By: Kate Redding (’20), Content Development Assistant with the Office of Sustainability
Philip Hunsucker (‘15, MASus ‘16) has a knack for bridging gaps. His transition from Wake Forest undergraduate to Masters in Sustainability graduate student to his successful career in sustainability with HanesBrands has moved seamlessly, driven by his ability to make thoughtful connections between his studies, his career, and the world at large.
When he arrived at Wake Forest, Hunsucker declared an Anthropology major with an Environmental Studies minor.
“I knew I wanted to work in an environmental role, and I knew I really liked people, but at the time, I thought I preferred dead people,” he laughs, describing his studies in archaeology through the department. His path to the Masters in Sustainability program, and ultimately, his role at Hanes, which started with a summer archaeological dig in Portugal after his freshman year led by Dr. Paul Thacker.
Outside of the excavation project, which uncovered Roman mosaics and Neanderthal stone tools, Philip learned about the cork grown in Portugal. Despite their high value, cork trees take so long to grow and harvest that it’s said people “plant cork for their grandkids.” The growth of the paper industry in Europe led to the deforestation of many cork trees in favor of eucalyptus, which grows quickly and depletes the water table. Seeing and learning about these changes firsthand provided Philip with a tangible example of “how environments shape our lives and what we believe.”
After he completed his undergraduate degree, Hunsucker enrolled in the Masters of Sustainability Graduate Program. In 2016, he officially became a double Deac, and thankfully for Wake Forest and the Center for Energy, Environment, and Sustainability (CEES), he stayed local after graduating with his Masters. A joint project between Wake Forest University and HanesBrands took seven students, Hunsucker, and two other HanesBrands environmentalists (one of whom was Chris Fox, another double deac who serves as the HanesBrands Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Affairs) to a HanesBrands textile production facility in El Salvador as part of the company’s Zero Waste initiative.
“We’re fabric-forward…that’s a little unusual in apparel. Most companies don’t do that anymore,” Hunsucker says of HanesBrands’ vertically integrated approach to their supply chain. “We’ve become more conscious, because of their work, of the materials that we use… It’s really just a win for the environment.”
As one of the few apparel companies that manages its production chain and waste stream sustainably, HanesBrands fosters a mindset of innovation for its sustainability employees.
Today, he produces data for sustainability initiatives across HanesBrands in his current role as an Environmental Sustainability Engineer.
“The progress we make in our plants, in our facilities… that’s really the foundation for our sustainability efforts,” he says. “Anyone in the company, any group that wants to market sustainability or has questions about it, it ends up on my desk,” he says.
In his work he often asks the question: how do we communicate our initiatives effectively to different stakeholders? The sheer variety of stakeholders, from investors to non-profits, give him the opportunity to get outside of his silo and find the answers.
“Working in a big company is an opportunity to really make a difference,” he says. “I view my role as a positive force within the company to make the world a better place from where I sit.”