Interview with Rachel Sarnoff
Rachel Lincoln Sarnoff
has 20+ years of experience developing strategies for mission-driven brands and organizations, with a specific focus on sustainability, circular economy, and zero waste. She was Executive Director of ocean conservation non-profit the 5 Gyres Institute and Healthy Child Healthy World, which became a program of the Environmental Working Group. A thought leader and former journalist, Rachel appeared on the “Today Show" and "CNN,” among others; her recent talks include “Can One Straw Change The World?”
(TEDxSantaBarbara, 2017) and “Fashion’s Role in Solving Plastic Pollution”
(VOICES United Kingdom, 2018). She lives with her family in Los Angeles.
Hi Rachel! Could you please introduce your work with Lincoln Sarnoff Consulting? What led to your founding your own consultancy?
I started Lincoln Sarnoff Consulting because I bring a unique experience that helps me best advise both non- and for-profit companies about making positive change, creating positive change in the world. So, my career really started as a journalist. This was a long time ago, and I was pregnant with my third child when I started understanding the connection between toxic chemicals and human health, and that really set me on a different path. From there, I've been an executive director, worked with non-profits, and then also worked with for-profit companies that really have the intention to do the right thing and make this world a better place. And so, now coming kind of full circle with this knowledge and this experience, I can really help these partners in this journey that we're on together.
As a female thought leader, formal journalist, and consultant, do you ever experience challenges or opportunities related to this?
This is a really interesting question. I was raised by a single father, and I think I bring what probably are considered more masculine characteristics to the way that I work, which hasn't really been a liability. I think it's actually been something that people appreciate about the way that I work. But I did have a couple of instances where male superiors criticized me for being too direct, and even aggressive, which are characteristics that I think would not be considered negatives in a man. So I'm really encouraged by, just the way that we are raising awareness currently, the way that we are becoming so vocal, the way that we are embracing our strength as women, and I'm raising two daughters who just start out that way, which is amazing.
How have you measured the impact of the anti-straw movement? How did you decide on your TEDx talk, “Can One Straw Change The World?”
How do we measure the impact of the anti-straw movement? OK. Huge, huge question. I think we have seen a massive explosion in understanding of the problem of plastic pollution, and it really did start with that poor turtle with the straws stuck in its nose, which was kind of the jumping off point for my TED talk, which was fairly ironically titled 'Can one straw change the world?' Because, of course, one straw can't. But that turtle certainly changed a lot of things for a lot of people, including me. So the challenge that I have now is that I've had people come up to me and say, "Oh I gave up straws!" And they're holding a paper coffee cup with a plastic lid, so it can't be the end of our activism, right? It has to be the beginning of our understanding, and it has to grow to encompass how we're supporting corporations with the money that we're giving them. Where do we put our dollars that then tell those corporations that it's OK, or it's not OK, to continue using plastic? I think that's one way. The other way is really, like actually voting. There's legislation, especially in California right now where I live, that could really change the way that we all look at plastic. There's pending legislation in Europe. All over the world there are laws that are beginning to tackle the problem of plastic pollution. And if we don't get involved and tell our legislators that we want them to support this kind of legislation, then it's the same thing as like holding a coffee cup and saying you're giving up straws.
How has the rise of social media marketing and digital content shifted how mission-driven brands reach their audiences?
I think that the impact of social media has really changed everything, for both nonprofits and corporations. There is a level of accountability that has really, it's just unprecedented. And what it means is that, we have to if we, like in my position, advising on strategy and communications, we have to make sure that that those are authentic. That we are we are not misrepresenting what we're doing on both sides of that coin for nonprofit, and that we are really really sharing where we're doing good and where we can do better. And I think that that accountability is directly a result of social media and the transparency that it brings.
What's next for your work as a thought leader, as well as your work with Lincoln Sarnoff Consulting?
So I just want to keep exploring. You know, this is a path that I never thought that I would be on. I thought that I would be a journalist, continue being an editor and be in publishing - I really didn't see this, this move happening when I looked at my life 10, 15, 20 years ago. And the great thing about it is that training as a journalist, that instinct - really, which is why I got into journalism - that instinct to learn, to explore, to discover, to investigate, that's something that I now can bring to my work with my consulting business. And the exciting thing is that all the areas that I've always been interested in which are sustainability and the way that we can positively impact the world, those areas are only growing in breadth and also importance, and so being a part of that is super, super exciting for me.