Rubicon’s mission is to end waste. This has been true since our company’s founding, and in addition, our commitment has always been to ensure that we foster our employees’ creativity and innovation while at Rubicon®, and even further out as they move forward in their careers.

We like to keep in touch with former employees, and I recently spoke with former Rubicon team member, Sarah Queen. During her almost five years at Rubicon, Sarah worked on everything from customer success, to client services, to enterprise account management. Last year, she made the decision to temporarily swap the corporate world for academia, enrolling as a Master of Sustainability Solutions student at Arizona State University.

Sarah and I talked about her background in sustainability, her favorite project while she was at Rubicon, and her plans for the future. Please find a video of our conversation below, followed by a transcript of Sarah’s remarks.

Jordan Pilsch: Could you tell us a little about your background—what triggered your interest in the intersection of business and sustainability?

Sarah Queen: Absolutely, so I think everyone in sustainability gets asked this question a lot, and I wish I had some great, transformative and profound answer. But I think a lot of us get started in the field because we think it’s the right thing to do, and we think it’s the common-sense way to go about doing business and doing pretty much [anything in] our day-to-day lives.

So, I grew up very much in a way that… we composted way before it was cool, and I assumed it was the normal thing to do that everybody did. My parents very much both grew up [being told that] wasting was one of the ultimate sins. We had enough, and we were lucky to have what we have, [and] kind of squandering it was throwing it in the face of the people that didn’t have as much as we maybe had. So that was just kind of the way I was brought up and growing up, starting school, going into high school [I] realized that that was not the way that everybody else thought. So, I started as early as high school as the president of our environmental club and really just thought that it was the way to do things. I also believe that the way that our system, our economic system, pretty much any system we work within right now, business is really going to be the primary way that we’re going to have an impact. And I really wanted to make sure that the way we were doing business, and especially anything that I am a part of, is done responsibly. So it felt like the right thing to do. It felt like the obvious thing to do for me. And it’s been really fun to figure out how to blend two things that so many people think shouldn’t go together. And to me, they feel like such an obvious connection.

JP: What did working at Rubicon teach you about the importance of meeting customers where they’re at in terms of their sustainability journey?

SQ: I think it’s really important to meet clients where they’re at, first and foremost, because we need to know where they’re starting at. We can be experts in so many things but they’re going to be experts in their company. And they’re going to be experts in how their company is going to handle sustainability, and we need to listen and hear that. I think that that’s really the first step.

At Rubicon especially, I think we were the experts in recycling and trash and zero waste and all of these great things. But they’re the experts in their company and how their company works. So hearing what they want and what’s going to work for them has to be the first step. And then I think going from there, there’s this opportunity to push them a little bit to say, “Okay, well we maybe have other clients that have done this and it’s worked. So let’s kind of see.” But we need to know where they’re starting. We need to know what’s going to work for their company and their company culture. And if we’re not hearing that, we’re going to miss a lot of opportunities. I had a lot of privilege to work with companies while I was at Rubicon that really wanted to focus on their zero waste journey, and that maybe looked different from client to client, but hearing where they were starting, hearing where they wanted to go, and then pushing them along that journey was really fun and really impactful. But if we weren’t listening to what they were starting with and what they wanted, we weren’t going to be able to support them the right way.

JP: Can you name a favorite project that you worked on at Rubicon?

SQ: I worked with Wegmans for about two and a half years while I was at Rubicon. Anyone that works at Rubicon will tell you, they were one of the first clients, they’re one of our clients most focused on sustainability and their zero waste journey. And when I started working with them, there was one store that they had deemed as zero waste. And it was up in Canandaigua, New York, which is on the lake and was really a seasonal store. So during the winter in upstate New York on the lake, [it was] not as busy as in the summer when everyone was coming to town.

So we had gotten really close with that store, we had done such great work to get them to zero waste. And for, if I remember correctly, I think for years, they were the only zero waste store that Wegmans had in their portfolio. And in the two and a half years that I was working with them, they kept adding new stores and they did such a fantastic job of training their staff and their employees on what that meant to be a zero waste store and what that looked like in the store, in the back rooms, when it comes to loading the trash, loading their recycling, everything. And we basically had to develop a program and develop metrics and ways to analyze and graph and report on what ended up being, I think it was close to 50 stores by the time I stopped working with them. So going from one of their about 100-120 stores to 50 something stores that were zero waste, it was really transformative for how they thought about the business and how they thought about [how] zero waste could work in a grocery store setting.

JP: Prior to Rubicon, you worked at an environmental non-profit. What did working at a non-profit in this space teach you about the challenges we have ahead of us?

SQ: I spent two summers while I was in college working with an environmental education non-profit in Atlanta. They ran at the time four green spaces throughout the city. They have a couple more now, and they also worked with the Decatur Farm to School program. So, what they did had such incredible local impact and it was everything from camps and the school programs to educating kids about what… really food comes from the ground, and what our impacts are on that ground and how we can learn so much from the space.

And then obviously moving into a more corporate place, they’re very different, as I’m sure you can imagine. But there was something so amazing about a really small team with a very small budget having such a huge impact. And there were definitely times that you wish you could do more and we wish we could have a bigger impact, and I think in the sustainability space in particular, we know that there’s so much to do. And there’s so much that we have to work towards whether that’s climate change or it’s our landfills filling up. We know that there’s a ton of work to do. And I think that experience both taught me that a little bit can go a long way, especially when it comes to kids and the future. If we’re starting them early and we’re telling them every single thing that they do can have an impact, we’ll see a bigger impact.

JP: You’re currently studying for your Master’s in Sustainability Solutions at Arizona State’s School of Sustainability—the first of its kind in the country. How is that going, and what is next for you once you graduate?

SQ: I started at Arizona State this past fall. It is a practical master’s. So, a lot of master’s programs are going to be focused on research, and I really wanted something that was going to prepare me to be a practitioner and to be able to take what I’ve learned and apply it. For me, it’ll be in kind of a corporate space.

It’s been really different than any other education I’ve ever had. The school, because it is specifically focused on sustainability, has this ability to bring together groups of people that I have really never been exposed to before. I have classmates that are on such different trajectories than me but being able to learn from them and seeing what they’re doing has just been fascinating. And the primary focus of a school that is sustainability, I mean, that’s new, I mean, it’s not this longstanding traditional academic field that people are getting master’s in sustainability. And being able to be in an environment that that’s the primary focus has been fantastic.

My plan after graduation, I do want to focus on the corporate social responsibility, ESG side of things. I’ve always really been interested in being able to work with a company and supporting all of those goals. So being able to do everything from environmental sustainability to how their governance structure works, and just all of that within one company. I think sustainability is such a big field and there’s so many intersecting pieces that sometimes siloing it off just to water or just to energy limits us. And I think looking at a really big picture is what’s really going to help solve a lot of problems that we’re seeing right now. And hopefully, I will get a chance to do that.

Jordan Pilsch is a Channel Director at Rubicon. To stay ahead of Rubicon’s announcements of new partnerships and collaborations around the world, be sure to follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, or contact us today.