IDENTIFYING ABSTRACT NEEDS AND MEETING THEM

IDENTIFYING ABSTRACT NEEDS AND MEETING THEM

By Derek Sabori

 

COSTA MESA-BASED DEREK SABORI IS THE VP OF SUSTAINABILITY AT THE LIFESTYLE BRAND VOLCOM. HE IS DEDICATED TO SHARING HIS VISION OF A HEALTHY AND SUSTAINABLE FUTURE THROUGH PROGRESSIVE CHANGES IN THE BUSINESS. ON TOP OF ALL THESE HE ALSO SELF-PUBLISHED A CHILDREN’S ECO-ACTION PICTURE BOOK.

 

I am not a hippy; At least in the true sense of that title. I think there were times that I tried to be, but honestly, the allure of capitalism has had its grip on me since I was a kid… and I never really have been able to shake it. Makes perfect sense then, that as soon as I got on the career track that all I’d be concerned with was dotting is, crossing ts, and climbing the ladder.... In fact, even during the course of obtaining the two degrees I’ve squeezed under my belt – I’m a Studio Art, B.A. with a follow up MBA – the topic of looking out for anything besides that (when it came to business at least) wasn’t really a concern that was discussed; Or at least it wasn’t a topic I paid much attention to. That said, however, even as I tried to be a good cog in the wheel, it was something that Mamma taught me that’s stuck; even all through those early years: Be a good person, treat others with respect, and, for cryin’ out loud, appreciate this beautiful planet we live on… 

 

“YOU SEE, ONCE YOU OPEN THE DOOR TO MORE RESPONSIBLE BUSINESS, YOU CAN’T REALLY HELP BUT WANT TO LOOK IN.”

 

It was about 2005 when I first got the memo that business could be done in a better way. It was like someone turned the lights on… ”You mean I can keep my values AND be a business leader?” It was a little bit of a revelation at the time, and I was awestruck that no one had pointed that out to me. 

 

Sometimes we need others to lead by example, and a much-revered friend and mentor of mine did just that and it really shook the foundation of who I was. 

You see, once you open the door to more responsible business, you can’t really help but want to look in. So as that door was opened for me, I not only looked in, I stepped in and simply closed the door behind me. 

 

Volcom was in its heyday back then. In fact, the company had its IPO in June of 2005, and by then we were designing and developing product for 2006. Things were moving so fast and the orders were coming in with product flying off the shelves. We couldn’t do any wrong, and no one was asking questions…but there was that door – and a few of us had stepped into the room and were starting to look around. 

 

In the mid-2000s we were meeting new and intriguing people – entrepreneurs that had built their small businesses around the idea of building product with a lower impact and they wanted to build our product.

 

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These were some of my first influencers in “CSR;” what would go on to just be called ‘Sustainability’ here at Volcom and I reveled in the fact that these guys based their business on how good something could be, as opposed to how cheap it could be. They marketed the benefits of hemp, of organic cotton, of recycled PET, antimony-free polyester, and re-purposing. They did it with flair, style and charisma – and passion. And you know what? They spoke the Volcom language. They understood our market, our brand, our people, and that really spoke to me. 

 

So, fast-forward a few months. Thanks to these influencers, Volcom has its first range of eco-inspired products. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a tiny collection, but it exists, and guess what, people are interested in it. And interest, fuels interest. 

 

I took note of the nods that these few products received and took it upon myself to start selling them in a bit more – finding new customers, spreading the word about this new found niche (for us, at least). What a blast it was…the funny thing is though, once you put yourself out there as an advocate, people assume you’re a part of the solution and if people consider you a part of the solution, they’re going to come to you looking for answers, and at the time…I didn’t have a whole lot of them. 

 

This, however, was not a problem – it was pure motivation, and I took it as a personal challenge. If people – our customers, our employees, our execs – were looking for answers, then I was going to have them. This drove me to make changes in my own life. Gone was the Audi A4, hello vegetable oil fueled 300TD. Recycling became the norm at home, and at the office and we at Volcom began to build some very good partnerships in this space. The momentum was quite contagious, and more and more people were looking to me as the “eco-expert” – the guy in the know about everything “green.” 

 

It was 2009 when I looked around and saw the momentum building. The team was very excited about every one of the ‘Sustainable Fridays’ newsletters that I’d put out, they were eager to do more at home and at the office, and we were all talking about taking the “Volcom V.Co-logical Series” to the next level. This was becoming a good problem to have…people inside and outside of the company wanted more, but we didn’t have a real direction, a real commitment, or even a clear vision for what to do with this movement.

 

At the time I had gone from being a Divisional Merchandising Manger to Managing the Planning & Analysis division at Volcom. My time was pretty occupied with the daily workings of the business, and I was reporting to the President of the company. I had been at Volcom for fourteen years and had gained the respect of staff and the execs and had a pretty decent understanding of how the business worked, and how our company operated, but that door had been opened and I wasn’t going back. 

 

In my yearly performance review, it had come up, and in 2010, we finally made it official – we needed an official position; an official ambassador to steer this program we had organically created. By then we had styles that were raising awareness for, and giving back to, people-based causes. We were a 1% for the Planet partner with a line that continued to gain momentum, and we had an appetite for more. My new role as of 2010: Director of Corporate Social Responsibility. How I was actually going to effectively tackle our TRUE environmental impacts…I had no idea. 

 

Today, we’re still working on it; tackling and reducing the significant environmental impacts of our products, along the entire supply chain is no easy task, and there’s no quick fix, but we’ve found a solution…it’s the people. Change comes from within, and change needs a spark. For us, that spark can be traced back to (depending on which path you choose to trace) even just one person. One single person can, indeed, change an organization. One person can change the course. You won’t do it on your own, but perhaps, you will be the one to put things in motion. So, be the spark – every great change needs one. 

 

 

And the story continues…

 

 

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