Be the leader we need. The youth of the world are the most interconnected we’ve ever experienced and are going to use their connection more effectively than my generation ever did. Among my peers, the issue I most frequently encounter is a sense that one person cannot do very much to change complex problems, which is exactly the opposite lesson we should teach our kids — and certainly that’s my plan. I intend to teach my daughter that she can be the leader she’s waiting for, and the only difference between her and someone famous for their leadership is that the other person got up one day and got started.
As part of my series about companies who are helping to battle climate change, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alison Diamond.
Co-Founder and CEO of JYBE, Alison Diamond is a strong leader who can motivate large groups, typically gravitating toward mission-driven organizations with more than a decade of experience in both private and not-for-profit ventures. Most recently as Director, Organizer Success at Goldstar Events, Alison led a team that supported more than 6,000 event organizer partners nationwide. Previously she worked as a manager in business operations at FamilyFINDS, a daily deal website with 300K subscribers, through its merger with CertifiKids.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Almost exactly 3 years ago, my daughter Norah was born. I took the standard 3-month maternity leave, but when I went back to work, I knew something had to change. My boss at the time, Wendi Lebow, was my biggest cheerleader and a true mentor. While I was adjusting to my new normal, she was always there to listen (sometimes even while I cried), but most importantly, she was able to relate to how impossible it was to be away from a brand new baby so quickly.
It was a tough decision, but I left my job despite not having a plan. I knew that I wanted to work again but also knew I needed something mission-driven that directly related to my daughter’s future while allowing me more time to watch her grow up. In my eyes, it was the only way I could justify time away from her. The stars aligned after that.
Our partners, Paul & Steve, were just getting their company Co2Cycle off the ground. Co2Cycle makes commercial production sets green by offering an array of services aimed at properly managing waste, composting, cutting out single-use plastics and offsetting carbon emissions. They came home after long days of advocating for our planet, open up the Postmates app to order dinner and almost 100% of the time they were disheartened by the amount of plastic packaging that would hold their dinner. They wished for an app that could guide them to restaurants making Earth-friendly packaging choices and that was it, Jybe was conceived, though not-quite born.
Steve runs a very successful production company and Paul was full steam ahead on Co2Cycle so they needed someone to run with their new idea. It was over dinner in November of 2018 that they asked me to be that person, and I am so thankful they did. Norah is almost 3 now and very much aware of Jybe and “mommy’s turtle company”. Sure, sometimes she’d prefer my undivided attention over me being on calls and at my computer, but the terrible-twos/threenager thing is no joke and I love pouring my energy into Jybe. It’s a welcome break most days, actually.
What is the mission of your company? What problems are you aiming to solve?
Jybe seeks to eliminate the use of single-use plastic (SUP) by restaurants that serve to-go food. There are many sustainable and affordable alternatives to plastic packaging out there. We recognize the restaurant industry has taken a huge hit during the COVID pandemic, but more virtuous materials are not esoteric or hard to find. We are here to help make the transition to Earth-friendly packaging easy and cost effective. In fact, we will even hand deliver kits filled with a day’s worth of sustainable packaging tailored to meet their specific needs, free of charge, for any restaurant ready for change in Los Angeles.
Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?
Broadly, we want to contribute to the urgent need to reduce the prevalence of SUP in the global economy. At the same time our planet is encountering the leading-edge effects of climate change, it’s also grappling with a calamitous tide of plastic waste filling our oceans and other natural spaces. Plastic lives on for 500–1,000 years and already there’s 8.3 billion tons of it — manufactured since the 1950s, that have barely decomposed and threaten our health and well-being.
With another 200 million tons of it entering the waste stream each year, we are simply out of space to bury it. The UN has projected that by 2050, the volume of plastic waste in our oceans will exceed that of sea life in them — a staggering 900 million tons of plastic waste.
We believe in the power of the marketplace to shift cultural practices, and we think that informed consumers will change their spending habits to frequent restaurants making an effort to be sustainable if they’re given easy access to the information.
Based on U.S. EPA statistics, municipal waste collection in 2017 equaled 7.42 million tons, of which just 220,000 tons were recycled. Our recycling system is deeply flawed and not equipped to solve our waste problems through reuse.
Jybe believes that more than 500,000 tons of this annual discarded waste comes from meal delivery containers, based on a projected 7.24 billion meal deliveries and to-go orders last year. And our estimate is conservative. This means that at least 15% of Americans’ waste was attributable to mostly non-recyclable, meal-related trash. Much of this material was SUP. Had it been switched out for biodegradable or other truly recyclable materials like aluminum, the waste system would have greatly benefited.
Our approach is to incentive restaurants to eliminate the unnecessary use of petroleum-based plastic, bio-plastic, Styrofoam and molded fiber bowls in favor of existing and proven kraft paper and aluminum solutions. By giving eco-conscious diners clear ratings of which restaurants use Earth-friendly materials, those stores doing well for the planet should enjoy a boost in sales, while those choosing not to will be less successful. Ultimately, we hope to prevail on all restaurants to strive for the higher level of operation to earn these high-value customers.
How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?
The Millennials and the Gen Z’s have made it loud and clear that the environmental impact by a company is a priority to them. 85% of Millennials say that it is extremely important or very important that companies implement programs to improve the environment. Gen Z’s are at 80%. Furthermore, “73% of consumers say they would definitely or probably change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment.”
Jybe is a platform not only for users to report back on what types of packaging they see by restaurants, but it is also a place to promote businesses making Earth-friendly packaging choices. If a restaurant ditches their styrofoam clamshells for plastic-free Kraft paper boxes, you better believe we are going to use our platform to celebrate that with massive shout-outs and promotions.
One example is an established L.A.-based caterer called Love Catering, with whom my partner Steve often works on commercial sets. Love had been using plastic clamshells and Steve would constantly urge them to switch over to something more sustainable. We actually sent them a supply of bottled waters that come in aluminum rather than plastic to trial at some of their gigs and they were a success. Soon after we noticed they posted a picture on IG of one of their latest jobs and their food was all packaged in paper boxes. We awarded them our ‘Jybe Jump’ designation for making the leap toward sustainability, and featured them on our own social media with encouragement for others to hire them.
The youth led climate strikes of September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change. This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion what are 5 things parents should do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement? Please give a story or an example for each.
- Refuse single-use plastic and they will, too. When we as a society stop accepting it, they will stop supplying it. Restaurants are notorious for giving kids plastic cups, utensils, plates, etc. When my family dines out (pre-pandemic), I make it clear that plastic disposables are not necessary for our table. But because I am not a fan of liquids flying everywhere in public places, I also always make sure to pack a canteen for Norah. In the rare instance a SUP cup lands on our table (usually decorated with zoo animals and bright colors making it irresistible to children), I make it a point not only to have Norah use it for its intended purpose, but also to take it home and make it a toy. We use it to dig in the dirt, play in the bathtub, hold paints while at the easel, etc. That cup doesn’t get thrown out (or recycled if applicable) until it has been well loved.
- Greenwashing is alive and well and it’s all of our jobs to speak up and ask questions. Companies will stop at nothing to make you think that by buying their product you are being a friend to our Earth. We must teach our kids to ask questions and speak up when things don’t make sense. Norah is a little young at the moment, but she has certainly seen me asking restaurants if they have access to industrial compost facilities if I see them using PLAs and other “compostable” materials, which cause harm if they end up anywhere aside from an industrial compost facility. She also loves to check in on what we affectionately call Jybe Labs. Basically, a bunch of mason jars filled with pieces of packaging soaking in water. She and I both get VERY excited when things “disappear” because it means their claims of biodegradability are likely true.
- Spend at least a few minutes a day talking about how beautiful our planet is and caring for it will come naturally. It’s a goal of ours to make sure Norah appreciates her home, our Earth. We get to the beach as often as we can, take walks, garden like crazy and read books that make topics like climate change toddler-friendly. Rat-Rat, her mouse stuffed animal, goes everywhere with us. He has his own “highchair”, “drinks” water, “eats” food, needs to be tucked in at night, etc. If we guide her in the direction of loving and appreciating our planet and all it has to offer, she and her fellow toddler-pals will be motivated to care for it. Just like she cares for Rat-Rat (the mouse).
- Don’t buy things you don’t need and they won’t feel the need to, either. We are not yet to the point of “So-and-so has it, I need it too,” but I know it’s coming. Norah loves new things, bright things, plastic things. But one of her favorite activities is filling a big pail with water and using tupperware, funnels and sponges to “wash the windows” outside. We make a big deal of talking about all the ways in which items can be used. We often put things away for a few weeks and bring them back out again, so they feel new. It amazes me though how little kids really need to be entertained.
- Be the leader we need. The youth of the world are the most interconnected we’ve ever experienced and are going to use their connection more effectively than my generation ever did. Among my peers, the issue I most frequently encounter is a sense that one person cannot do very much to change complex problems, which is exactly the opposite lesson we should teach our kids — and certainly that’s my plan. I intend to teach my daughter that she can be the leader she’s waiting for, and the only difference between her and someone famous for their leadership is that the other person got up one day and got started.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- Your first idea will likely look very different from what you launch with. And just because that is true, doesn’t mean your idea wasn’t great to begin with. It just means that you take feedback and like all great leaders, are open to change. Our first few months were spent calling and visiting restaurants, explaining who we were and what our goals were and then asking to audit their materials so we could assign a sustainability rating. Even as I’m typing that, I wonder what the heck we were thinking. We quickly realized that A) restaurants don’t have time and B) they are also very uninterested in doing anything outside of their usual scope for a company that doesn’t yet have a following. C) The vast majority of restaurants use a lot of plastic so asking them to do work for us only to rate them down was not an option. So, we pivoted, and became a user-generated sustainability ratings platform.
- You don’t have to know how to do everything. I’ve never been the CEO of my own company before. I have 10+ years of operations and account management experience but am certainly not an app developer and am still learning about SEO and SEM which is why we hired out for those needs. The most important thing you can do is surround yourself with people you can learn from and who want to help you succeed. Oh, and ask questions.
- Greenwashing is one of the most manipulative forms of marketing out there and I wish I’d known sooner. I now have an eye for catching so-called “Eco-friendly” companies in their web of lies but in many ways, I wish I would have understood the issue sooner and could have started making a difference sooner.
- Your “what woke me up” moment might make you feel crappy. For me, when I signed up to run with the idea for Jybe, I thought I lived a pretty sustainable life. I was quite mistaken, but it’s enabled me to understand the questions and concerns of other people who we are trying to get invested in our platform. Many people are all-too-aware that society needs to change its habits, but there are others who, like me, didn’t even see the mistakes they were making because they are so ingrained. That pocket of reluctance is also our greatest opportunity for progress and success. And I can totally relate to them.
- Content is key. If you find yourself trying to work something out, asking a question or trying to solve a problem, write about it. A blog or a newsletter is a great way to connect with people who are interested in what you do. It sounds so simple, but it truly legitimizes that you are an expert in your field and gives you a place to point when people have questions. It also serves as a place for you to try things out, see what sticks and really hone in on the voice of your company.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
They are probably going to hate this but I am doing it anyway. Our partners, Paul and Steve, inspire me daily with their willingness to put it all on the line for the environment and social change. We’ve talked about Co2Cycle already but they also have 2 other companies in their portfolio that are focused on change. The first is Aerrem. They’ve designed a beautiful tote to help people say no to single-use plastic bottles and cups on-the-go and I personally can’t wait to get my hands on one once they’ve fully launched.
Additionally, they also have Vote To Save Us which is all about activating voters for this crucial election where so much of what we care about is at stake. Not only have they given me the opportunity to run Jybe, I have learned so much from them both. Paul is a brilliant writer and a true expert on all things sustainability and Steve is one of the most creative people I have ever met. We all bring very different skills to the table, it’s a true dream team.
You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
This one is easy! Refuse single-use plastic. It’s that simple. Once we stop accepting it, they will stop supplying it. Americans toss out 50 billion plastic water bottles per year — there’s just no way to sustain that, nor is there a reason it should be so many. Less than 10% of the plastic we throw away in the U.S. gets recycled — and that lowly number is under pressure. People think that most of their trash can be recycled but barely any of it actually is. 500 million straws worldwide are tossed out daily. Does that seem sustainable? No.
Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?
My favorite saying at the moment is “progress on the way to perfection”. I am honestly not sure where it came from or who said it first but it’s basically our motto here at Jybe. In a perfect world we’d all be living a zero-waste lifestyle. But that reality simply isn’t attainable in this day and age, which is why we are here to make a dent, one spork at a time. COVID has shown us that individual actions have a big impact on people’s health; collectively, by wearing masks and doing our part, we make a big impact on people’s well-being. On one’s own, it might not feel like much. But together, by sharing information on the Jybe platform and refusing SUP together, we can make an ocean-sized difference. We just have to start.
What is the best way for people to follow you on social media?
Thanks for asking! Head to Instagram and follow us @gojybe.
This was so inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!