Spotlight: Jennifer Singh, co-founder of Understory

Meet Jennifer Singh, co-founder of The Understory, a global platform that helps organizations use technology and innovation to make our world more sustainable. We love how Understory is bringing light to innovative companies and organizations and creating connections. This interview is filled with nuggets and education including why the pandemic has heightened the focus on sustainability and some great finds to make it easier to do your part for the environment! Read on. 

Tell us a little about yourself.

I am an innovator and community builder who is passionate about growing sustainable, value-driven organizations. This led me to co-found Understory, a global platform that helps organizations use technology and innovation to make our world more sustainable. Understory offers educational resources, a podcast, and events to make sustainability accessible, practical, and actionable.

Outside of work, I am very involved with local Atlanta organizations dedicated to supporting the advancement of entrepreneurs and professional women. I am the City Director of House of Genius Atlanta, and I serve on the Boards of Startup Atlanta, The Rebel Women and The Lola. I love spending time with my husband, family, and friends on nature walks, at barbeques, and traveling (in pre-covid times). I am also a weather nerd and adoptive parent of sea turtles.

What drove you to start Understory? 

Before Understory, I spent most of my career building new products and businesses within large organizations and small startups - helping companies pivot to a new way of working. I am now seeing very similar parallels in sustainability. Massive transformation needs to happen over the next decade for organizations to become sustainable and meet their climate goals. Understory was founded to help companies and organizations access the latest technology and innovation and shift employee mindsets to scale implementation.

At the beginning of 2020, my co-founder and I saw that sustainability was at a tipping point across all industries. Businesses need and want to find ways to lessen their impact on the environment not only because it’s the right thing to do, but also mission critical for their business. 

What are some trends in sustainability that you would like to share?

Many innovators have been working to overcome the challenge of climate change for a very long time. We’ve recently seen galvanization and support behind their efforts, bringing many more of these activities to the forefront. Two of the biggest trends we are seeing:

Circularity: Circularity, or the circular economy, is a way of rethinking business practices to design out waste from operations. Rather than the traditional economic model of produce, consume, and dispose, circularity’s goal is to maximize the use of goods and components over time. Examples of circularity are companies like Loliware that uses biodegradable seaweed to replace plastics or Muuse that enables reuse of coffee cups and takeaway containers from restaurants.

Net zero: Many Fortune 500 companies have announced goals to reduce their carbon emissions to zero, or become net zero, in alignment with the Paris Climate Agreement. While goals are a great first step toward progress, achieving these goals will require massive transformation in the way that businesses operate. This transformation will take time and have wide ranging impacts for supply chains, smaller companies, investors, and consumers.

The challenge is that reversing climate change is a complex undertaking, and the clock is ticking. Real impact takes collaboration and behavior change.

How do you think COVID has impacted how individuals and businesses are thinking about sustainability?

Covid has heightened the importance of addressing climate change. One leading cause of pandemics is the loss of ecological habits and human encroachment on nature. Scientists warn we will see pandemics more frequently if we do not address these issues. The natural disasters of the past few years – i.e. raging wildfires, frequent hurricanes, and snow in Texas – have also heightened awareness around the human impact on earth.

The good news is that governments, corporations, organizations, and individuals now recognize the importance of becoming more sustainable. We see more investment by companies and investors into sustainable businesses and an influx of new companies being started. I think we will see new job titles and new categories of sustainable products/services created over the next few years.

What are two to three things as consumers we can easily do to support sustainability?

Start small. A lot of folks are intimidated because they feel like they need to be 100% dedicated to a zero waste or activist lifestyle. But supporting sustainability starts with one single swap or behavior change. Recently, I started using bamboo makeup remover pads that you can throw in the wash and reuse. When you are comfortable with one change, iterate and move on to something else! There are a lot of great instagram accounts like @thezerowasteguide and blogs that you can use for inspiration. And then bring your sustainability mindset into your workplace - find ways to encourage sustainable practices with your coworkers. Some of Understory’s favorite D2C companies include: 

  • Unspun - custom-built jeans that are sustainably designed and manufactured
  • Arbor or Wren - apps that help individuals calculate and offset their carbon footprints
  • Aquagenuity - test your water quality at home

If you want to meet more sustainable companies, join Understory’s next Startup Showcase virtual event on May 11th.

What excites you about this year?

Growth and connection. The Understory community continues to grow as we engage leading innovators and individuals who are passionate about driving sustainable change. I look forward to connecting to more folks as we expand the platform. And as the year goes on, I am hopeful that more connections can be made face to face as well as virtually.

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