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Gender Identity and Inclusion: Three Leading Practices

Written by Alex Suggs, 2018 Graduate Career Track MBA

A 2013 report from The Intelligence Group found that “60% of people between the ages of 14 and 34 think gender lines are blurred.”

Áine Duggan of Re:Gender stated, “Gender is less of a definer of identity today than it was for prior generations. Rather than adhering to traditional gender roles, young people are interpreting what gender means to them personally.”

How is your organization responding to this societal shift?

Companies have the opportunity to demonstrate to employees, customers, and applicants their commitment to a diverse and inclusive workforce through their approach to gender identity. When gender non-binary and trans folx* are asked to select either “male” or “female” as their gender within the application, options the applicant may not feel are accurate, companies immediately illustrate their lack of awareness and inclusion.

This article brings together a few best practices Treasure Valley businesses can incorporate into their organizations in order to foster a diverse and inclusive workforce.

(A) Design forms for gender inclusion

When designing human resource (HR) forms for your organization, ask yourself:

What is the business rationale for asking about gender on this particular form?

If there is a good reason to ask about gender, articulate that within the form. Explain why you’re asking about gender and how the response will benefit the respondent. And further, look for ways to remain inclusive with this question. Consider an open-ended response that allows respondents to self-identify. Consider distinguishing between sex assigned at birth (if you truly need this information) with supplemental questions asking gender identity and preferred pronoun(s). This link provides an example of some effective questions. Lastly, if your organization does not have a good rationale for requesting gender information, consider not asking for it at all.

(B) Create an inclusive culture

Outside of designing inclusive forms, work to help your employees understand how to engage with gender non-binary and trans colleagues. When meeting an individual for the first time, there are a few best practices when someone’s preferred gender is unclear:

  1. Ask yourself why you need to know.
  2. Start with an introduction: Introduce yourself and your own preferred pronouns. This shows those around you that you’ve given thought to the conversation and am open to hearing how others identify.
  3. Don’t ever assume.
  4. Recognize that you may make mistakes. Ensure you respectfully correct yourself as needed and make an earnest effort to get it right going forward.

(C) Create inclusive work space

Finally, in addition to addressing individual awareness, it is also important to address systemic barriers. Offering gender neutral bathrooms or clear policies allowing employees to use the bathroom that feels most comfortable is an effective first step. A majority of Millennials and Gen Z feel strongly that public spaces should provide this access, so without them, you’re sending a clear message that inclusion in the physical environment has not yet been achieved.

While there are a number of best practices, training initiatives and other opportunities for your organization to foster inclusion for non-binary and trans employees, we hope these practices provide an effective starting point. Treasure Valley businesses seek to both attract and retain top talent, and these practices will contribute to an inclusive environment to support those goals.

*”Folx” is a gender neutral collective noun used to address a group of people. Unlike the term “folks”, the ending “-x” on “folx” specifically includes LGBTQ people and those who do not identify within the gender binary.

This article first appeared in the June 2018 Diversity and Inclusion Newsletter. 

But I’m Not the Problem

Written by Alex Suggs, 2018 Graduate Career Track MBA

I recently overheard a statement that made me pause: “Men have it a lot harder in society than women do.”

Any room full of people will have a reaction to hearing that, but we happened to be in a workshop at the College of Business and Economics at Boise State on sexual harassment, hosted by the Women of the Workplace Organization on campus. The room was so crowded with students and faculty that the only available seat I had was on a windowsill.

Midway through the workshop, the presenter asked if anyone was feeling uncomfortable. A man raised his hand. “I feel like society has painted a view of men as perpetrators. I would never sexually harass a woman, so why am I being personally blamed?”

Pause. Just a quick reminder that men can also be victims and sexual harassment is not about sex, but about power. Right, carrying on.

The question he asked comes up repeatedly. It comes up in discussions in the news, in the classroom, in conversations with my friends. Sometimes the context is race, or gender, or sexuality, but it’s always along the lines of: But I’m not the problem, so why am I being blamed?

And really, is it that ridiculous of a question? If you don’t feel like you’ve done anything wrong, is it so strange to question why you’re being made to feel guilty?

So, there I was, perched on a windowsill barely visible to the majority of attendees, opting to respond to this man, and frankly, to all of the other individuals in the room. And now, I’m sharing my response and reflection with you.


It’s easy to be on the defense when these sensitive subjects arise; I get it. It’s easy to throw your hands up and shout to the heavens that you aren’t racist or sexist or all the others “ists” out there. But we all have to realize that our mental models form our lens to the world.

Yes, YOU would never intentionally do something to hurt someone or put someone at a disadvantage, and that’s great!

But – (and you knew there was a ‘but’ coming) just because we would never intentionally do something to hurt another individual doesn’t mean we’re immune to the unconscious biases that everyone exhibits and acts upon. It is our responsibility as community members to consider the systemic barriers in place that stack the odds against marginalized communities and attach privilege to the majority demographic.

Unfortunately, our defensiveness on these issues leads us to forget that it’s not always about us and our need to justify our own actions, but rather, the collective output from individuals and the system in which we operate.

Still with me?

So, what can we do besides shouting to the heavens that we aren’t a terrible person? Rather than saying, “I would never do that,” I propose it would be more productive to say, “I recognize my role in this and how my gender, race, sexuality, etc. has historically contributed to this problem, and now I get to choose how I show up and participate.”

We get a choice in how we show up, we get to change the dynamic and play a role in the progress. Rather than opting out because we don’t think we are part of the problem, we can instead opt in and be part of the solution.

We can simply say, “I hear you, I’m listening.”


I’m still working on how to get it all just right.

I’ll admit that the later breakout session following the workshop, when this man and I were grouped together, was challenging for me.

I may have shaken my head at him and rolled my eyes when he professed the only reason women don’t advance in their careers is because we all choose to have families instead, among other lofty generalizations. But surprisingly, we somehow kept the conversation going, we somehow were able to have a genuine laugh here and there, and at the very least, we both planted a seed to think critically about our conversation.

The truth of the matter is, he showed up to the workshop to learn and ready to listen. He was present and engaged and willing to voice his opinion. We can all recognize that the “everyone thinks like me” belief system doesn’t really work, but it takes time to arrive there emotionally.

If we shut people down, without meeting them where they are, they aren’t going to be interested in being brought into our corner. And when it comes to sexual harassment, we do need men on board to make social progress.

We need to actively engage with dissenting voices, especially when they say, “…but not all men.”


In a divisive time, people must be called in, not called out. Each person who opts in and chooses to participate, positively, has a chance to be a catalyst for change. By focusing on the issue rather than our need to prove our innocence, we can make this world a better, more inclusive place.

It’s a grassroots effort, folks.

So, how will you show up?

This article first appeared in the May 2018 Diversity and Inclusion Newsletter. 

Business Leaders Gather to Explore the Impact of Inclusion in the Treasure Valley

The College of Business and Economics (COBE) cohosted the third annual summit on diversity and inclusion as a business driver focused on the impact of inclusion, with more than 150 attendees from across the business community. Held on November 1st, the summit was cohosted by Wells Fargo, the City of Boise, the Boise Valley Economic Partnership (BVEP) and the University of Idaho-Boise.

Dr. Chris Bell presenting the opening keynoteThe Summit keynote address was given by Dr. Christopher Bell, Director of Graduate Studies and Associate Professor of Communications at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, who impressed participants with a demonstration of the strategies used by the media to introduce and reinforce stereotypes and biases along racial and gender lines. Bringing in familiar examples from well-known media companies such as the Disney Company, the audience was encouraged to improve their media literacy and to evaluate the various storylines that exist in our society more critically.

Two panel sessions followed. Angeli Weller, Co-director of Boise State’s Blue Sky Institute, hosted a conversation on financial inclusion with Alejandro Hernandez, Senior Vice President, Wells Fargo; Lisa Cooper, President and Founder, Figure 8 Investment Strategies; and Ben Wright, Idaho Market Manager, Montana & Idaho CDC. Francisco Salinas, Boise State’s Director of Student Diversity and Inclusion, chaired a panel on workplace inclusion that included Trina Ponce, Diversity and Inclusion Program Manager, HP; Toni L. Carter, Inclusion and Diversity Strategy Director, Idaho National Laboratory (INL); Dawn S. Hutchison, Global Integration and Inclusion Manager, Micron Technology; and Alexandria Suggs, Research and Consulting Coordinator, IBIS Consulting Group and Graduate Assistant, Responsible Business Initiative at the College of Business and Economics.

Stacy presenting for The Dignitas AgencyA closing panel was led by Cofounder and Partner of The Dignitas Agency, Stacy Parson, who wove together the discussions on inclusion from the previous speakers to help attendees understand why inclusion is the most critical – and the most difficult – aspect of any diversity effort. Stacy also highlighted inclusion activities ongoing in the community with short presentations from Diane Lachiondo, Director of Community Partnerships, City of Boise; Pete Gombert, CEO, Goodwell; John Tansey, COO, Happy Family Brands; Gayla Thomas-Dabney, EEO/AA Officer, Boise State University; and Donna Llewellyn, Executive Director, Institute for STEM and Diversity Initiatives, Boise State University. The summit was followed by an afternoon hands-on workshop facilitated by The Dignitas Agency offering attendees practice in building collaborative and inclusive work environments.

Emily Erickson, the Director for the Responsible Business Initiative at the College of Business and Economics, noted that “The conference is one of the best ways to get people together in the same room to have these crucial discussions around diversity and inclusion, and where we want to be as a community.” The next summit will be held in the fall of 2018 and Erickson’s team will seek a larger Boise State venue to accommodate the growing interest from the business community.

The summit was made possible by the following sponsors: Boise State’s College of Business and Economics, Wells Fargo, Boise Cascade, City of Boise, Happy Family Brands, Idaho Power, Saint Alphonsus and Micron Technology.

Special thanks are extended to Summit cohosts Wells Fargo, City of Boise, Boise Valley Economic Partnership, and University of Idaho-Boise.

Questions regarding the 2018 Summit, including sponsorship, presentation and attendance opportunities, may be sent to

Boise B Corp Now Number One B Corporation in the World

Eco2Librium, headquartered in Kenya with a US location in Boise, ID, was recently ranked the highest scoring B Corporation in the world by B Lab.

Eco2Librium’s business ventures include producing and selling energy efficient stoves and biomass waste fuels, selling household solar electricity, restoring indigenous forests in degraded areas of the Kakamega Rainforest in Kenya, and offering micro-financing to local Kenyan entrepreneurs. It became a certified B Corporation in 2014. Today, there are over 1,900 certified B Corporations in 50 countries around the world. According to B Lab, “B Corps meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability, and aspire to use the power of markets to solve social and environmental problems.”

To become a Certified B Corp, Eco2Librium first completed the B Impact Assessment which “assesses the overall impact of your company on its stakeholders.” This generated a B Impact Report for Eco2Libruim. In its first assessment, Eco2Librium received a score of 148, which was more than enough to become a certified B Corporation. This year, Eco2Librium recertified and in the process, they achieved the highest B Corp score ever awarded, 180.

Dr. Mark Lung, CEO of Eco2Librium, said, “When making any business decision we ask ourselves four guiding questions. Will the business activity create jobs? Will it conserve natural resources? Will it improve the livelihoods of the underserved? Will it make a profit that can be reinvested on the ground to continue its enterprises? Yes to all four questions is the change we seek.” To find out more about Eco2Librium check out their B Impact Report and website.

B Lab is “committed to building a global community of Certified B Corporations™ who meet the highest standards of verified, overall social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability.” Eco2Librium achieved the highest standard within this global community, illustrating the bright future of social impact for Boise businesses.

If you would like to learn more about Certified B Corporations, you are encouraged to attend one of the quarterly SBDC Idaho B Corp Workshops.

Community Leaders Gather to Learn about Diversity and Inclusion as a Business Driver

The College of Business and Economics (COBE) cohosted a summit on diversity and inclusion as a business driver with a focus on attracting and retaining top talent in the Treasure Valley. Held on November 17, the summit was a collaboration between COBE, Wells Fargo, the City of Boise, the Boise Valley Economic Partnership (BVEP) and the University of Idaho-Boise.

The morning started off with a powerful keynote address on business responsibility for human rights by Alejandro Hernandez, senior VP at Wells Fargo.

Two panel sessions followed. Panel one comprised Lisa Cooper, Figure 8 Investments; Marwan Sweedan, MD, CTBS; Matthew Burns, Idaho Bureau of Laboratories; Tawna Miles, St. Luke’s Health System and discussed “Our refugee community as a source of top talent.” Shannon Rush-Call, Micron Technology; Joanne Chu, EcoEthos Solutions; Thomas Kellogg, Mentor Artists Playwright Project; and Francisco Salinas, Boise State University, made up the second panel and covered the topic “How to build a workplace culture of inclusion.”

A compelling and eloquent closing keynote was given by Boise State mechanical engineering student, Camille Eddy, who presented both her research on bias in machine learning and shared her experience as an African-American women in tech.

The afternoon comprised hands-on workshops that sought to give attendees practical skills to create inclusion in their workplaces. They included:

  • Creating inclusive meetings using the Collaborative Operating System, led by Joanne Chu, EcoEthos Solutions and Shannon Rush-Call, Micron
  • Finding your voice: playwriting as a tool for workplace inclusion, led by Thomas Dean Kellogg, Mentor Artists Playwright Project (MAPP)
  • From campus to career: a student lunch conversation on inclusion, led by Alejandro Hernandez, senior VP, Wells Fargo

If you judge on the fullness of room, the Diversity and Inclusion Summit was a huge success at more than 130 attendees. But, event organizers are not judging by attendance. Success will only be claimed when attendees complete their action items. Attendees accepted the challenge to publicly post their commitments do doing one thing to make workplaces and our community more inclusive and to report on achievement at the next diversity and inclusion event. Some of those include:

  • Expand diversity on board of directors/leadership team/advisory group/membership.
  • Contact Global Talent Idaho / work with my company to create job placements/externships/internships for refugees.
  • Integrate two new tools in my company’s culture strategy work — Collaborative Operating System and Courageous Conversations.
  • Help create a community coalition for diversity and inclusion.
  • Start a diversity think tank.
  • Expand the ethical discussion in my class to include the role, benefits and importance of diversity and inclusion.

In closing, Angeli Weller, director of the Responsible Business Initiative, asked audience to “remember, this is the beginning, not the end, of an important conversation and there is no more important a time for each one of us to take responsibility for making our workplaces and our community more inclusive.”

2016 COBE Sustainability Report Videos

The College of Business and Economics (COBE) at Boise State recently published the 2016 COBE Sustainability Report. The Responsible Business Initiative is excited to share the findings of the 2016 COBE Sustainability Report through the use of videos highlighting the student reporting process, the key improvement areas, transportation, and waste management.

The 2016 COBE Sustainability Report Executive Summary is available to read below as well.

This report, the second COBE Sustainability Report, was once again researched, written, and produced by 13 graduate and undergraduate students. The students were challenged to develop a responsible business lens by delving into the economic, social, and environmental material issues impacting the College of Business and Economics.

Through their experience on the report, students understand the impact sustainability reporting can have in their educational environment. An example of this is demonstrated by the increased usage of recycled paper content at COBE. In 2015 COBE increased the amount of recycled paper from 0% to 40% paving the way for future progress and delivering real results.

At this point in time, data tracking methods to measure the usage of  alternate transportation for students, faculty and staff are only available at the university level. If the college wishes to calculate total greenhouse emissions in the future, identifying how students and employees are commuting is essential, given that transportation will comprise a large part of this metric. Currently, the college and wider university have a number of programs set in place to encourage more eco-friendly methods of transportation; and progress is being made to better track alternative transportation.

Creating the sustainability report demonstrated the importance COBE stakeholders place on measuring waste. Without knowing how much waste COBE produces, it is challenging to scale back or set goals in reducing the waste generated. Analyzing key areas where COBE is currently lacking allows students to develop innovative methods to close reporting gaps in the future and create real change in the waste management structure.

Executive Summary iconRead the 2016 COBE Sustainability Report Executive Summary

Why an LGBT-friendly Work Environment is Good for Business

Written By Alexandria Suggs, Career Track MBA 1st Year

The social, political and legal landscape for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people has seen historical changes within the last ten years. Same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide in 2015, 89% of Fortune 500 companies, as of 2014, prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and we are blessed with the Ellen Show every day at 5:00.¹ What more could the LGBT community want?

According to the 2013 Pew survey, the LGBT community also wants workplace protections and an accepting work environment. The survey reported that 57% of LGBT respondents said equal employment rights should be a “top priority,” beating out same-sex marriage.² Flash forward to 2016 and we see that LGBT employees can still be fired for being gay or transgender in 28 states—better hide those newly acquired wedding bands folks.

With how far the United States has come in terms of equality, it’s surprising that the dynamic social environment for the LGBT community has yet to fully carry over to the workplace. For instance, 19 states and Washington D.C. have passed laws preventing LGBT Americans from being discriminated against by employers³ and Boise itself has a non-discrimination ordinance that bans discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Boise joins 11 other cities in Idaho with this type of ordinance, covering 30% of our state’s population.⁴ While progress is being made, there are still some surprising statistics that show the majority (53% to be exact) of LGBT Americans are still in the closet, rather than conversing openly in the breakroom.⁵

So why does this matter for business?

According to The Cost of the Closet and the Rewards of Inclusion, a study by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, LGBT individuals and their allies aren’t the only ones that should be asking for policies and protections for sexual and gender identity in the workplace; businesses should as well. The study shows that LGBT programs and diversity efforts directly correlate with LGBT employee engagement, productivity and effectiveness, overall diversity and inclusion in job applicants, lower turnover and higher retention rates, and apparently $8-9 billion that the U.S. economy and various businesses are potentially missing out on.

In this Human Rights Campaign study, when non-LGBT employees were asked about how often conversations about social relationships and dating come up in the workplace, 80% responded that they occur weekly and often daily. However, with this, 70% of non-LGBT workers agree that “it is unprofessional” to talk about sexual orientation or gender identity in the workplace. When taking these numbers and linking them back to an organization’s overall success, they pose a real problem.

LGBT employees who are out and supported at work, it turns out, are between 20-30% more productive, with 26% having stayed in a job because the environment was accepting. On the other hand, 20% of LGBT workers report looking for a job specifically because the environment wasn’t accepting of LGBT identities, and 9% successfully left a job due to the same reasons.⁴ When looking at these numbers alone, a business without an LGBT-friendly environment are suffering in both employee performance and a higher turnover rate, while diverse and accepting workplace environments are seeing the opposite.

With this in mind, can an accepting workplace environment for LGBT employees drive tangible results within their consumer base as well?

The answer is yes. According to the LGBT 2020 – LGBT Diversity Show Me the Business Case study, the “US economy could save $9 billion annually if organizations were more effective at implementing diversity and inclusion policies for LGBT staff.”¹ This not only results from fewer discrimination lawsuits, but also relates to the market share the LGBT consumers hold. In a national survey conducted by Harris Interactive in 2011, “nearly nine out of ten (87%) LGBT adults said they are likely to consider a brand providing equal workplace benefits. 23% of LGBT adults have switched products or services because a different company was supportive of the LGBT community, even if a brand was costlier or less convenient.”¹ With these numbers, it seems a number of businesses are losing out on the potential gains associated with an LGBT-friendly organization.

So what can businesses do?

Charles Donnell, a Leadership and Management Development Consultant at IMB, gives us some steps to take to foster an LGBT-friendly workplace environment.⁵
1. Create an inclusive atmosphere
Companies can start by creating an LGBT group for employees. Employee resource groups and mentor programs statistically show positive results with 67% of LGBT employees feeling welcomed in these settings.⁴ With this, the company as a whole can illustrate their support by participating in Pride events and LGBT causes throughout the year.

2. Inclusivity stems from leadership
“Clear messages from management on the importance of diversity and acceptance make the company’s stance transparent and create a culture that is clear on its values, on what words and actions it will tolerate and what resources it will make available to employees,” says Donnell.

3. Build diversity into human resource policies
A company can foster an accepting work environment by recruiting with diversity in mind. Reach out to university LGBT groups, enforce structured interviews to remove biases⁶, and have interviewers be held socially accountable in the hiring process to explain why they chose the applicant they did.⁷ And lastly, ensure these inclusive values are shown on the company’s website and social media channels.

Putting these practices into place, among other various steps, can help create an LGBT-friendly work environment. With the evidence showing the positive effects an inclusive and accepting workplace can have, such as fostering more productive, effective and loyal LGBT team members, it’s easy to make the argument that better acceptance leads to better business.

Alexandria Suggs is a marketer and graphic designer in her first year of the Career Track MBA program at Boise State University and is the MBA Intern for the Responsible Business Initiative in the College of Business and Economics. In that role, she is coordinating the upcoming summit on inclusion in business co-sponsored by the College of Business and Economics, Wells Fargo, the City of Boise and the Boise Valley Economic Partnership on November 17, 2106. Contact her directly at









Sun Valley Institute for Resilience: Reflection on Water

Written By Connor Sheldon, Career Track MBA 2nd Year

Take a moment and examine what you are wearing. What are you holding? If you, like many individuals today, are wearing a shirt, shoes, pants, and carrying a smart phone in your hand then you should know: it took more water to manufacture what you are physically in contact with now than you will drink in your entire lifetime.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, it can take 713 gallons of water to produce the cotton needed to make a single t-shirt.¹ In Boise, Idaho, many people are distanced from the topic of water scarcity and unfamiliar with the water crisis that is impacting our world. However, the semi-arid ecosystem encompassing Boise and the Treasure Valley is experiencing decreasing levels in annual precipitation and both agricultural and urban development are decreasing the level of the Eastern Snake River Plain Aquifer: through excessive pumping and reduced recharge (refill).

In the past five years several publications have shared the link that exists between water scarcity and civil unrest around the world.² In fact, the World Economic Forum 2016 Global Risks Report cited water crises as the third most impactful risk for the years to come, just behind the failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation and weapons of mass destruction.³

What does this mean and why is it important? A Business Insider article cites a human can typically live for up to 21 days without food, whereas a human can only survive about a week without water.⁴ Human cells need water. What is curious is that humans also consume copious amounts of non-obvious or invisible water. For example: it takes water to produce the apple in a lunch, it takes water to grow coffee beans, it takes water to mine the various conflict minerals located in most all electronic devices today.

As students, educators, and influencers, it is imperative to be educated about this topic and also take action to make a difference. According to there are simple things that can be done every day to conserve water:

  • Drink tea rather than coffee to save 32 gallons of water
  • Shorten your shower by 3 minutes to save 16 gallons of water
  • Eat chicken rather than beef to save 581 gallons of water
  • Buy one less t-shirt to save 713 gallons of water⁵







Curb It Composting Program in Boise’s Future

Written by Connor Sheldon, Career Track MBA 1st Yr

Last week, the City of Boise Public Works Department proposed a composting program that would change how Boise collects trash. It would cost Boise residents $3.40/month and include weekly pick-up of organic material that can be composted. Organic material essentially includes “anything that was alive,” such as tree trimmings and kitchen scraps. From pick-up, the compostable material would be taken to a local compost facility and ground into a soil inoculant. The first batch of compost from this program would be ready for use in approximately 100 days.

The addition of composting to Boise’s popular Curb It composting program holds great opportunity and also presents some barriers. One barrier revolves around some Boise residents who are already active composters and feel the cost for participating in this program is not beneficial for them. Yet other current composters, as well as those not yet composting, understand the potential the program has to positively impact the community. The proposed composting program is well positioned to help Boise residents save time (the city takes care of the majority of the composting process) and space (organic material would not take up space in residential yards), encouraging active participation.

At this point in time, organic material from single family residences makes up 46% of local landfills. Composting would reduce the size of the Ada County Landfill by diverting organic material to Boise’s Twenty-Mile South Farm. Compost generated by this program could be used in various city projects (from parks to urban gardens) and sold to generate revenue for the program.

The Curb It composting program aligns with the LIV Boise vision to make Boise, Idaho the most livable city in the country. LIV Boise focuses “on sustainable policies, practices and partnerships” to “promote livability across three strategic focus areas: Lasting Environments, Innovative Enterprises and Vibrant Communities.” For the cost of a gallon of milk each month, Boise residents could help to foster a healthy environment to keep our community vibrant. Composting can help make Boise the most livable city in the country; the pursuit of this goal should be an individual and community-wide effort.

Power of Consumers

Written by Connor Sheldon, Career Track MBA 1st Yr

If you had to guess, how many times a day would you say you interact with plastic? I myself attempted what I will call a “plastic audit” yesterday. In conducting my regular, everyday tasks over the course of two hours, I interacted with plastic seventy-seven times.

Key board keys. Soap dispenser. Nalgene. Car keys. Refrigerator. Sunglasses. Toothbrush. Tupperware. iPhone case. Debit card. The list goes on for sixty-seven more items. I was not seeking out plastic; rather the list I created is the plastic I come in contact with multiple times a day without even noticing it.

Why did I undertake this audit? Well, my younger brother and I had the opportunity to attend a presentation by Bea Johnson as part of the Boise High School Sustainability Summit. Bea discussed her and her family’s journey to create a Zero Waste Home. Quite the undertaking if you ask me.

A quick aside: my little brother is currently a sophomore at Boise High School. This year, the school promoted a school-wide read, much like college campuses across the United States do every fall. The book that was selected was Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash by Edward Humes. When talking to my brother about this he told me this book has been discussed in his biology class, math class, health class, and art class. I am so impressed with the students, faculty, and staff at Boise High School. Through integrating sustainability into classroom conversations, they are catalyzing the next generation of conscious consumers.

Back to Zero Waste Home. Bea listed the five rules of creating a Zero Waste Home. In order, they are:

  1. Refuse
  2. Reduce
  3. Reuse
  4. Recycle
  5. Rot

Refuse what you do not need. Instead of taking a free pen at an event, leave it.

Reduce what you do not need. Live simply.

Reuse what you already have. There are multiple uses for every single product.

Recycle only what you cannot refuse, reduce, or reuse.

Rot is compost. If the first four R’s are followed, there should be very little for compost.

The Zero Waste Home presentation instilled in me a newfound zealousness. Currently, I am working in the realm of responsible business. Businesses should work for the good of the Triple Bottom Line (people, planet, and profit). As of now, there is movement in this space through the work of B Lab and other organizations. The area I see the greatest opportunity is in the realm of responsible consumerism. Consumers should challenge businesses to have responsible practices and should also be aware of individual impact on the Triple Bottom Line.

For example, plastic is not good for people or planet, and yet it is in practically everything consumers use on a daily basis. Additionally, paying for extra manufacturing for products that really don’t need to be wrapped in plastic eats up individual income and company profit.

I am challenging myself to become a responsible consumer and educate those around me about the benefits that exist if we all become responsible consumers.