Tom Szaky: Do Green Companies Need Green Employees?

One of the most challenging parts of building a lean and mean green company is finding the right balance of experience and passion. Especially in a young upstart company – like TerraCycle – where the status quo is often thrown out the window in favor of shaking up the typical “business as usual” model. But is it better (or even appropriate) to hire people who are committed to being green outside of work as well?

Many people may think that personal devotion to a company’s ideal – or green ideals in general – would make a better employee for a green business, and should weigh heavily on whether someone can work in a “green” company. But when push comes to shove, isn’t it more important to have people who know how to accomplish something – even if they don’t recycle at home, or bike to work, or buy offsets for their air-travel-related carbon emissions?
Which is better? A team full of uber-recyclers, people who live the company message in every walk of life – or a team of equally skilled but non-zealous people?
As CEO of a green company I have heard many opinions and through many hiring failures and successes, have formed my own opinions on this age-old question. When it comes to the business/operations side of the company then it is best to hire the most experienced, educated person for the job.
For example your legal department and finance department are better staffed by experienced employees, even if they are not activist. After all to accomplish the lofty and important goals of your business you’ll need to have your legal and financial matters well handled, or else all the good intentions in the world will be wasted.
As for marketing, product design, PR, sales I believe that having environmentally or socially aware employees is an advantage. These departments are the public face of your company and it is best to have people who ‘walk their talk’ out in the public sphere. Plus their passion for your companies ideals will be infectious to prospective clients or customers.
So what do you think 3p community? Should green companies only hire green employees?

Tom Szaky is CEO of TerraCycle, named by Inc. Magazine as the “Coolest Startup in America — The ultimate growth company, built on garbage, run by a kid, loved by investors.” Tom writes about his experiences as a social entrepreneur and visions for business and technology that leave the world better off on 3p.

Tom Szaky is the Founder and CEO of TerraCycle, Inc. a company that makes eco-revolutionary products entirely from garbage! TerraCycle, since its humble beginnings in a Princeton University dorm room, is committed to being a triple bottom line company. Tom at the ancient age of 19 learned about composting with worms. The concept of using tiny little worms to turn food waste into a powerful, organic fertilizer fascinated Tom, who was appalled by the amount of food discarded by his campus's cafeteria. Tom started TerraCycle with no investors from a friend's garage by building a Worm Gin where he could house millions of worms in a small area. He all but bankrupted himself and maxed out all his credit cards to build the machine. With the help of friends he would shovel pounds of rotten, maggot-infested food from the Princeton cafeterias. Without any money left over, Tom could not afford to buy bottles to package his fertilizer. That's when the sustainability gods smiled on Tom, who was up one night wandering the streets Princeton in search of an answer to his packaging dilemma. It just happened to be recycling night and Tom realized that millions of homes were putting billions of free bottles out on the curb once a week! That serendipitous moment set everything to follow into motion. Slowly he began to finance his infantile start up by winning business plan contests. Finally he hit the pay dirt! He won the million dollar grand prize at the Carrot Capital Business plan contest. However, the financiers of the contest wanted to move TerraCycle away from used bottles and away from it's environmental focus. Despite being on the verge of bankruptcy, Tom turned down the money. In the six years since then TerraCycle has grown to a multi-million dollar company that doubles in size every year. Still we are committed to our triple bottom line beginnings. Still making our products from other's people waste. Still based in an Urban Enterprise Zone in Trenton, NJ. Still a second chance employer. Find out how and why, here at