hopeful. It’s in our home city. We’re here, we’re a small, woman-owned business, the first in the U.S. to achieve conformity with ISO 20121. Every Olympics after London 2012 has to be produced in accordance with this ISO standard, which is an environmental management system standard for events.
Can you name some companies that Three Squares works with?
On the corporate side, we’ve worked with HP, Adobe, Honda, United Airlines and others. On the government side, we work with local agencies like the South Coast Air Quality Management District, the Environmental Protection Agency and the City of Santa Monica. We did an award-winning plan for the City of Riverside that tied economic development to their environmental goals. On the nonprofit side, we work with industry associations like the global Specialty Coffee Association. We’ve also worked for about nine years as the sustainability adviser to Al Gore’s organization, The Climate Reality Project.
What’s most rewarding about being involved with The Climate Reality Project?
Being able to work on all seven continents. The work has taken us to South Africa, India, Brazil, China, the Philippines, France. Being able to do this work and to see the impact we can have and the excitement and the engagement of people all over the world focused on climate change solutions — that’s something that continues to fuel our efforts back home.