BLOG / Meet Jess Vieira, Ph.D., Apeel’s Director of Sustainability

Meet Jess Vieira, Ph.D., Apeel’s Director of Sustainability

Author: Apeel Team

Working at Apeel, we’re constantly inspired by the level of talent, smarts, and passion for the mission that exist here. (We consider it one of the perks of this place.) Jess Vieira, Ph.D., is one of those inspirations. She’s the head of our Sustainability Team, using data-driven analysis to support Apeel’s decision makings, helping us to maximize the environmental and societal benefits of our products while minimizing the impacts of our operations and manufacturing. Really, that’s just a fancy way of saying: She makes us much better at what we’re doing.Raised in Rhode Island, Jess received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Tufts University before getting her Ph.D. at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Now located in Santa Barbara with her husband, she spends her free time traveling (well, at least she did before COVID!), as well as running, cooking, and spending time  outdoors.

We sat down for a chat with Jess so she could share more about her work here at Apeel, what she wishes people knew about sustainability, along with the best advice she’s ever received. 

Let’s get to know Jess!

What do you do for Apeel?

As Director of Apeel’s Sustainability Team, I work with both my team and the other Strategy functions (Strategic Planning & Analysis and Corporate Development) to guide company-wide decision making that is aligned with Apeel’s mission and values. By supporting decision making across all functions, the Sustainability Team enables Apeel’s operations and business practices to be as environmentally and socially responsible as possible. 

When it comes to our products, this includes applying life cycle assessment (check out Apeel’s LCA study here) to quantify the net environmental savings, capturing both the savings enabled by reducing food waste and creating other efficiencies, as well as the environmental footprint to make, distribute and apply the Apeel product. We want to make sure that everything involved in the generation of Apeel  isn’t offsetting the Sustainability benefits the product creates

We apply this life-cycle thinking approach to understand and mitigate the environmental and social risks of our business and operations, as well as to identify Apeel’s positive impact opportunities related to climate change, food waste, market access for small producers in emerging economies, and food security.

What were you doing before Apeel?

My background is in environmental engineering and water resources from Tufts (I also played on the field hockey team!), where I researched the environmental and health outcomes of traffic-related air pollutants. Right before joining Apeel, I was working on a Ph.D. at UCSB’s Bren School of Environmental Science and Management. My dissertation looked at the intersection between scientific methods for product-level environmental accounting and organizational decision making to identify ways to improve the usefulness of tools like life cycle assessment (LCA) for industry. I drew on experience from working at The Dow Chemical Company, where I had focused on waste minimization, byproduct synergy, green infrastructure, and company-wide environmental goal setting. During my time at UCSB, I also received a masters degree in Technology Management  and interned in the Environmental Technologies group at Apple.

What first interested you about working in sustainability?

I always knew I wanted to be an active citizen and do something that had a positive impact on the world.  Growing up, I was stronger in math and science, and I saw the environment as a space where there are a lot of problems that needed to be solved, and the solutions needed to be collaborative and interdisciplinary.

Sustainability itself is particularly interesting because you have to take a system-wide approach to decision making. Any decision has positive or negative effects somewhere else in the system. Because of this, science alone can’t solve the problems. Instead, you have to work with groups in different sectors and policy-makers across the world to have an effective sustainability strategy. I’ve always found participating in collaborative efforts and understanding the perspective of different groups of people to be fun and motivating.

What is your favorite thing about working at Apeel?

I’m really inspired by the people and the mission at Apeel.

Everyone who works here is not only smart, talented, and hard-working, but wants to solve problems that are really important to both people and the planet. That purposeful motivation shared amongst Apeel employees creates a strong culture of teamwork that makes me excited to come to work every day.  I get to work alongside people who know how to work together, support each other, challenge each other, and have a lot of fun while doing it. 

The other thing I’ve grown to love about Apeel (coming from someone who never thought they’d end up at a startup) is the opportunity to build something that will grow with the organization as we scale. Each new stage of our business presents new challenges and opportunities for Sustainability, and I get to see how my team learns from each new challenge and embraces the opportunities. At Apeel, there’s not much room to slow down or settle. It’s in our DNA to be questioning the status quo and considering if what we did six months ago still makes sense today. I really enjoy this practical, yet aspirational approach that keeps me motivated day in and day out. 

What do you wish people knew about sustainability, in general?

I wish people made assessments and approached decisions with more of a systems-thinking mindset. We can get so focused on the desire for one-size-fits-all solutions; we want to know if either option A or option B is better, but most decisions aren’t that simple.

What I’d like people to do when considering a purchase is to ask these questions: “What had to happen in order for me to pick up this product? What was used to produce it and who was responsible for that production? How did it end up getting here?” When you ask questions like these, you begin to realize that your decision is part of a broader system, a chain reaction of sorts. It doesn’t mean that you’re always going to have the answer to all the questions you might ask, but it may help you see a different angle that could lead to a different and more holistic conclusion. 

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Since I was very little, my mom always said the same thing to my sister and me before we would leave for school: “You’re a smart girl, the world needs you.” This little piece of motivation to not just do well, but more importantly to do good, is something that I try to carry into everything that I do.

Do you want to work with Jess and the rest of our team? Good news! We’re hiring. Find out more about working at Apeel and apply for open roles here:

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