How’d you get started in sustainability?
I got into sustainability through my experience working on international development programs with USAID and beyond. So much of the developing world is deeply entrenched in commodity production for supply chains—from cotton production in Uzbekistan to manufacturing in Bangladesh to mineral mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I saw firsthand the environmental and social impacts that consumption and opaque practices can have, and I felt that the private sector, particularly retail, had a massive role to play in improving the way we do business and its impact on global livelihoods. In most cases, environmental issues and social issues are not mutually exclusive—the exploitation of both can more often than not be traced back to financial drivers.
I moved from government development work to systemic supply chain interventions at the Walmart Foundation, helping to expand research and fund initiatives to reduce deforestation, plastic pollution, and wasteful agricultural practices. I wanted to continue to be a part of raising consumer awareness of their ability to influence how companies behave, so I began consulting in the space before I moved to Hive. It’s been such an amazing project to build a retail company from the ground up with sustainability in its DNA. And the best part is that we’re looking at it from all sides, not just packaging, but also worker safety/empowerment in factories, on-farm operations, carbon footprint, and forced labor risk, just to name a few. It’s exciting to both teach and learn as we grow, bringing our brand partners and amazing customers with us on the journey. As I like to say: we won’t promise perfection, but we will promise truthfulness and transparency. We’re always trying to “get to better,” and that’s what’s so fulfilling about working here.
What are some specific causes you’re passionate about?
Honestly, the more I learn the more impassioned I become. There are so many fascinating and scary things in the world of sustainability, but I would have to say that I’m particularly energized by helping improve the recycling system. It’s not perfect, but the more we can keep packaging out of the landfill and the environment, the better chance we stand to improve our ecosystem. Currently the national recycling rate is hovering around 32% in the United States, which is frankly inexcusable, but there are a lot of factors to consider: infrastructure for processing materials, consumer access to recycling programs, education around proper recycling practices, and marketability of recycled materials. All of this makes up quite a tangled ball of yarn to contend with, but nothing insurmountable in my opinion. There’s been a lot of focus from packaging companies and private industry to improve their products for end-of-life, as well as innovation for plastic alternatives, and so I’m at least encouraged by our prospects. We just need to amp it up.
On a personal note, I like to be involved in my community, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of the great work that Northwest Arkansas Equality does in my spare time.
Can you tell us more about your work with Northwest Arkansas Equality?
NWA Equality is a great non-profit organization that provides education, resources, and support services to the LGBTQ+ community in the Northwest Arkansas region. I sit on the all-volunteer board of directors, helping to improve our programs, pursue grant funding, and bolster advocacy efforts for more inclusive legislation. I’m also an HIV tester and counselor, certified by the Arkansas Department of Health—we offer free and confidential HIV testing to the community, helping clients make plans to reduce risky practices and increasing awareness of resources available to them. Additionally, we lead the annual PRIDE celebration—the largest in the state! Last year we had to go virtual due to COVID, but this year, we’ve received the green light to have a parade (with social-distancing precautions taken, of course), which is so timely considering several recent anti-trans bills that have passed in the Arkansas legislature. It’s so essential for the community to be able to gather, be visible, and show support for one another and opposition to hate and bigotry.
How can our Hive community show support for the LGBTQIA+ community this month and every month?
First of all, being an ally and showing support is amazing and always welcomed. I think it’s really important to remember, however, that Pride isn’t a party, it’s a celebration of a long, hard battle towards equal rights and a reminder of the work still to come. It’s wonderful to shout words of encouragement and advocate for safe spaces, but it’s also just as essential to listen and to empower voices from the LGBTQ+ community to share our lived experience. If you’re looking to learn a bit more, I would highly recommend checking out the podcast: Making Gay History. Eric Marcus chronicles an amazing timeline over the past 100 years of moments in the equal rights movement, through real interviews with various lesser-known but trailblazing individuals of all genders, orientations, and races, sharing their fascinating stories. Really worthwhile, I promise.
For businesses, it’s also good to keep in mind that authenticity is key. People can smell disingenuousness from a mile away. Changing your Instagram logo to a rainbow doesn’t do anything alone. Lead the charge and be first to publicly support/decry a pivotal piece of legislation. Or actively seek out LGBTQ+ platforms for hiring executives. Put out a statement on International Day of Homophobia and Transphobia, and (actively enforce) a zero tolerance policy for harassment and discrimination in the workplace. Have a required regular training seminar for employees on inclusive behaviors and language. It’s not one thing that makes a difference, but the continued efforts to celebrate diversity and create safe environments that really move the needle. And if you’re not sure what to do, engage a non-profit who works in the space to help. Listen to your employees and community. All of these efforts will be applauded and appreciated, even if the sum total isn’t yet perfect, so don’t be afraid to start small. And by the same token, don’t be content to sit by with what you’ve already accomplished, because there’s always more work to be done. Happy Pride!