Condiment packets from your favorite fast food restaurants are notoriously un-recyclable.
On a recent episode of his company’s podcast, Alex Lassiter ’10 sat down with Missy Schapphok, a member of his advisory board. Together, they unpacked the challenges of flexible film packets. Schapphok, Taco Bell’s director of global nutrition and sustainability, explained how their partnership with TerraCycle sets them apart from others.
Lassiter, who founded startup GreenPlaces in 2021, loves to ask. Even talking with a representative of one of the largest food brand services in the world—Taco Bell serves 42 million customers on any given week—doesn’t deter him from asking all the “why” questions.
“When you stay in a hotel or pick a restaurant, ask them what they do in regard to sustainability,” says Lassiter. “Even if they say, ‘we do nothing,’ asking means they’re going to flag it. If it’s not being asked, they’re not going to solve it.”
Through GreenPlaces, Lassiter helps businesses solve their sustainability challenges. For many companies, taking the initial plunge is the biggest challenge.
“Companies don’t know what they’re supposed to be doing – it’s different for every industry,” says Lassiter. “People ask us where they should begin, what three things they should focus on first, and where they should go from there.”
In 2023, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s published proposed rules for greenhouse gas (GHG) reporting. This would require public companies to report GHG emissions, indirect emissions from electricity and other energy sources, and emissions from activities within its overall value chain. Essentially, tracking sustainability would become a requirement for companies.
Not only can GreenPlaces’ platform track and analyze emissions data, but it can also identify solutions for companies. Lassiter explains that the software can pull data from a company’s properties, offices and/or locations to illustrate energy efficiency.
“If a business has $100 million to spend on capital upgrades, our software can help identify where to do that in a way that’s most environmentally beneficial,” says Lassiter. “We can show them what it would cost to fix a problem.”
The software also offers a sustainability and ESG policy library that allows businesses to identify gaps in their sustainability policies. In effect, GreenPlaces not only serves as a “sustainability team” but also as a “consultant” for policy development.
Lassiter refers to sustainability as a 20-year challenge for businesses, explaining that it’s not something a business has to accomplish in the first year. He believes the most important part is taking that first step.
Traveling to Far Away Places
A self-described “non-adventurous kid,” Lassiter began his undergraduate journey in 2006. Tracing his career back to Carolina, Lassiter explains that back then, the world felt small in terms of career options.
Through Morehead-Cain, Lassiter studied abroad in Prague, taught English in China, lived off the grid in the Wyoming mountains, and wrote his thesis on phone banking in South Africa. Turns out, being thrown into multiple adventures in a 4-year time span can really change your perspective on the world.
“Something happened at Carolina where I was really given this opportunity to get out there and it changed the trajectory of my life,” says Lassiter.
As one of the newest members of the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Visitors, Lassiter chairs the subcommittee on global relations. It’s a fitting, full-circle moment. He hopes to help the next generation of Tar Heels see the vastness and interconnectedness of our world.
On the Board of Visitors, Lassiter works closely with Vice Provost for Global Affairs Barbara Stephenson. He recalls being in school when the FedEx Global Education Center opened its doors.
Many students see the FedEx Global Education Center as the study abroad office. While students can access study abroad materials there, the Center contains much more. It houses programs like the Global Research Institute, International Student and Scholar Services and Duke-UNC Rotary Peace Center.
Lassiter works closely with Stephenson to help the UNC-Chapel Hill community understand the many facets of UNC Global Affairs.
“If there’s anything I learned from Covid and being in business for the past 10 to 15 years, it’s that you can’t hide from the global stage,” says Lassiter. “All of us to some extent, no matter what career we’re in – medicine, climate, technology, or law – we’re going to have an impact on the global stage. I get to help break down the complicated system and explain it to people in a way people understand.”
Embracing the Future of Workplaces
Lassiter’s career is built on breaking down the complex. Whether he’s interviewing Taco Bell about their hot sauce packets or meeting with clients in San Francisco, he asks the tough questions.
He holds fast to the idea that business can’t just be in it for profit. He believes that pursuing sustainability is vital for a company’s bottom line. An advocate of the profit, people and planet concept of sustainability, Lassiter believes the next generation of students can push the envelope on incorporating sustainability into the workplace.
“We have to turn sustainability into a business decision,” says Lassiter. “You have to make it known during the interview process and when you’re accepting a job. If companies see they’re losing people because they’re not doing anything related to sustainability, that makes it a business issue.”
GreenPlaces currently has a variety of open positions, from entry level to experienced. The company is growing fast and is looking for skills in programming and engineering, sales, product development, customer experience, marketing, and carbon accounting.
Story by Abigail Brewer, Sustainable Carolina communications & engagement specialist.