Women in CSR: Angela Parker, Realized Worth

Welcome to our series of interviews with leading female CSR practitioners where we are learning about what inspires these women and how they found their way to careers in sustainability. Read the rest of the series here.

Parker-AngelaTriplePundit: Briefly describe your role and responsibilities, and how many years you have been in the business.

Angela Parker: I am Co-Founder and Partner of Realized Worth. I co-founded the company in 2008 and, being a startup, everyone on the team has taken on a myriad of roles and responsibilities throughout the years. My co-founder, Chris Jarvis, and I call our roles “do whatever it takes” – since you really don’t have another option when you’re just starting out. More recently, I’ve been able to shift from the scramble of business development into the more enjoyable role of Client Relations and Business Operations. Overall, my role includes ensuring the execution of all of the day-to-day tasks necessary to achieve the company’s vision, managing the company’s non-senior level employees, and “making things happen.”

3p: How has the sustainability program evolved at your company?

AP: My company works with larger companies to create strategic sustainability programs that mobilize employees. In the early years, we embraced the programs of companies as our own sustainability efforts. Now, as things grow and stabilize at Realized Worth, we are excited to begin the development of our own internal program. Ideally, we’ll model the highly engaging programs we develop with our clients. We’re all in this changing the world thing together – and I’m an idealist. I really do believe that if we’re all taking responsibility for the power and privilege we hold, we’ll see our world shift toward the beautiful. All that to say, watch for Realized Worth’s internal sustainability program soon.

3p: Tell us about someone (mentor, sponsor, friend, hero) who affected your sustainability journey and how.

AP: Growing up in Portland, Oregon, I knew a lot of people who were deeply committed to leaving their world better than they found it. I saw straw bale houses and “off the grid” lifestyles – I even had a friend who had a very literal goal of producing zero waste. When you are submersed in that culture, you feel a wave of guilt every time you choose the garbage can labelled “landfill” over the ones labelled “compost” or “recycling.” You also become a sustainability snob – or at least I did. I thought I knew what the rules were and where the lines between “right and wrong” should be drawn – until I heard a brilliant man one day speak about social justice, financial responsibility, and environmental sustainability. I wholeheartedly believed what he said that day – in fact, I was sure I had come across one of the very few who I could confidently refer to as “the real thing.” Overwhelmed with a sense of admiration and appreciation, I rushed to follow him out the door as he was leaving to thank him for his inspiring words. We reached the parking lot just as I breathlessly finished my thanks – and then, in a moment of confusion, and then humor, and then complete horror – I watched him open the driver’s door to his Lincoln Navigator SUV.

It goes without saying that this man driving a massive, gas-guzzling SUV contradicted everything he had just shared from the platform. Or at least to me it did. But when he saw my look of horror, his simple response forever changed the way I evaluate a sustainable lifestyle – or any lifestyle, for that matter. He said, “Were you expecting a Prius? Or maybe a bicycle? Listen, there are reasons that I drive this vehicle, but if I were to list them to you, I would be addressing the wrong issue. It’s too easy to drive the right car, wear the right clothes, throw our garbage in the right can. Those things are good, but they’re not good enough. What matters is who we are when we cannot control the world’s perception of us. If we only address perception, when will we begin to ask the right questions?”  After that, he started his beast of a car (which I still disapprove of) and drove away. I don’t know if his intention was to be profound, but I do know that after that day I stopped looking first for the right answer – and instead started asking the right questions.

3p: What is the best advice you have ever received?

AP: The best advice I ever received came from the Indigo Girls. They are profound poets and in one of their older songs, called Touch Me Fall, they sing about the pressure to meet high expectations, both of ourselves and others. With what feels like a shrug of the shoulders, they sing “If I stumble, I will stumble. If I fall, I will fall.” This advice is along the same lines as business gurus who say “fail forward” and “don’t be afraid to make mistakes.” If I could have a personal wish, it would be to be free of my fear of making mistakes. When the Indigo Girls sing about the potential to fail with such nonchalance, I find that I believe them. I believe it’s ok, and even important, to fail.

3p: Can you share a recent accomplishment you are especially proud of?

Here I am speaking in Slovakia.
Here I am speaking in Slovakia.

AP: I’m very proud of our recent hires. I know that I can’t really take credit for how great they are, but we have people on our team as of the last year or two who I admire and respect enormously. Chris and I have committed to hire people who are smarter than we are and who will inspire the business toward greater things. Somehow we have a team of people who do great work, who believe in great things, and who have become great friends. I’m so proud of our little team.

3p: If you had the power to make one major change at your company or in your industry, what would it be?

AP: I’m not very good at predicting appropriate change. I want things to happen fast, I want the future to be now, I don’t like having to work at something to make it perfect. But it’s good that I don’t have the power to control those things, because – like cutting open a butterfly’s cocoon before it’s ready – change has to occur in its own time. So I think about my company and I think about the industry and, while I am striving for monumental change, I think I might be surprised in the end with how that change actually plays out. Maybe the way I see it isn’t exactly how it should be. Maybe things have to move slowly because I’m not sure what’s coming. Either way, when change happens, I’ll be ready for it.

3p: Describe your perfect day.

AP: My perfect day includes a mixture of rain and sun, a moment to read in an isolated space with my headphones on. It includes a heated team meeting where we each argue for the things we care about. It includes a client who feels like a genius because of the work we’ve done together. On my perfect day, I am productive, but not not too productive. I am relaxed, but not lazy. The evening is warm, I walk with my family, I go to bed with a mixture of excitement and uncertainty about what the future brings. I am ok. “If I stumble, I will stumble. If I fall, I will fall.”

Andrea Newell has more than ten years of experience designing, developing and writing ERP e-learning materials for large corporations in several industries. She was a consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers and a contract consultant for companies like IBM, BP, Marathon Oil, Pfizer, and Steelcase, among others. She is a writer and former editor at TriplePundit and a social media blog fellow at The Story of Stuff Project. She has contributed to In Good Company (Vault's CSR blog), Evolved Employer, The Glass Hammer, EcoLocalizer and CSRwire. She is a volunteer at the West Michigan Environmental Action Council and lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan. You can reach her at andrea.g.newell@gmail.com and @anewell3p on Twitter.