Jess Perkins, Ph.D. is the head of our Sustainability Team, where she uses data-driven analysis to support decision-making at Apeel Sciences that maximizes the environmental and societal benefits of our products while minimizing the impacts of our operations and manufacturing. Raised in Rhode Island, she 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, running, cooking, and spending time in the outdoors. Get to know our very own Jess Perkins by reading on!
What do you do for Apeel Sciences?
I work as the head of Apeel Sciences’ Sustainability Team. We work closely with the Research and Business Development teams to make sure that the decisions we make have a minimal environmental impact and minimal social implications.
Since we know that our products have a positive impact in these dimensions — by reducing food waste and the associated emissions with food production — we want to make sure that everything we do to produce our product isn’t offsetting any of those benefits. My team looks at the life-cycle of every decision that is made in regards to our physical operations.
In addition to using sustainability for decision making, we also focus on business hotspots to make improvements. Charlotte Sedlock, another member of our sustainability team, deep dives into researching ways to make improvements in the supply chain, in our own operations, and how we can build partnerships for the future.
What were you doing before Apeel?
Prior to Apeel, I was working on my Ph.D. at the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at UCSB. During my time there, I received a masters degree in the Technology Management Program (also at UCSB). Besides going to school, I interned in the Environmental Technologies group at Apple focusing on life cycle assessment. Prior to that, I worked at the Dow Chemical Company in their Environmental Footprint Solutions team where I focused on waste minimization, byproduct synergy, green infrastructure, and company-wide environmental goal setting.
Before my Ph.D., I received my bachelors and masters degrees in environmental engineering from Tufts University.
What first interested you about working in sustainability?
I always knew I wanted to do something that had a positive impact on the world, and I always believed in our individual responsibility to be an active citizen of the world. I always did well in math and science, and I saw the environment as a space where there are a lot of problems to be solved...to say the least.
Sustainability itself is particularly interesting because you have to take a system-wide look at 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 policyholders across the world to have an effective sustainability strategy. And luckily for me, I’ve always found participating in collaborative efforts and learning to influence different groups of people fun and motivating.
What is your favorite thing about working at Apeel Sciences?
I’m really inspired by the people and the mission at Apeel Sciences.
Everyone who works here is not only smart, talented, and hard-working, but wants to solve a problem that really needs to be solved. That purposeful motivation shared amongst Apeel employees creates a strong culture of teamwork that makes me excited to come to work every day.
You get to work on a problem that will have an impact and you get to work alongside people who know how to work together, support each other, challenge each other, and also have a lot of fun while doing it. It is such a positive environment and is something that I’ve always tried to make a priority in my career.
What do you wish people knew about sustainability, in general?
I wish people knew how to see the system more broadly. We get so focused on wanting one-size-fits-all solutions or just want to know either if option A or option B is better, but there is always more to the story.
What I’d like people to do when considering a purchase is to ask these questions: “How did this product get here? What is used in order to produce it? What system was used to get it here?” When you ask those questions, you begin to realize the monumental impact of things in the world. Sometimes we’re too drawn to conclusions which are usually not very holistic.
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 is something that I’ve kept with me and that I try to carry into everything that I do.