ReGreening a Company after Expansion . . . 
from an Interview with Sara Newmark, Director of Sustainability at New Chapter

New Chapter natural supplements and vitamins started early in the 1982 with co-founders Paul and Barbi Schulick preparing herbal remedies in the back room of a redwood saltbox nestled high in the Black Mountains.  They combined natural ingredients to create a pure product.  When New Chapter became a brand known for organic vitamins and supplements, consumers assumed it was green throughout, the avant garde of green and sustainability.  In truth, however, over the years of rapid growth, certain aspects of good stewardship were overlooked.

Enter Sara Newmark, daughter of Paul’s college buddy and then CEO Tom Newmark, who started her New Chapter career as an event planner.  In 2006, just shy of a year with the company, she sunk her incredibly infectious energy into a new role as Sustainability Officer. “Developing the Sustainability Initiative should have been easy, given the nature of our products.  However, with the day-to-day crazy busy growth we were experiencing, sustainability in terms of the entire company was never examined,” Sara remembered.

“We needed to catch up with our reputation in the marketplace.   We didn’t use 100% recycled boxes as it was expensive and the people in charge of purchasing weren’t aware of how important it was to mission and brand.  Now we’ve changed all the paper and boxes we use.”

Sustainability Initiative Slow Start
            With the CEO’s blessing, Barbi and Sara embarked on a Sustainability Initiative.  Barbi had a unique position in being both a co-founder and the wife of the other co-founder.  Sara had her own complicated relationship with the company.  Very successful in her position, she was still the CEO’s daughter.  Politically one would assume this to be a great asset, in fact it turned out to be a double edged sword.

“The combination of the CEO’s daughter and co-founder’s wife created some benefit and some liabilities.  The CEO gave the directive to top leadership, but we weren’t taken seriously. We had to fight to have it ingrained throughout the company,” Sara noted.

The two solicited the counsel of Liz Bankowski, a member of the New Chapter board who had run social issues for Ben and Jerry’s 20 years ago.  “She worked closely with us. It was Barbi, Liz, and me.  No one took us seriously.  It was not a company-wide decision to hire us as the sustainability team, which hurt us in the beginning.”

Sara, Barbi and Liz developed a sustainability matrix and presented it to the company at a staff meeting.  The matrix included all aspects of sustainability such as sourcing green materials for packaging, energy usage, carbon footprint, volunteerism for employees, workplace issues, community involvement, et cetera. “We said: We are going to start by going for the low-hanging fruit, internal changes.  We started with solid waste, purchasing and our employees behaviors.”

Low-hanging fruit – purchase of office supplies (pens, rulers, copy paper)
          The team started with something they thought would be easy:  office supplies.  “We decided to work inter-departmentally, and not house information within the sustainability office. I would be a resource, do the research, but the work would be housed within departments.”

“In other companies, you have to go through a VP for Purchasing.  At New Chapter, we didn’t.  All employees were allowed to order what they wanted though our Operations department.  I completed an audit of all purchases, compared prices and sustainability (recycled products, local sourcing, etc) creating spreadsheets that could be helpful.  Although some of the sustainable material prices were more expensive, taken as a whole, we could save money because we had never coordinated our purchasing of these items before.  It appeared that everyone loved it.”

However, not everyone did.  As there was no buy-in from Operations from the onset, the changes seemed imposed upon the department.  “It took many months to get buy-in from everyone.  In hindsight, it would have saved so much time to get leadership approval and work with Operations on the project rather than hand them an ‘easy to use’ spreadsheet.”

Challenges and the Slow Path to Sustainability
         “We then met with middle management.  We asked all the department heads: ‘Where can you make green improvements?’  We followed up.  They said they understood, but sustainability was always a separate item, pushed to the bottom of the pile of things to think about.

“Little by little, day by day, we started weaving sustainability into the fabric of everyday work, getting it into everyday conversation.” Sara noted how each new initiative that surfaced “We didn’t see changes right away nor get immediate satisfaction, but things started getting ingrained and started to change. Now sustainability is so part of who we are.

Sara’s Guide Points for Sustainable Sustainability:
Leadership needs to be Engaged:  Sustainability needs to be a leadership decision, something that leadership wants to see done.
Be a Yellow Light:  Relationships are the key business issue. Sara learned to not be a red light, a business stopper, but to be a yellow light, to get people to slow down and look at what we were doing. By working with people, adversaries can become allies.
Embed Metrics into All Reporting: Each department needs one or two metrics to measure, it needs to be part of the reporting structure.  Each department needs goals, and metrics to measure those goals.  For example, New Chapter now has KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) that each department has to meet quarterly.  We developed a matrix for goals that include Fair Trade, carbon footprint, solid waste, energy, opportunities, etc.
Find a Cheerleader: Sustainability efforts need a cheerleader, someone to keep accomplishment lists and publicize individual efforts within the company.  It can be a Sustainability Officer, but it does not need to be.
We save some money, we spend some money.

Need for a Sustainability Officer?
          A CSO (Chief Sustainability Officer) is not necessary for every company, in Sara’s opinion, although a champion is.   “Someone who knows how to ask the right questions and need to want to  interact interdepartmentally.

Sara, herself, is a good project manager who can identify a project and know what needs to be done to complete it. And for a company New Chapter’s size, with its commitment to sustainability, it works to have a separate department dedicated to these issues.  ”For years I was talking the talk, but not owning it, because I knew what was happening day-to-day at New Chapter, and we were not yet living up to where I thought we could be.  Now we are.”

New Chapter’s current brochure has a detailed list of the sustainability practices they now have in place. “We’ve done the work, integrated this into our fabric, reached the tipping point, and are not doing business as usual.  But,” Sara’s eyes twinkled. “we’ve just started!”

Julie Lineberger