MA: Who are Life Tech's main customers, and why would environmental and social responsibility be of concern to them?
CA: Our customers are life scientists in academia, pharmaceutical companies, the government (NIH, CDC and police departments for DNA identification). Over 90 percent of Life Science laboratories in the world will be using our products. By the sheer nature of what our customers are doing — trying to improve water quality worldwide, make biofuels from plants and cure infectious diseases — they are people who want their work to change the world, so they care about these issues. I think most people would say they want useful products and don't want garbage. Our excess leftover packaging just becomes "branded garbage." It is an embarrassment to see piles of leftovers with our name all over it in all of these laboratories.
MA: Why is raw material toxicity an important issue for your company, and how have you addressed it effectively?
CA: When you bring any toxic material through your door, you must make sure your employees can handle it safely. You may need to have a permit to have the chemical inside your walls. You may be taxed for it. You may not be allowed to ship it. We have to mark every dangerous chemical (DG) and pay more, so why wouldn't the business want to eliminate them? We don't want to have to take back the DGs either. Don't forget that every time you bring in a toxic material, you also must deal with hazardous waste later, so you are paying for it twice. This is economically inefficient and a huge money drain on any organization.
MA: What is one obstacle you have overcome in your work?
CA: How do we move what others see as "treehugging" to something solid that will add value to the business? It was a challenge to demonstrate that we're not treehuggers at all and create a paradigm shift. I realized that I must connect at a completely different level with the CFO and finance department. In the past, the finance people may just have been the "people who handed me my budget." But they are so much more than this. They need to help us back up our environmental initiatives. Now EH&S and finance have a partnership. I have lunch with them. I work out with them. All of EH&S has to take Finance 101 now, a workshop we created internally, so the EH&S team could speak in financial terms. Everyone can understand $1 million, even if they can't wrap their brains around the significance of a ton of carbon.
MA: What are you especially proud of accomplishing in your current role?
CA: I went from hearing, "Oh, here comes the green team" to being considered a legitimate seat at the executive table adding business value. It took 18 months of campaigning to make this important transition. We worked hard to anchor our claims on hard data. They don't want to see ideals like "pollution is not a legacy we want to leave behind for our children." Instead, they want to hear, "Here's the data that shows this is what we must be doing to save money."
Image courtesy of Life Technologies Corp.