Chris Cook Switches Direction – New Position as Sustainability Director
In the years leading up to his enrollment in a masters program, Chris Cook was looking for something new; a change that would provide ways for him to make an impact on his future and his community. This led him to pursue the Executive Master of Natural Resources (XMNR) program in 2012, where he learned “that being a change agent would probably mean doing something different and potentially risky.”
Although potentially risky, leaving his career of fifteen years in business and IT consulting to join the family business has been the right move for him. Transitioning to the consumer products sector, Chris, XMNR alumnus, recently became Sustainability Director for the Sydney Hale Company, founded by his wife Meghan in 2007.
In 2014, their staff of four manufactured and sold close to 50,000 units of home fragrance products (soy candles and organic room sprays) to consumers in the U.S. and Canada, with 10 percent of the profits supporting the local Lost Dog and Cat Rescue of Arlington, Virginia. Thanks to the XMNR program’s sustainability enterprise course, Chris had the right tools to create an initial Sustainability Plan for the company, and expects it to develop into more of a full sustainability operating system over time.
As the company grows, “we see the importance of small businesses investing time and money into being green and socially responsible enterprises,” says Chris. Businesses with fewer than twenty workers employ 17.9 percent of the U.S. workforce, “so the impact small businesses can have is significant to our economy, and thus on our environment and society.”
For Sydney Hale Co., being green consists of several leading operating principles. These include using a hundred percent U.S. made input materials, with increasing focus on sourcing from a smaller number of vendors located within a 500 mile radius to their home base in Virginia, creating a product that can be recycled or reused, recycling all waste from production activities, and using carbon neutral shipping for product orders.
“Sustainability is all about integrating these goals into each employee’s DNA and being passionate about it every day,” says Chris, adding that the Brand Manager and Director of Sustainability is an evolving job position. In 2014, the focus has been on developing a formal product and business sustainability plan, implementing a carbon-free shipping program, which has been adopted by close to 40% of their 175 wholesale partners, and transitioning the sourcing of shipping materials to a local organization that provides FSC certified materials.
Looking to the year ahead, Chris hopes the business will attain B Corp status, which would provide a mechanism to conduct a comprehensive assessment of their social and environmental practices and help benchmark to other organizations. He also wants to expand their involvement in local community and social programs.
This position provides an opportunity for Chris to apply his combined business experience and newfound skills from the XMNR program on a weekly basis. “We are excited about further defining our sustainability journey while we have fun creating new products and bringing them to market and sustaining a new, family business in Virginia,” Chris concludes.