Fostering a Sustainable Future Through Business – My Experience as an SDEE Intern

Globally as we become more aware of the implications of climate change and its effect on our planet, we have the responsibility to evaluate our daily actions. It begins with the individual, but also with businesses, because of the impact they have on the Earth and their power to create positive change. With growing social calls for action, an increasing amount of businesses have introduced Sustainability Committees to set a standard and communicate the values of the business. Along these lines, SDEE formed a Sustainability Committee. Made up of Scott Thacher, Kirsten Van Fossen, and Chaz Woxland, the committee launched quickly, organizing and hosting several sustainable events in 2019. The committee was encouraged after successes in initial events and sought out an intern to help orchestrate their next one. I was fortunate enough to be that person, and serve as SDEE’s Sustainability Program Intern. 

The creation of the Sustainability Intern position reflects the emphasis that SDEE has put on the organization’s environmental responsibility. Organizations with sustainability roles pressure others to follow suit. The group connects entrepreneurs who are inspired to incorporate sustainability into their businesses, or implement it into future business models. Having previously pursued my own sustainable business venture, I was able to see first-hand the difficult nature of starting a business. For example, green entrepreneurs committed to sustainability often work with more expensive resources but constantly challenged by cheaper, less sustainable substitutes. Opportunities to take shortcuts are abundant and self-discipline is required to take the environmentally responsible route. This sense of empathy is what motivated me to apply for the position, with the hope of contributing my time to a group of driven individuals. The opportunity gave me a feeling of purpose and provided me with a platform to develop professional skills.

Event Planning - Skill Development

A large portion of my internship was working with the team to plan and execute the Food Waste Reimagined event held in October. The event featured a panel of three entrepreneurs who use their businesses as a tool to reduce Food Waste, one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gasses globally. For more information on the event details and explanations of each individual business model, please read Amy Duncan’s article which provides a valuable summary of the event.

My role focused on creating awareness, and generating interest for the event. This required me to develop marketing and communications materials we could use prior to the event. I applied my experience in content creation to the first graphic I created, which was a flyer that became the primary informative graphic for advertising. Members of the Sustainability and Events Committees offered constructive criticism after I created the initial draft, pointing out important elements to improve the flyer. With limited space on a flyer, the project challenged me to get creative with spacing and design. I also discovered that graphic design needs to effectively communicate what the poster is advertising. There is a balance between aesthetics and effectively conveying the material. This is an ongoing struggle in marketing with a continuous barrage of advertisements and our tendency to filter them out.

I also was assigned to create tweets to inform the SDEE Twitter audience about the speakers and event details. Prior to this internship, I had experience with content creation on Facebook and Instagram, so working with Twitter was an exciting new opportunity. Social media is largely about visuals, so I included a high-quality picture for each tweet. With the help of Amy Duncan, the tweets were posted according to the planned communications timeline we developed.

Email communications is something I had no prior professional experience in but was one of the more important and informative channels for the event. Like the Twitter plans, we sent emails according to a strategic timeline. The first couple were designed to create awareness about the event followed by emails tailored to event registrants as reminders and to inform on parking and logistics. Finally, we sent a “thank you” to all attendees and invited input on themes of future events. There is a plethora of different sustainable businesses and the committee wants to host events that generate the most amount of interest for SDEE members. Sustainable event suggestions are warmly welcomed and can be sent to [email protected].

In reviewing the event, we as a team discovered key points we had not thought about in our pre-planning. This prompted the creation of an SDEE sustainability event checklist that will make planning future events more fluid and efficient. It has elements to consider pre, during and post event. Built within the checklist are also items to consider to ensure the event is as eco-friendly as possible, for example ensuring venues have appropriate disposal bins for trash, recycling, and compost.

Looking ahead - SDEE Sustainability Committee 2020

Following the event, I worked with the team to brainstorm and develop event ideas for 2020. As the committee continues to establish itself and gain momentum, it will be exciting to see how the community evolves in the coming year. While my time as the Sustainability Program Intern has come to a close, I am immensely grateful for the time that I was able to spend working alongside this group of passionate professionals who have pushed my growth. This experience helped me appreciate the drive needed for an initiative to flourish, whether it be a committee like this or a start-up business.

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