From studying tropical ecosystems in Panama, to the podium at a global United Nations conference in South Korea, to business transformation researcher and the TEDxUGA stage, Lehigh alumna Erin Sowell ’16 has developed a clear understanding of the nexus between business, marketing, and ecology.

“To most, ecology (i.e., ecological science) refers to plants and animals. People hear it and think... ‘what do plants and animals have to do with business and marketing?’” Sowell explained. “Ecology is the science of interactions, transactions, & dynamics between living things (including people & organizations) and their environments. It is the science of ecological systems (i.e., ecosystems) and it has everything to do with business and marketing. It goes beyond metaphor; the market is an ecological system and ecology is the science that underpins it!”

This understanding began while Sowell was an Earth and Environmental Sciences major and minor in Anthropology and Environmental Studies. In an effort to align scholarship with action, she applied for the United Nations Youth Representative position with the World Corrosion Organization (WCO). Her aspiration for a career in transformation and sustainable development aligned directly with WCO’s efforts to make the public, private sector and governments aware of the costs and concerns related to corrosion, particularly in water piping systems. Following a successful interview with WCO UN Representative George Hays, Sowell was ready to take on this global challenge at UN headquarters.

Armed with a UN badge in hand, Sowell raised corrosion concerns with NGOs, Member States and with officials from a variety of UN agencies. She also compiled a series of reports for the WCO International Board of Directors. These experiences, which honed her interpersonal and communication skills, culminated in a presentation at the 66th UN Department of Public Information /Non-Governmental Organization Conference in South Korea, where she addressed more than 100 attendees.

In a synergistic fashion, the UN adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) during her time at Lehigh. Sowell's passion for environmental science, coupled with her skills gained as a Youth Representative, fueled her desire to champion these goals. “Learning about the Sustainable Development Goals was important for my personal development and influenced me to take on a sustainability focused Mountaintop project.”

Her research for the project was conducted within the Sustainable Development Lab, where she and a group were tasked to develop a market-based sustainability solution. The team focused their efforts on indoor air quality issues and designed a plant-based air purifier. 

After graduating from Lehigh, Sowell received a Master in Marketing Research degree from the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business and worked as a consumer & innovation researcher at 84.51˚ (Kroger’s insights & media company) and Georgia-Pacific. While successful in these positions, she aspired to establish her personal brand, sparking the launch of her own business, Thoughtful Research.

Thoughtful Research, which began in 2020, applies ecological science to business and marketing through The TRANSFORM: Framework™, a scientific decision making process that enables leaders, brands, and organizations to understand their ecosystem, optimize their strategies, and secure their success in a rapidly changing world. Through her work, she equips leaders with the information they need to drive innovation & transformation within their organizations. Summarizing her paradigm-shifting efforts, she said, "I'm developing processes and models that facilitate strategic adaptation, promote ecosystem engineering, and ultimately accelerate the development and evolution of organizations and markets”.  

In recognition of the industry impact and transformational potential of her work, Sowell has been invited to present a TEDx talk at the University of Georgia in March.

“I am on a mission to bring ecological science to the mainstream of business and marketing,” she said.