Today on Career Memos, we explored what a career in sustainability actually looks like. Saskia van Gendt is the Head of Sustainability at Rothy’s, a fast-growing, eco-friendly brand that produces comfortable footwear and handbags made from recycled materials.
Prior to that, Saskia held roles at method in product innovation and navigated government work at the Environmental Protection Agency with a focus on ocean plastics and packaging. Her career has been a natural extension of her passion and there are many different avenues to explore.
If you’ve ever had a curiosity about working in sustainability, this is the conversation for you. Listen to Episode 27 now on The Career Memos Podcast available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, and Stitcher.
If you’re interested in sustainability, explore different elements of it.
Saskia was naturally outdoorsy at heart, growing up climbing trees and playing in rivers and creeks. It wasn’t until she landed on the debate team in high school studying climate change and renewable energy that she recognized her deep level of interest in sustainability. Pursuing a degree in Environmental Science at Northwestern University became an extension of her newfound passion and helped her explore more of the chemistry and biology behind solutions around sustainability.
If you’re curious about exploring a career in sustainability too, Saskia says it’s a broad and sometimes complex field and there are many different avenues to explore within it. There’s the technical route, the non-profit side, and even roles within government. Find the connection between your passion, talents, and what’s needed.
Early on, Saskia earned some internships at smaller nonprofits and later held a government position, but found that while the roles were important, they weren’t at the level of scale or innovation that she wanted to be involved in. And with the government, the speed to implement was slow. However, with every experience you have, you can always take something away that will bring value to the next opportunity you have.
The rewards of working for a sustainability company are meaningful.
When Saskia joined method after working with the Environmental Protection Agency, she was told that the pace and the philosophy was going to be very different. At method, they fail fast and are continuously innovating. As the brand grew larger however, she noticed the pace would sometimes move slower, as decisions had to be made more thoughtfully.
A small sustainability leadership team guided the efforts and created a strategy that percolated throughout the company. People often join companies like method and Rothy’s because they believe in the mission of the company and want to be deeply involved in sustainability work.
But overall, it was incredibly rewarding as she worked with so many different parts of the company to eliminate waste and reduce their carbon footprint. The feeling of tangibly holding the products in her hands and being in the energy of the factory helped her feel close to the work, too.
What it’s like to lead sustainability efforts at Rothy’s.
Now heading up sustainability at Rothy’s, they approach sustainability very holistically. They look carefully at everything they’re doing in the company and ask themselves how they can be better, both from a people and a planet perspective.
Saskia shares about their 3-year strategy and their goals to commit to circular production by 2023, which would continue their foundation of using recycled materials and recovering them back into future products.
Working closely with the brand marketing team, she helps translate their sustainability ambitions and how they can use those to engage and educate their customers. For example, they launched an emotional and compelling video that shares more about their circular commitments. Over time, they plan to bring their customers even more along for the journey.
“With every experience you have, you can always take away something that will bring value to the next job that you have, or the next experience that you have.”