Volunteer for a beach cleanup. Plan a day at the beach, but before soaking up the sun, spend the morning cleaning up the beach! Again, it’s all about exposure. Incorporating a clean-up before enjoying normal beach activities will not only show the next generation the beauty of the vacant beach, but also how much trash was left behind from the day before. You can even add an incentive or reward for whoever picks up the most trash. Also, if your kids are already savvy recyclers, they can ensure that the trash being picked up is sorted correctly.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeff Wooster. Jeff is the Global Sustainability Director for Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics. He is on the Board of Directors for GreenBlue and serves on the steering team for the Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas Alliance. Wooster has been recognized for his many efforts to advance sustainability practices including the American Chemistry Council Responsible Care 2015 Employee of the Year and an inaugural person of the year Trashie Award from the Sustainable Packaging Coalition. He lives in Houston, Texas with his husband Randy and their dog Hercules.
Thank you so much for doing this with us, Jeff! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
Iwas born on a family-owned dairy farm in Northwest Iowa. My grandfather, Guy Wooster, won an award for being the first farmer in the state of Iowa to use terraces to prevent soil erosion. So, I like to think that sustainability has been in my blood since birth. I was probably the only kid in my grade school that read The Mother Earth News every month.
Was there an “aha moment” or a specific trigger that made you decide you wanted to become a scientist or environmental leader? Can you share that story with us?
My Uncle, Joe Twitchell, was a chemical engineer and I remember hearing about all the neat things he invented when I was a kid. For instance, one of the things I found most interesting was his idea to poke holes into the dehydrated potatoes in the Au Gratin box to prevent them from being uncooked in the center, but mushy around the edges. That idea — among his many others — made me want to become an inventor, and inspired me to major in chemical engineering and take a job at Dow focused on new product development. Today, I am proud to say that I have 45 U.S. and foreign patents covering various technologies. Although I now spend more of my time helping others figure out what to invent rather than inventing new products myself, I still consider myself a scientist at heart.
Is there a lesson you can take out of your own story that can exemplify what can inspire a young person to become an environmental leader?
Anyone can have an impact. Decide what you want to do and get busy doing it. If you put in the hard work and focus on the outcome instead of trying to do something glamorous, you can make change in the world. I am convinced that every person, no matter what their skill set is, can do something to make the world a better place.
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?
I travel a lot, help others understand the importance of sustainability and set up collaborative programs between all kinds of groups of people. Because I know that travel has a big impact on the environment, I make a charitable gift to the Arbor Day Foundation to support forest re-planting. I also use mass transit in many of the cities that I visit frequently, and if I’m going a short distance, I walk. If everyone does a little bit to reduce the resources they use and a little bit more to offset the resource they can’t avoid using, we will all be better off.
When it comes to addressing climate change and sustainability, Dow focuses on several key pillars such as innovating new technologies to make and use recycled plastic, convening with global change makers, investing in building the circular economy and empowering communities and employees.
Dow offers many high-performance products that help our customers conserve resources. It’s one of the key reasons our customers buy from us! We’ve also designed a number of innovative technologies that make recycling different types of plastic packaging easier, including the development of pouches made from polyethylene instead of a combination of different polymers, and the development of compatibilizers that allow certain types of polymers to be mixed together in the recycling stream. Innovating new uses for recycled plastic has given Dow the opportunity to pioneer a program to construct roads made from recycled plastic across Asia, Europe, Africa, North America and Latin America. The program has prevented more than 220,000 pounds of plastic from ending up in landfills or the environment so far and offers the potential to do much more. It’s also helping develop a stronger market for recycled plastics, which helps support the long-term viability of collection and processing systems.
Just like we share the benefits of sustainability and combatting climate change, we also share the responsibility for finding the right solutions and helping to implement those solutions. But it’s not something that any one company can do alone. What some might call “radical” collaboration between global change makers in governments, businesses and society must happen, which is why Dow is a founding member of the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, a nonprofit that is supported by over 40 global businesses and has committed $1.5 billion over the next five years to help end plastic waste in the environment. Dow is also part of a group of six global companies that has invested $100 million in Circulate Capital, an investment firm dedicated to incubating and financing companies and infrastructure that prevent ocean plastic.
As part of Dow’s strategy to enable a shift to a circular economy, we have partnered with Fuenix Ecogy Group for the supply of pyrolysis oil feedstock, which is made from plastic waste. The feedstock will be used to produce new polymers at Dow’s production facilities in The Netherlands. This partnership also contributes to Dow’s commitment to incorporate at least 100,000 tons of recycled plastics in its product offerings sold in the European Union by 2025.
Lastly, Dow’s Recycling for a Change program in Brazil represents the importance of supporting and economically empowering individuals, families and communities. Recycling for a Change provides waste picker cooperatives with training in business and waste management, administrative assistance and enhanced infrastructure and equipment to boost productivity. Ultimately, it enables waste picker cooperatives to become more sustainable and profitable, while also providing the highest quality materials to enhance the plastics recycling value chain. It’s an example of how collaboration and working together on locally appropriate sustainability solutions can provide a better world for everyone.
These are just a few examples of the many things Dow is working on to drive improved sustainability.
Can you share 3 lifestyle tweaks things that the general public can do to be more sustainable or help address the climate change challenge?
1.Don’t buy things you don’t need and won’t use. Reducing consumption and avoiding unnecessary consumption is one of the easiest things people can do to have an impact that benefits the environment. Instead of buying another kitchen gadget you won’t use or a sweater you won’t wear, make a contribution to your favorite environmental or service charity. Resist the urge to buy the 16-pack if you really only plan to use one or two of an item. Don’t buy food that you think will spoil in your refrigerator or go stale in your pantry.
2.Make a commitment to thinking about your impact. When finished with an item such as a bottled drink, ask yourself: “What’s going to happen to this bottle once I’m done drinking the beverage inside?” If you throw the bottle away, it could end up in a landfill, where it will likely never be recovered, wasting a valuable resource. If you don’t dispose of the bottle properly it could end up polluting the environment. But if you recycle it, it could become a t-shirt, storage container or even a new bottle. Finding time to recycle can seem like a challenge, but once you get into the habit of recycling, you’ll do it automatically — just like brushing your teeth every day. Small changes to your habits will eventually lead to big changes in protecting the environment.
The Recycling Partnership is a great organization with a lot of great resources for you to learn more about recycling.
3. Expand your horizons and use the store drop off recycling system. Instead of only recycling cans, boxes and bottles, add more plastics to your recycling list. You can even start to recycle by room and challenge yourself to recycle outside of the kitchen! Put a bin in your bathroom for recyclables, such as shampoo bottles, mouthwash bottles and empty toilet paper rolls. Check with your local recycling authority if you’re unsure of what products are accepted for curbside recycling in your area. In addition, many grocery stores and home improvement stores have bins near the store entrance or just outside the entrance where you can easily recycle plastic bags, films and wraps. Look for the “Store Drop Off” label on your used packaging. Accepted items include plastic shopping bags, produce bags, beverage case overwrap, paper towel overwrap, toilet paper overwrap and dry cleaning bags. When planning a trip to the grocery store, don’t forget your reusable shopping bags and make sure you dispose of all plastics sustainably and recycle as many of them as possible.
Learn more at https://how2recycle.info/
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.
While I’m not a child development specialist, there are some easy ways parents can lead by example to encourage their children’s curiosity and help them live a more sustainable and environmentally aware lifestyle. Young children are impressionable and can absorb ideas fast, building their own sense of belief systems and moral values. But sustainability is sometimes more complex than it seems, so parents should create an environment at home where sustainability is talked about openly. Giving children the freedom to explore ideas and learn to think critically about concepts like unintended consequences can help build a strong base for taking actions that make the right kind of difference. Offering kids the opportunity to experiment with a variety of different ways that make them feel like they’re participating and making a difference can help keep them engaged.
- Learning how to recycle and reuse. It’s not enough to just throw plastics in the bin and hope that they will be discarded correctly. Parents can teach kids by showing them the label, helping them understand what types of products are recyclable and ensuring that packaging is clean enough that it’s eligible to be recycled. This could be turned into a fun game or activity to find the “How2Recycle” label and put the product in the right place — whether that’s the garbage bin or the recycling bin.
- Exposing children to nature. The best way to inspire the next generation to care about the environment is to show them the beauty of it. While there is beauty everywhere, taking a trip to a National Park, a forest, the mountains or the seaside will show them why nature should be protected and how impressive untouched ecosystems can be.
- Expose children to recycling centers and dumps. Help kids understand that just because our waste leaves our homes, does not mean it leaves the planet. There is no “away” when it comes to trash. It’s a very visual exercise to show kids how much trash is produced. Taking your recycling to the recycling center directly is a great way to help your kids understand the importance of reusing materials whenever possible.
- Shop and eat locally. It’s an educational, yet enjoyable activity you can do as a family. Take your kids to the local farmer’s markets and talk with the farmers about their crops and what is available seasonally. Eating locally also reduces carbon emissions from transportation. Walking to dinner, if you have the option, is a great way to set an example to minimize unnecessary driving. Plus, it’s an activity that will instill healthy habits that will last a lifetime.
- Volunteer for a beach cleanup. Plan a day at the beach, but before soaking up the sun, spend the morning cleaning up the beach! Again, it’s all about exposure. Incorporating a clean-up before enjoying normal beach activities will not only show the next generation the beauty of the vacant beach, but also how much trash was left behind from the day before. You can even add an incentive or reward for whoever picks up the most trash. Also, if your kids are already savvy recyclers, they can ensure that the trash being picked up is sorted correctly.
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?
Sustainability is about increasing benefits, performance and value while decreasing burdens, resource consumption and the carbon footprint. It’s also about creating a system that can continue without permanently depleting the limited resources available on our little planet Earth. While there is no one-size-fits-all answer for how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and environmentally conscious, there are lots of opportunities. The easiest way to improve profitability while focusing on sustainability is to invest in technology to improve energy efficiency. Whether that means insulating buildings to reduce heating and cooling costs, installing energy efficient lighting or driving a little slower on the highway to reduce fuel consumption, saving energy saves money and reduces emissions. That’s good for the wallet and the planet.
As a personal example, we have installed a thermostat at home that is connected to the internet and can be adjusted remotely via an easy-to-use app. This allows us to adjust the thermostat for energy savings when we’re away and change the temperature back to normal operating conditions just before arriving home.
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?
There are so many people that have impacted my life and my career that it’s hard to name just one. But one story I’ll share is about the time during my career when I worked for Karen Carter, who is currently serving as Dow’s Chief Inclusion & Human Resources Officer. I remember her telling me one day — perhaps when I was a bit discouraged about the lack of progress on something I was working on — that I could achieve great things and that expectations for my contribution were high, very high. The encouragement and coaching that she, as well as that of many other bosses, friends and mentors gave me, helped me persevere and keep working toward my goal of creating a world where all plastic ends up in the recycle bin and none of it ends up the environment.
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.
I would like to encourage everyone to say a kind word of support or encouragement to someone every day. You never know when that other person might just be in need of it. I remember hearing a story about Sam Donaldson complimenting then-President Ronald Reagan during a press conference, saying something along the lines of “that’s a nice suit, Mr. President — is it new?” and President Reagan replying “No, Sam, this suit is four years old.” That night, President Reagan called Sam Donaldson to tell him that he had misspoken earlier in the day — the suit was five years old, not four. If the President of the United States is thinking all afternoon about a routine compliment he received on a five-year-old suit, what a tremendous difference a compliment could make to any person who receives it.
Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?
“I am responsible for my own good time” is a motto I first used for my bio during a work meeting many years ago, and still carry with me today. Whatever the situation, it is up to me to determine how I can make the most of the time spent. No one can give me that time back, so it’s important to remember to make the most of every opportunity.
What is the best way for people to follow you on social media?
LinkedIn: Jeff Wooster
Thank you for all of these great insights!