Alumnus Nicolas Dolce: Sustainability is only going to become a more important topic, one that practitioners of many different professions will need to be familiar with

Study course projects and a Social Hackathon competition helped Nicolas Dolce, our Creative Sustainability alumnus, to prepare for working in sustainability consulting. 'The Capstone course sharpened my project management, client interface, and business development skills.'
School of Business alumnus Nicolas Dolce

My name is Nicolas Dolce. I graduated from Aalto University School of Business' Creative Sustainability master's program in July 2019. The Creative Sustainability program is a unique major that combines students from business, design, and engineering backgrounds to tackle sustainability challenges from a multidisciplinary perspective. Before studying at Aalto, I completed my undergraduate education at The College of New Jersey in the US with majors in International Studies and Linguistics. 

I come from an international family: my mother is a Swedish-speaking Finn from the Turku area and my father is an Italian-American from Queens, New York. I grew up in New Jersey but visited Finland often during my childhood. I moved to Helsinki to study at Aalto University and have been living here since autumn 2016.

Why did you want to study Creative Sustainability and how was the study experience?

During my undergraduate studies, I took many courses on topics like sustainable development, human rights, and international business. After graduating, I felt that I wanted to work on something related to sustainability, but I was unsure of what kind of approach to take. Business development, research, and technology all appealed to me. The Creative Sustainability program at Aalto was a perfect match, because I could learn to approach sustainability through a business lens, while mixing in technology through my minor in Analytics and Data Science and research through the thesis process. Exposure to the world of design through the program's gifted design students was also a huge plus.

What has been particularly important or useful during your studies, in regards to employment?

The Capstone project course stands out as one of the program's highlights. This course really helped prepare me for working in sustainability consulting. During the Capstone course, Creative Sustainability students work together in multidisciplinary teams to develop a sustainable product or service concept for real client organizations in the Helsinki area. My teammates, design student Manuel Arias and business student Norbert Schmidt, and I worked for HSY (the Helsinki metropolitan area environmental authority) and HSL (the public transportation authority) during the course. The clients' brief was to develop a service that could promote low carbon lifestyles around the Helsinki region's commuter train stations. 

Through research and ideation sessions with the client and other stakeholders, we developed Bikefy, an electric folding-bike-as-a-service concept that aimed to make multimodal commuting with bikes and train lines more attractive. The clients were pleased with the project outcome, and the concept was tested in a pilot during autumn 2017. The course sharpened my project management, client interface, and business development skills. The course captures the essence of the Creative Sustainability program in one project, and while it was challenging at times, it remains one of the most memorable experiences from my whole education.

You work as Senior Advisor as part of KPMG Finland’s Sustainability Services team. How did you end up in your current position?

I got into the consulting world through a student event at Aalto. OP, Deloitte, and Aalto University organized a Social Hackathon competition in March 2017, where the challenge was to develop a business idea that could address a social problem in Finland through the use of technology. My Creative Sustainability classmates from the School of Business, Hanna Kim, Hai Anh Tran, and Melina Pinomaa, and I decided to form a team for the Hackathon, and we selected loneliness and inactivity among the elderly as our social problem. Using the teamwork, business development, and creative skills we gained through the Creative Sustainability program, we came up with a preventative healthcare platform that combined wearable technology and gamification to motivate the elderly to exercise and connect with loved ones. 

Our five-minute pitch won the competition, and as a prize our team won paid summer traineeships at Deloitte and OP to run a pilot of our idea. The pilot participants were very enthusiastic about our idea, and we ultimately pitched our concept, Muuvi, to OP as an add-on service for their insurance policies. During this unique summer traineeship, I also got to know Deloitte’s Sustainability Services team and even had the opportunity to help them with some tasks. I decided to apply to their sustainability team in spring 2018. I had to go through the full application process just like anyone else, but it definitely helped that the sustainability team was familiar with the Muuvi project's positive results.

I worked on Deloitte's Sustainability Services team for almost three years, during which time I also finished my studies at Aalto. In January 2021, I started as a Senior Advisor on KPMG's Sustainability Services team, where I work as a specialist on sustainable finance and circular economy.

The field of sustainable business is evolving rapidly as sustainability becomes a more prominent concern in the society.

Nicolas Dolce, School of Business alumnus

What kind of assignments and projects do you do in your job?

Sustainability work at the Big Four can generally be divided into two main areas: sustainability reporting and sustainability advisory. For sustainability reporting, all publicly listed companies publish financial reports which are audited by a third party. In addition to reporting financial information, many companies publish information about their sustainability performance. This can include data on greenhouse gas emissions, electricity usage, workplace safety, and employee diversity, for example. 

A significant part of sustainability work at the Big Four involves helping with different aspects of sustainability reporting. For example, helping a company understand which sustainability information is relevant to their stakeholders, building processes for gathering sustainability data, making calculations based on the data, creating the reports, etc. Finally, to add credibility to their non-financial reporting, companies can pay for a third party, like KPMG, to assure their sustainability data, essentially vouching for the data's accuracy. 

The second area of work is sustainability advisory. This means helping companies with strategic questions typical of management consulting, just with a sustainability angle. For example, how will consumer trends affect the market for your products? What are the implications of new EU regulations for your business? 

What kind of advice would you give to students who are interested in sustainability work?

Sustainability is a broad area with many subcategories, and many students worry about finding their specialization as a result. During my studies at Aalto I was interested in many different subareas, such as public transportation, social entrepreneurship, circular economy, and sustainable finance. I certainly felt pressure to narrow my interests down.

I would say that in the beginning, it's okay to be a "generalist" and not know which area of sustainability interests you most. However, as your studies and early career progress, it's good to be aware of which kinds of sustainability questions are most relevant to the business or organizations you might want to work for. This also means finding out what kind of concrete functions in the organizations work with sustainability. Is it procurement? Compliance? Communication? Research and development? It can be difficult from the outside to get a clear picture of exactly how organizations are tackling sustainability. That is why traineeships and project courses with real client exposure are invaluable. Sending a message on LinkedIn and grabbing coffee with people in the field is also a great approach.

Once you start to understand the sustainability questions that organizations are struggling with, you can begin to profile yourself as a specialist that can help them in these areas (assuming the questions overlap with your interests). Your thesis, minor, and project coursework are all great ways to start finding your niche. But don't worry too much! These are also things you figure out along the way during your first few jobs. 

What do you expect wish from the future?

The field of sustainable business is evolving rapidly as sustainability becomes a more prominent concern for citizens, regulators, investors, employees and companies. Previously when working with sustainability consulting, a great effort needed to be dedicated to convincing prospective clients that sustainability is something valuable to take seriously. That work is getting easier. Sustainability is only going to become a more important topic, one that practitioners of many different professions will need to be familiar with. As a Finnish-American, I also feel very thankful to be able to work in the EU, which deserves praise for its dedication to sustainability issues internationally.

Get to know Nicolas's career path also on LinkedIn!

Aalto Business students browsing course books around a table

Creative Sustainability, Master of Science (Economics and Business Administration)

The Creative Sustainability (CS) programme provides students with the skills and knowledge to address pressing global sustainability challenges through business. Students with different backgrounds are united by the creative solutions, hands-on methodologies and shared values that characterise the programme. Graduates are well-prepared for leadership positions that require harnessing business understanding to reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

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