Sustainability In the Corporate World

Going Green had the chance to interview Ann Starodaj, the Senior Director of Sustainability at Optoro, to learn more about what goes on behind the scenes at some of the biggest companies on the planet. A lot of organizations are working to be more environmentally friendly, and Ann was at the front lines of making this happen. We are excited to have Ann on the podcast, and dive a little bit deeper into sustainability in the corporate world.

Industry You Work In & Company:
I am the Senior Director of Sustainability at Optoro, the leader in retail returns technology. Optoro’s technology helps retailers and brands like Best Buy, Staples, IKEA, and Target manage and resell their returned and excess inventory. Optoro’s technology helps retailers cut costs, boost revenue, and minimize the environmental impact of their returned inventory. 

Ann Starodaj, the Senior Director of Sustainability at Optoro

Role In Company:
I lead sustainability and corporate citizenship efforts across Optoro. My role involves quantifying and communicating environmental savings for retail and brand clients, executing zero waste programs, developing circular economy strategies, and managing volunteering, donation and community engagement programs.

How did you get involved in the sustainable industry?
I got started working in the environmental field pretty early on. One of my first jobs as a teenager was going door to door canvassing for nonprofits working to protect wildplaces in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. I studied environmental studies in undergrad and grad school. After grad school, I worked in government for a few years, but given the surge in ESG (environmental, social and corporate governance) investments in the private sector, I felt like corporate sustainability was a better way to make a difference.

What trends are you seeing in your industry?
Problem unbeknownst to most consumers is the environmental toll of their returns. In the United States alone, returns annually generate over 5 billion pounds of landfill waste and 15 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions from shipping. The rise of e-commerce has led to an increase in the volume of returns. Ecommerce can have up to three times the return rate of in-store shopping since consumers buy sight unseen. During the COVID-19 crisis, online shopping has exploded because of stay-at-home mandates, store closures, and health concerns. As a result of the higher percentage of online shopping, we’re expecting higher return rates overall.

Across the industry, retailers, brands, and delivery companies are trying to lessen the environmental impact of returns. For example, some retailers and brands are adopting reusable and recyclable packaging. Retailers and delivery companies are also expanding in-store and drop-off options to allow for packageless returns and reduce emissions from individual shipping. Retailers and brands have also been expanding their recommerce options to find a home for returned items and avoid sending them to landfills.

What is one “Action Item” the viewers can take away from this conversation?
Consumers can shop for open-box, refurbished, and previously sold items to give returned items a home and prevent waste. Retailers are increasingly offering these options. For example, Optoro enables retailers and brands to resell their returned inventory through, a direct-to-consumer secondary marketplace. This way, consumers can find good deals on discounted items while also promoting circularity and expanding the lifecycle of an item. 

We had an amazing conversation with Ann on the Going Green podcast. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast so that you can get alerted when the episode is released.

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Dylan Welch
Dylan Welch is the CEO and Host of Going Green, a podcast, website, and social media brand that highlights renewable energy, cleantech, and sustainable news.
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