Story: Alex Haederle and Melissa Blum | Photography: Melissa Blum
Throughout Ripple Effect’s #WorkCleaner Month, we’ve shown there’s more than one way to live sustainably. Recently, we sat down with four of Ripple’s biggest sustainability advocates to collect their thoughts on the importance of living greener, and hear how they incorporate clean, eco-friendly practices into their lives.
Autumn: Not a Complex Matter
“People need to stop looking at ‘living green’ as an all or nothing way of life,” declares Program Analyst Autumn Jones. “The definition of sustainability is framing your decisions based on the future, so if you can do something small every day, it can start a domino effect.”
Autumn is no stranger to the clean movement. She studied environmental psychology and social justice as an undergraduate at James Madison University, then educated visitors of the Philadelphia Zoo on animal conservation and sustainability practices as a part of her graduate program at Saint Joseph’s University. While putting items in the correct disposal bins is a great starting point for living more sustainably, Autumn goes above and beyond to do her part and show others her enthusiasm. “I compost in a way people probably wouldn’t expect: Snails.” Autumn’s three snails, Ficus, Fern, and Philodendron, break down her food scraps, or “complex matter,” and turn them into “simple matter” that can be used as soil for plants. “They’re nature’s decomposers!” Autumn elates.
If Autumn could give one piece of advice to our audience, she would tell people to watch out for ‘energy vampire’ lights. “Some devices that use plugs—even when they’re not in use and turned off—emit a tiny LED light, which tell you they are still using power,” Autumn explains. “Look around your house, you’ll be amazed at how many there are.” By unplugging these devices, Autumn has noticed a significant decrease in her electric bill, making her practices easier on the environment and easier on her wallet.
Sarah: Sustainability on a Budget
As one of her rotations in the ASHG-NHGRI Genetics Education and Engagement Fellowship, Sarah Robbins recently joined the Ripple Effect team as a Science Policy Fellow, and brought her passion for making a difference with her. “During my first few days at Ripple, I realized you all were still using Keurig K-Cups and that really surprised me,” Sarah explains. “K-cups aren’t recyclable, so it’s much more sustainable to just make a large pot of coffee for everyone.” While our methods for making that morning cup of coffee leaves room for improvement (read Ian’s section below to learn how we’ve since addressed that), Sarah believes that recycling should be a last effort to make a difference, since it relies on industrial processes. “Your main goal should be to reduce and reuse. I think people forget about those elements of sustainability.”
“I think one of the biggest challenges in living sustainably is the lack of affordable, eco-friendly alternatives to incorporate into our everyday routines,” Sarah notes. “Most people can’t afford a Tesla or even the luxury of organic food, and that’s a huge problem.” That’s why Sarah admires efforts by institutions to make big changes, like the University of Maryland – College Park, where numerous LEED-certified buildings conserve energy and the student-founded Food Recovery Network collects uneaten dining hall food and donates it to local hunger-fighting nonprofits. Today, this organization has 230 chapters across the nation.
But even small changes in daily lifestyles can save energy or reduce waste. Sarah has been inspired by one specific Rippler: “I want to give a shout out to Amanda Crinks,” Ripple’s Senior Project Manager, Sarah says. “[Amanda] always takes the stairs instead of using the elevator when moving throughout the building, and now I’m motivated to do the same! It just goes to show how anyone can be the change,” she reflects. We couldn’t agree more.
Ian: Simple Second Chances
“I understand why Sarah was so surprised about Ripple still using K-Cups,” Market Intelligence Analyst Ian Cohen describes. “I’ve been talking about how we need to find a way to recycle them since I got here!” While he loves Ripple’s real glassware and silverware in lieu of plastic and paper products, Ian is always looking for ways to improve the status quo and make our office greener. Yet his commitment to adopting sustainable processes stretches beyond the walls of Ripple’s headquarters.
“Even though being sustainable isn’t necessarily cheap, I am a firm believer that there are little things that everyone can do that cost little to no money,” Ian asserts. Like what?, you may wonder. Ian keeps it simple. “I’ve switched all the lightbulbs in my apartment to LED, turn off the lights when I leave any room, and use reusable water bottles and sandwich bags.” Ian is particularly passionate about finding new uses for items others may throw away. “Repurposing is key because everything has a use,” he explains, “If you can’t find a use for something in your own home, it’s your duty to give others the opportunity to use it by donating.” Ian believes this goes both ways: “If I need new clothes or an item I don’t currently own, I first look at secondhand stores to give something new life!”
Shortly after Ian sat down with us for this interview, one of his wishes came true. As of February 2020, Ripple Effect participates in the ‘Grounds to Grown On’ K-Cup recycling program: an eco-friendly box next our Keurig collects the K-Cups, and a monthly pickup from the Grounds program guarantees that all the K-Cup components are recycled, even down to composting the grounds. Now, our morning cups of coffee can be a little more guilt-free, and we all have Ian to thank for that.
Anna: Bees & Certified B’s
“Change is hard, especially when our world is so dependent on plastic,” says Graphic Designer Anna Crichton. “But, change is necessary for the future.” Anna’s spirit for sustainability started very simply. “I decided to become a vegetarian when I was 12 because I loved animals so much and didn’t want to eat them,” Anna explains. As she grew up, she learned more about how animal agriculture harms the environment, and that only solidified her commitment to vegetarianism.
Fast forward to today: With a dietary foundation for living more sustainably, Anna has picked up new, clean practices in her everyday life. She manages her water usage and brings plastic grocery bags back to the store so they can be recycled properly. (You can and should do this, too!) “One of my favorite things about working at Ripple Effect is how we are always trying to reduce our ecological footprint,” Anna notes. “I really like how our office is paperless, and the basic aspect of allowing and encouraging remote work saves on gas and carbon emissions.” Similarly to Sarah and Ian, Anna sees a part of making coffee that could be improved. “We need to replace our plastic coffee stirrers with wooden ones, or better yet, let’s just get rid of them all together and use actual spoons!”
While she tries to cause a stir around our caffeine machine, Ripple Effect isn’t the only company that Anna has noticed making a commitment to sustainability. “I’m a huge advocate for spending your money to support Certified B Corporations,” she explains. “These organizations have to meet certain standards to indicate they are humane and sustainable.” One of Anna’s favorite organizations that fits the bill is Nellie’s Free Range Eggs. “Even though I’m a vegetarian, I still sometimes feel guilty for eating eggs because they are part of animal agriculture. But, buying from businesses that are doing everything right like Nellie’s makes me feel better.” We think Anna should feel great about what she’s doing, and we should all aim to follow her footprints.
We hope you found our interviews with these Ripplers helpful in your sustainability journey. Please comment with any questions you have, and if you see yourself as a future Rippler, please visit our Careers page and apply for an open position.