Former LEADERs fellow is protecting the planet from harmful pollutants, as companies anticipate adhering to an incoming federal rule requiring disclosure of chemical emissions for every product sold.
By Anna Fiorentino
In 2020, during his LEADERs fellowship with Wayfair, Abhijeet Parvatker, PhD’21, began drafting the e-commerce giant’s first policy to restrict harmful substances in every product they sold. It was one of the earliest safer chemicals policies at a major company.
Parvatker went on to set the environmental stage and make a positive impact of his own.
Now, in his role as consulting manager for Sphera, he’s helping companies reach sustainability goals, while the novel methods he developed during his PhD are being used all over the world to generate universal codes for the carbon emitted by the chemicals in products.
His work protecting the planet from harmful pollutants and reducing our carbon footprint is critical in 2024, as companies anticipate adhering to a new federal rule requiring disclosure of chemical emissions for every product sold. The idea is that all businesses will eventually have to follow these standards and others to meet anticipated federal net zero carbon emissions goals. (While broader European Union regulations and carbon taxes are putting pressure on companies to act now.)
“There are already strict regulations, for example, on formaldehyde, specifically, in California with the Proposition 65 regulation,” says Parvatker. “For the scope of their chemicals policy, I had to get that data from different Wayfair manufacturers and devise a strategy around communicating the requirements based on all of these regulations.”
In the growing field of environmental, social, and governance consulting, it’s still up to Parvatker to help companies evaluate their “life cycle assessment” for sustainability, tracking everything from how a product’s chemicals are originally obtained by nature, to how they’re processed, distributed, manufactured, transported, and how they eventually return to the environment.
“The ISO [International Organization for Standardization] provides guidelines for how to create standards and, within that, I had certain freedoms to adapt that methodology depending on data availability,” says Parvatker, who worked in life cycle assessment as a chemical engineer before pursuing his doctoral degree in chemical engineering at Northeastern. “The research I did during my PhD has been used by several others who developed life cycle inventories to calculate emission factors for different chemicals.”
But even after so much progress by data scientists like Parvatker, accounting for emission factors of about 1,000 chemicals in the life cycle inventory databases, there are still hundreds of thousands left to report. That big data requires innovative approaches, robust calculations, and careful strategy around how to accurately measure a company’s footprint and where to focus carbon reductions—and for many companies it means restructuring.
“There are so many companies still catching up on how to do these calculations,” he says. “Because of the net zero push and the risk of climate change, they are being urged to provide measurable data to report on sustainability, when traditionally many were not originally set up that way.”
Parvatker, one of the first students ever to come through LEADERs (Leadership Education Advancing Discovery through Embedded Research), has become a true sustainability trailblazer. And it was LEADERs, created four years ago by Northeastern’s PhD Network and the Gordon Institute of Engineering Leadership, that helped him learn how to adapt in the face of changing climate.
“I still use the project management and leadership skills that I gained in the classroom in 7600 in my current role,” he says, adding that while he may have not landed in the fellowship he expected, as originally proposed for his classroom research project, he works there now—at Sphera. “Every major chemical manufacturer, not to mention oil and gas companies, have a lot of public and government pressure on them to reach net zero carbon emissions. At Sphera, we’re helping them get there.”
In four short years, since that foundational class—open to any student looking to gain customer problem solving and leadership skills—LEADERs has worked with 260 students. Upon completion of the course, “Leading Self and Others,” the program staff and partner companies together select fellows who align with the specific needs of those companies. Doctoral students are supported through the fellowship application process and placed in a specialized role to solve a problem in industry, going on to earn a LEADERs’ Experiential PhD leadership certificate, receiving guidance from an industry mentor and faculty advisor. In Parvatker’s case, that advisor was Matthew Eckelman, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, affiliated with the departments of Chemical Engineering and Marine and Environmental Sciences, and the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs.
The PhD Network helps prepare students to enter the workforce as impactful researchers. Ultimately, whether taking the class or completing the fellowship for a certificate, LEADERs opens doors for doctoral candidates to thrive in industry—often where they never expected to—and to make their mark on the world.
To learn more about earning the LEADERs certificate or partnering with the PhD Network to host a LEADERs fellow at your organization, contact Wendy Eaton, director of LEADERs partnership relations. Follow us on LinkedIn.