Best of: How does environmental sustainability impact the world of work?

April 11, 2023

Each year, Indeed celebrates Earth Week — which falls from April 14th to 22nd — by hosting a range of webinars, events and challenges to get Indeedians excited about sustainability. In this week’s best of episode of Here to Help, Indeed’s CEO, Chris Hyams, takes a virtual seat with Valeria Orozco, Indeed’s Director of Environmental Sustainability. Valeria shares the reasons why she has dedicated her career to environmental sustainability, as well as tips on how individuals can implement small changes to make a positive impact for the environment.

- Welcome everyone, I am Chris Hyams CEO of Indeed. And welcome to the next installment of Here to Help. This is our look at how Indeed has been navigating the global impact of COVID-19. Today is April 19th, we're on day 412 of global work from home. And today is also the first day of Earth Week here at Indeed, and I am delighted to be joined by Valeria Orozco, Director of Environmental Sustainability here at Indeed. Valeria thank you so much for joining me.

- My pleasure, Chris. This is a quite an honor.

- Well, let's start where we always start with these conversations with a check-in. How are you doing today, right now?

- Yeah, absolutely. So I'm doing as well as can be given everything that's happening and with the pandemic. I mean, I look at kind of broader things to be grateful for, health, my health, my family's health, work. And in general, I think doing well. I'm looking forward to the spring season. How about you?

- We're actually doing quite well here. Thank you very much. My daughters, my two adult daughter is 23 and 25 have been home since March living with us and they are now with vaccinations and things opening up starting to open up their eyes and think about when it might be time to be moving on. So we're actually trying to enjoy the last however many weeks we have together as a family right now. But thank you for asking, no one asks. Let's start with your job as the director of environmental sustainability and this being the beginning of Earth Week. Can you talk a little bit about Earth Week and what it is that you have planned for everyone at Indeed to recognize Earth Week?

- Sure, absolutely and it's my pleasure. I joined a year ago and I was able to experience firsthand kind of the excitement and momentum around Earth Week at Indeed. I joined April 6th or 8th, and then I was able to kind of witness and observe. And I said, Earth Week is something that is part of our culture at Indeed and I want to be part of that. I want to kind of help and influence that. So just to start off with, it's very much been a collaboration with employee experience, some of our internal teams, employer brand, and myself and internal communications, of course hand-in-hand kind of planning the events for this week and the activities, but there are two flavors to it. One is some webinars, some information around people's day-to-day and what they can do. And the second flavor is around our corporate announcements and disclosures. And I've made the kind of the decision or the conscious effort, of course with everyone's blessing to keep our announcements internal for this week. For a few reasons. I wanted Indeedians to, those that have been asking to have the opportunity to read this in a way that internal announcements allow for, right? When you go external, you're a little bit, perhaps you want to make sure that when you share externally, there's kind of the dotting the T's, and crossing the T's and dotting the I's. But internally it gives us a little bit of ability to be very transparent and have some feedback internally around what we're sharing. So those are the things. We've got some internal corporate announcements around our impact, around our climate action impact and then opportunities for Indeedians to be involved with some of our short-term actions that we're going to be doing moving forward, as well as those kinds of day-to-day webinars on eco-friendly fashion, right? How to do it yourself, types of webinars. Things that I think have been there before I joined.

- Yeah, that's great. We're going to a little bit later get into some of the details around what some of the personal and corporate action might look like. But I want to take a step back and talk a little about you and how you got to where you are today. So you've dedicated your entire career to environmental sustainability. What led you to choosing this path?

- Yeah, no. I always kind of say that I had deep curiosity for biology, but then when the question is why or how and so the truth is, or the reflection there is that, so my parents, they're from Columbia and I'm first-generation born here in the US. Light-skinned Latina. Well this is, well not too many people immediately assume that's my background but I spent summers in Columbia in Medellin, specifically. So Medellin it's in a Valley and the Andes mountains, the Andes mountains break up into three when they go into Columbia. So the biodiversity with those different ranges is stunning. And I was able to kind of family trips when I would go on the summers and observe it and just just fall in love with it really, but that was always juxtaposed with like stunning and also depressing poverty. It really is, right? I was able to kind of see these two things so rich in natural resources, but maybe lacking the economic strength that I observed in the US, so kind of those two things together. But that was where it started and then, thankfully I like science, right? I remember in high school very clearly studying like DNA replication. This is very like deep, deep into the molecular piece. And just being like, wow this happens without us having to do anything. Like this is the code that we're all born with and it just, right? This happens, and I wanted to learn more about it and I want to learn everything about it. So, there go your academic kind of choices. Like I said, thankfully, I liked the biological sciences. That's what I studied in undergrad. And I thought I would follow a career in science and do the PhD. And then kind of took a pause there when I was in my first master's degree. I did a first master's in environmental management where I felt like there was a need to start to think about, well look at all these trends, they're like going down, right? Like biodiversity, right? The pollution levels, all these things. And like how can I start to think about protecting this? And really was the realization that more science, I wasn't going to be the stunning or brilliant scientist that needed to do that. I knew I wasn't, right? I was good, but that thing. But then I started exposure through policy and business courses when I did my first masters. And then instead made the pivot into business where business was always the enemy. There were some really cool like brands back then like The Body Shop, which was like, well how can we protect the environment, protect ecosystems and people, pay people fair trade, all these things, but still be a business. And so when I started to see like what my training up to then had provided for me it was all the right, the scientific tools but nothing on the business side, right? No credibility on the business side. I was going to be kind of like a granola I was called, right? The granola kind of person trying to influence business. You need the credibility, right? You need to be able to speak the language of business, not only from the hard pieces of like finance and accounting and these kinds of things, but persuasion, right? That's where that's where business school kind of helped me and what I needed in my own training to be able to do that. And then I was really lucky to break into the field, right? I broke into the field at a small consulting firm in Manhattan actually which I never thought I'd go to New York City. Always thought I'd go to DC and be like with the big NGOs or go to government and started to do this thing called corporate sustainability consulting. And companies would come and say, we know climate change legislation is on the horizon, what does that mean for us? What are the risks for us, right? What are the opportunities? So I did consulting for about 10 years, something like that. But starting at the Boutique and then I went to Accenture, right? Which Accenture is a very large consulting firm and so much exposure. And consulting is very much creating structure out of chaos. You go to a new client, they're dumping all this. Here figure this out. Here's our problem, here you go, here you go. And then you're supposed to figure out their next five years in that small timeframe, which is great training, right? Fantastic training. But then following those strategies was the part missing. How do you actually take some of these ideas and make them actually move through a business which has so many different functions, right? And so from there moved into in-house consulting at Nestle, I'm sorry in-house sustainability at Nestle Waters, which is another training ground and a very big shift, right? Very big shift. Where you have to now work through different functions, speak the language of different functions, right? What does a supply chain professional care about versus a marketing professional so that there can be change, right? And that was a hard lesson. That's a difficult lesson but I think I have been able to kind of learn all of them and bring them to Indeed. And so when this opportunity opened up and always grateful to Laura McCafferty for bringing this opportunity and letting me be aware of it. I knew I had the right tools in my toolkit to be able to do this, but the underlying motivation was always I believe business can be a catalyst for change, good or bad, right? And so I wanted to be equipped and be able to have the skillset to change that for good for the environment, right? There's a good for lots of different things. I'm good at science. This is my wheelhouse. I'm going to stay here, I'm good at it. And I was just really lucky to have this chance to do that here at Indeed but that's really, really, it just, if you can change a big, big company, little bit, just like like that, it's actually quite impactful, right? So that kind of keeps me going through kind of some of the cynicism and kind of negativity that can come from being in this field for so long. I love that. It's a fun way to... I love answering that question. It's nice memories of kind of the ups and downs that can happen in a career, right? Even if it's just, I've done this for so long but still up and down.

- So you made that shift from biology from the sciences into the corporate world. How did your perspective change through that process?

- Yes, yeah. So when I started in the science, I remember even going into, when I was going to my first graduate degree, I was just kind of shocked. It kind of some of the, this is a silly antidote but it was landscape ecology. And we had like these tomes of papers that we had to read. And one of my classmates he suggested we like print all of them, print all of the papers so we could have them. And I was like, but where are at the school of the environment? How can we do that? So the biggest shift, I think from that person to who I am now is this kind of embracing this concept of trade offs, right? There are trade offs to things, in that particular example, perhaps if you want to be a really good student you have to do all those printouts but in the business, in the business world, there will be trade-offs. You can't invest in every single good thing, right? You have to select which one is going to give you the best return either for your brand, for your products, right? For your employees, for Indeedians. So that embracing trade offs versus just being so black and white is kind of the big shift, right? That's kind of... And you have to be, to be in the in the corporate world doing this type of work where you can't see things always in black and white because there will always be a trade off to some decision or the other on your way to probably that those kinds of net zero or these concepts of eliminating our impact, improving our impact when we get somewhere. But you have to have be very comfortable with that because a black and white way of looking at things won't get you very far to making change. So I think that's the biggest difference.

- In the past several years sustainability has made great strides in terms of both public awareness and commitment. But the past year, we have experienced incredible turbulence with a global pandemic, rising unemployment economic disruption, social unrest. Throughout all this has sustainability fallen down in the agenda?

- Right, right. So if we can't have our basic needs met, right? And basic needs are housing, right? Shelter, food, these kinds of things. It's very hard to think of let's invest in conservation, et cetera. That's true. And so I think the environmental sustainability agenda cannot be only about either or, right? Housing or way to protect the environment. What about we? And then that's where this concept of sustainable development comes in, right? Can we develop in such a way where we are still creating jobs, right? The green economy, right? If you look at kind of some of the things that the new administration here in the US is looking to invest in, right? Green infrastructure, right? Transforming our electricity grid, which really needs investment to make it cleaner at the same time as creating jobs, right? So I think that kind of the, making it either or doesn't allow us to see the opportunities in being to develop in a way where we can address both. And again, still there's going to be trade offs, right? It's not either, right? This isn't a perfect world but we need to be able to look at. And the world economic forum is saying that build back better, right? Let's seize this opportunity to invest in maybe perhaps things that will allow us to still to maintain our environment, maintain the ecosystems and what we need to do for the planet to be healthy, as well as our needs. And that's kind of the balance there.

- So you mentioned previously that one of the areas that we evaluate is the impact of our vendors and suppliers and how we work with them and how we select new ones. Can you talk a little bit about that process?

- Yes, absolutely. And I am with your colleague or your friend, absolutely. So for Indeed, there's two ways that I'll start with, right? First our operations, our operational footprint, and we don't have a manufacturing base, right? We don't have a very heavy supply chain like a food company. So our operations, the biggest part of our impact is actually in our vendor spend, right? That's the biggest part of our impact 'cause that's where the bulk of our spending activity is. And so when we're looking at our operations, yes, we have offices, right? We have waste, we've got business travel, employee commuting, and then we've got the procurement spend. When you think of the impact, that's the biggest part but all those pieces need to be addressed and that's all under our operations, right? And I always, like I advocate very strongly that for us as Indeed, we kind of get our house in order internally in terms of operations. And what that means is, having a roadmap of what that decreasing that impact is going to look like. That's really what it... Once we have that roadmap and then let's shift over to where how this might resonate in our products, right? Our products, our services, our job seekers our customers. Like very, very, very exciting work there to be explored, right? I know we have a lot of opportunity on that piece. And on that, I think there's a potential opportunity to explore there a very in the short term of our virtual interviewing platform, right? What does that represent quantifiably from a greenhouse gas emissions reductions for our customers and our job seekers, right? And quantifying that having some kind of environmental claim that's third-party verified that can be our first green product, right? Or a green claim for our product. And so these are the two things, operations and products. And that's really what the framework of where we're going, starting with our operations and maybe working in parallel of course to looking at how this might resonate with those that use Indeed.

- So you talked about your experience before working versus a consultant and then in house, and so you came to Indeed with both of those experiences. Can you talk about how both of those roles influenced your approach here?

- Yeah, absolutely. So it can seem very, very, I would have seen this a long time ago as a very daunting task, right? You have a company that's growing very quickly, right? That I think that's the biggest thing, right? A company that's growing quickly that hasn't yet, right? Done anything public on this piece. So when I think of my consulting work when I was talking about creating some structure out of chaos and that toolkit, like you just have all these disparate data sources, you have them in all parts of the company and you're trying to get to a number, right? Which is what we're doing to measure our impact. And that skillset was the one that helped me when I first joined. Okay, how does this work? Who do I need to ask questions to, right? And there's a whole thing around knowing where to look and kind of looking at where you're going in terms of creating that structure out of... Chaos is kind of the wrong word, but it wasn't quite as in a centralized place which is where I'm trying to get to, right? So that's really how the consulting piece helped with this. When I think about going the in-house sustainability role, so much of environmental sustainability work rest on your relationships. The relationship and the trust that you build with your colleagues who you are influencing. I don't have ownership of a P&L, right? Right, I don't have that. I'm not there day-to-day making decisions for the real estate team or facilities or IT or even our product development but I want to be a trusted source, right? And that's where that was kind of, the in-house sustainability role that I had previous to Indeed. I really learned that very well, right? Where there's this kind of influence and trust building and making sure that I'm not seen as kind of somebody who's going to say sustainability is the most important thing here. No, everyone's role, right? Everyone has their mandate. How can we make these things work together? Maybe not tomorrow, but how about a year from now, right? This kind of collaborative approach that's really needed from somebody who has... I'm influencing, right? I'm trying to change a bit. Even though we'll have targets, we'll have targets for the company, but how fast we get to that, right? And maybe meet them beforehand really depends on the team, the team building piece there. And those are the two, I think big things that I was able to bring to Indeed which was really why I wasn't so I'm overwhelmed with thinking about taking something like this on and I feel desperately responsible for. I feel like a steward of our environmental impact, right? And so I'm ready for that and it's so exciting.

- Yeah, and that's really exciting. I know we've been talking about that quite a bit recently. And for anyone who's hearing this for the first time that it might not be obvious to when we talk about our impact with 10,000 employees on just commuting and business travel and that's something that we're looking at and obviously in a future we're going to be having more people who have the ability to work remotely or to work from home more days. Cutting down on commute has a positive impact but with the virtual hiring platform, we're looking at not just our 10,000 employees, but the tens or hundreds of millions of people who can interview for jobs and not necessarily have to get in the car and public transportation to go somewhere. And it's really exciting to think about the impact that that might have. So, in addition to you talked about our operations and our vendors and then what we might do with our products, we are also asking employees to make personal commitments. Can you talk about why that's important?

- Absolutely. So personal commitments. So I'm pausing there 'cause there's an argument that I've heard like, well if you ask people to make personal commitments without they might think that that's it, that that's all they have to do. There's nothing to move forward on. And so the reasoning behind asking for personal commitments is very much around trying to spark curiosity and trying to spark inspiration. So as you look back, there's so much guilt when it comes to the environmental impact we have, right? There's guilt, there's echo anxiety, people are overwhelmed. So those that are that shift into action or become curious to learn more based on kind of the climate emergency, those are not the ones that I need to try to inspire or convince, right? They're there with me. What I want to kind of inspire with asking people to make a personal commitment, and I'll talk about what those are in a second is to kind of overcome some of that echo anxiety. If you're overwhelmed, just let's come and get inspired together, right? With some basic knowledge. So I've designed those personal commitments for some really easy foundational steps. And the first one is read your electricity bill. This is about climate, right? Read your electricity, it's four pages. Just read it. What's interesting there? What did you learn? Do you know what a kilowatt hour is? Then maybe you'll start to look at the utility that provides that for you and start to look at maybe some energy efficiency programs, these kinds of things. But asking Indeedians to make a personal commitment is not to say, oh, now we're done. It's more like, come and join us. Look Indeed is on this journey, come and join us. What inspires you? And here are some tools to do that. So that's really the kind of the thinking behind that and the approach more so than perhaps like you have to do this, or this kind of... Like I was just saying that kind of you have to do it or else the world is going to XYZ. That's not it, let's try more softer approach and then we'll get to the hard part, but let's get the heart first before we have to get the mind potentially.

- Before we move on to sort of talking about where we might be going in the future. I want to take one step back to one thing that you had mentioned before about the vendors and suppliers that we work with. Can you talk a little bit about the model for how you approach thinking about the impact of the people you work with today and then how we might select people in the future?

- Yeah, absolutely. So I'll use like some technical terms from the field, right? So vendor spend, supply chain spend is usually typically in something called scope three emissions. Like the scope three. There's three scopes. It's a form of accounting. Why is that important? So why do I use scope three is 'cause typically you will hear when you're looking at how companies disclose some of their information, scope three is the last thing they do 'cause it's completely out of their control. So I think when we're thinking about that because that's the biggest part of our impact we need to start tackling that sooner rather than later. Where if we're comparing ourselves to maybe a manufacturing company where they have a different scope of emissions, they would focus on those. Ours is three, which you won't hear too much in the kind of sustainability reports from other companies 'cause people are a little more cautious about disclosing scope three, or talking about scope three because it's out of their control. It's out of company's control. So my approach, and this is why kind of sharing our data internally first is let's dig into that scope three. What is that number, right? And so there are two ways to measure that. You can ask all your vendors for their data, their greenhouse gas emissions data and collect that, that takes a long time, right? And that's where we want to go. But what we can do is take a proxy. Well, let's take a proxy. So take a dollar, at what dollar and then you categorize your vendors. There's these models called the environmental economic input output models. And basically they say if you spend a dollar here, this is on average how much greenhouse gas emissions you've admitted. And when I say spend a dollar here, it depends on where. Marketing and advertising, is it data center hosting? Each one of those industries have been categorized in these models to tell you which one has heavier impact. So that's the approach, right? Let's start there. Let's get ourselves to a number to understand out of all these vendors which ones do we have to like, kind of put very closely look at and start to ask those questions of them in a very high touch way. Have you started to measure this? What are your plans to measure this? Guess what, in two or three years this is going to be required for us, right? And that have that be part of our influencing of industries that perhaps haven't thought about that yet. And that's the exciting part, right? That's to be able to influence that. And if it doesn't work, looking at alternatives sooner rather than later. Obviously we need price, we need quality. Like I was talking about trade-offs, right? We still need delivery on time. We still need high quality service, but let's see what happens when we add the environmental criteria to RFPs. And it won't be a surprise 'cause we're going to start to talk about them sooner rather than later. But without a number, which we have and we're sharing internally it would be very hard to know where to focus. So that's the approach that we go through with that. And again, working through procurement, of course our leadership and procurement, working through all of those different functions that make those procurement decisions has to be part of that, right? 'Cause I can't make a decision on my own like, oh, this vendor, mm-mm. No, I can't do that, right? It has to be the best decision for the business still having this be part of the conversation.

- So to wrap things up, one of the questions that I like to ask is looking back over the events of the last 14 months, is there anything that you have seen or experienced or realized that leaves you more optimistic for the future?

- I mean it's very personal but think that's the... So I have a six year old she's going to be seven on Friday and just her resilience for all this is... Oh Jesus. Sorry I think that's keeps me optimistic, right? There's a lot of, seeing her adapt to these things, mask squaring and not seeing her friends and now 'cause she's back in person and dealing with all of that and her resilience through all this is kind of gives me optimism for the future. So I shouldn't have picked that. Yeah, but yes, there you go.

- Oh, thank you for sharing that. Look, this has been a time, I think where so many people have whether they liked it or not had an opportunity to take a step back and look at what is most important to them. And especially for those of us that are fortunate enough to be with our family 'cause so many people have been isolated from their families, but just the clarity of what's important and that for everyone at different stages of life to go through an experience like this, there's no way that we don't come out changed individually. Which means that hopefully as a society, there's some new perspective that comes out of all this. So, but thank you so much for sharing that. And thank you so much Valeria for joining me today and thanks for everything that you do for Indeed and really very clearly and directly in your work for the world to help make it a better place. So thank you so much.

- Oh Chris, thank you for the opportunity.