Ann Starodaj (@AnnStarodaj), director of sustainability at Optoro, spoke with us recently to discuss her passion for promoting sustainable consumption, how Optoro’s software solutions enable this for clients, and how leveraging a strong appetite within the business to measure product impact is helping her expand the sustainability team.
Keep reading to learn more about the inspiring army of changemakers Ann is seeing in the marketplace, her desire to collaborate with members on reverse logistics, and the insights she gained as a pastry chef before diving head long into sustainability.
What project are you most excited about right now?
I know this isn’t a project per se, but I’m really excited about the hiring process we’re going through right now to build out the sustainability team at Optoro. Like many start-ups, our sustainability headcount has been pretty limited the past few years. We’re now in the process of hiring a manager to own a lot of the data and modeling around our environmental impact.
There has been a strong appetite internally to better measure and communicate the sustainability impact of Optoro’s client software, which enabled us to build a case for hiring a manager to lead this aspect of our department.
The business case for regenerative strategies
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We’ve had such a strong applicant pool, and I’ve been so inspired by the resumes and cover letters I’ve seen. I know a lot of sustainability practitioners feel like they’re going at it alone sometimes, and it’s just great to be reminded that there’s a whole army of changemakers out there who are super passionate about having a positive impact.
How is social or environmental innovation driving value for your business?
I think the primary value-add has been with respect to attracting and retaining top talent. Our mission is to eliminate waste from retail returns and a lot of new hires cite our sustainability focus as a draw to join the team.
Our clients realize both financial and environmental savings when they use our technology, so even employees who may not work directly on sustainability feel like they’re contributing to a larger mission to make retail more sustainable.
More and more, we’ve heard that candidates are looking for companies that are focused on triple-bottom-line business models and corporate citizenship; they believe market-based solutions can really provide that win-win.
What inspires and drives you to work on sustainability?
What motivates me is educating people and being able to change their minds about the importance of sustainable consumption and resource extraction. I’m afraid we won’t have a clean and healthy planet for future generations – the current rate of resource extraction and depletion isn’t sustainable. I hope that the work we are doing at Optoro will change how the retail industry views returns and will encourage individuals to keep products in use for longer.
Can you share something about yourself that would surprise us?
I used to work as a pastry cook in NYC! For many years my career was straddled between the sustainability and food sectors. For the first few years out of college, I worked at an environmental foundation during the day and spent evenings baking for a local cafe.
Years later, I also worked at a farm-to-table restaurant in Brooklyn with a mission focused on improving local food systems. I made baking my full-time job for about a year, but ended going back to school to get an MS in Environmental Policy from Bard College. I still love to bake for fun at home, but it’s harder to find time now that I have a child and work full-time.
If you had unlimited time and resources, on what type of work would you want to collaborate with fellow SB Members?
I’d love to help brands and retailers capture a baseline assessment of the environmental impacts of their reverse supply chains.
There have been a number of news stories lately focused on the fashion industry and brands who are committed to reducing waste and selling used clothing.
Optoro’s software can manage take-back and re-commerce for pretty much any retailer and brand. It would be great to collaborate with sustainability teams at these companies to collect data around what the opportunity is and where they can improve the environmental impacts of their reverse supply chains.
Why is your participation in the SB Member Network important?
Being part of a larger network has been a helpful way to learn new strategies and methods for measuring and communicating sustainability impact.
As a smaller company, it’s also been a great way to network and collaborate with some of the larger players. The member meetings in particular are a great way to meet new people and share ideas.