As of June of this year, I started my 11-month journey at Tofurky as its Environmental and Sustainability Program Coordinator Fellow. At Tofurky, my role is to not only create an environmental management system (EMS), but also to create a series of programs and practices to create more sustainable culture overall. Given enough time, I may also delve into measuring Scope 3 emissions to help the company to not only record their impacts from our supply chain, but to also set goals to work towards over the next decade.
I may only be a couple months in, but I already couldn’t have asked for a better experience from this program. From the people I’ve met to what I’ve learned, I have been able to develop my skills, both technically and interpersonally. In this blog I’m going to talk a bit about what I’ve completed so far as well as some of the lessons that I’ve learned during my time.
The first couple of weeks felt like I was trying to drink from a fire hose. Adrienne (another OASE scholar) and I were loaded up on everything about Tofurky. We learned all about the history and culture of the company and as well as receiving an introduction to the production floor, where we learned all about the process that goes into making every Tofurky product. All of this information was super useful, but also made the work I needed to do a bit more daunting.
Something that really helped me to get past the daunting feeling of all the work I would need to do was the support of my mentor, Chris. His professional experience has helped guide me to success on my projects, ensuring that I have the support I need while still allowing the work to be my own. During our meetings, Chris always ends up dropping some useful life tips on us. Some of these have even guided how I approach a lot of the work I am doing now. One of the most common tips that we heard was to Keep It Simple Sweetheart (K.I.S.S.). This helped us to not only put the proper amount of time and effort into projects, but also encouraged getting feedback throughout a project rather than only at the end.
I truly began to feel more confident and knowledgeable in my position once I started creating prototypes and showing them to other people. Chris always emphasized the importance of getting something out there. Without it, we have nowhere to start, and that just delays our projects even further. This also encourages failure and growth, showing me that I need input and help from others to truly create a well-functioning tool.
Environmental Management System (EMS):
The overall purpose of an EMS is to have all of our environmentally related data in one place so that we can both track and manage it in an effective way. In turn, this allows us to make data-driven decisions throughout the company. As a mission-driven company and a B-Corp, Tofurky wants to be a leader in the plant-based proteins industry. This means that we want to be able to show others all the things that we are doing in order to either inspire them to do better, or to hold other companies accountable to their responsibilities to the planet.
My first EMS prototype was super rough, but as Chris advised me, it was somewhere to start and would allow us to move forward. To get input on the EMS and to create a pattern of talking about it, I created a monthly meeting with key stakeholders. We spent our first meeting talking about data, how it could be used for analyzing our position, and discussing what people thought about it, where it could improve, and how useful these meetings would be in the future. Although I was pretty nervous going into this, I found that many of the people who I thought would be critical were actually more excited that we were finally looking into all of this again. What I learned from this is that change requires initiative as well as someone to own it. Without these, many things that people may have an interest in will actually go untouched.
Going into my second EMS meeting I was a lot more excited. Not only did we have our 2030 sustainability goals completed by Adrienne, but we had also completed our first waste audit that morning. When talking about the future of this meeting, I could see a process emerging. These monthly meetings would be to talk about data, but we would need more meetings to go in depth on other topics. I could see the web of effort expanding, that we would soon have sustainability talked about throughout Tofurky on a much more regular basis. On top of all of this, I was also excited to talk about our new goals that show our commitment to a better planet.
My most recent achievement was the completion of Tofurky’s first every waste sort. Last week, seven volunteers and I went to the Hood River Garbage transfer station to sort through the pile of trash from our compactor at our main production facility. Not only did we get to see all of the garbage that our facility had produced for the last 2-3 days, but we also got to enjoy all the wonderful smells associated with it.
This entire experience was super useful for several reasons. One of the first is that both the COO and CEO of Tofurky were volunteers at the sort. Having them both there was great because it let our top-level management see what our impact really looks like. Doing a waste sort is also great because it creates a platform for change. Because of this sort, I will now be able to show with data how we can divert from landfills, change our process, and overall reduce costs purely through changing how we work with waste.
My next few months are going to be jam packed with a ton of work. Not only am I going to be working on processing, analyzing, and reporting the data on our waste audit, but I also have to begin working on our material waste management. A project related to is observing and developing a plan for our production floor to try and help reduce our material waste percentage or to at least help divert more waste from landfills. To do this I will be talking with supervisors as well as employees to try and figure out what will and won’t work. Something that is also exciting is that I will be reaching out to a number of groups to develop end of life destinations within our production process. All of this work combined with looking upstream will hopefully lead to a large reduction of waste produced as well as ending up at a landfill.
Overall, these first few months with Tofurky have been truly amazing, and I’m super excited for the future to see all the new things I learn, the people I meet, and the change I create.