„Sustainability is not something to achieve, it’s a journey”

Olga Aulet-Leon works as the Sustainability Champion in the sustainability office for Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) in Portland, Oregon. She argues that organizations must continuously work and innovate to improve their social and environmental impact. We had the chance to chat with her about her work at DTNA and her personal passion for environmental and social projects.

Olga, you live and work in Portland, Oregon - one of the most environmentally friendly cities in the world. Has this influenced your work in a positive way?

It absolutely has! Portland is most certainly an environmentally minded city and that is one of the driving factors for my desire to live here. We are surrounded by breathtaking natural spaces like the Columbia River Gorge, the volcanoes and mountains of the Cascades, and a spectacular coastline. There are an endless number of trails nearby to run or hike, including Forest Park, which is one of the largest city parks in the world and has over 80 miles of trails in the forest just minutes from our office. I think the proximity to nature is a constant reminder of how incredible natural spaces are and is a good motivator for my work in supporting DTNA to improve environmental impact on a daily basis.

You are carrying out sustainability projects at DTNA as a “Sustainability Champion”. What exactly does that mean?

I am the first person to hold this role at DTNA, which has made my time very exciting and dynamic! In my time in this role, I have been working to expand global activities while at the same time advancing local strategy and sustainability culture. Some examples of projects I have been honored to work on include supporting our supply chain team to improve sustainability standards in contracts, increasing the use of renewable energy at our headquarters, and launching our first local Sustainability Awards for 2020. I love the collaborative nature of this role; sustainability cannot be done alone, it takes the whole organization to make a difference!

The skyline of Portland, Oregon, with Mt. Hood and the Cascade Mountains in the background.

Besides your job, you are chair of the DTNA Sustainability Club. What is that?

Our Sustainability Club is a volunteer employee group whose core purpose is to continuously leverage DTNA's expertise to drive our culture toward environmental and social responsibility. To date, we have over 400 members who are involved in leading a wide variety of sustainability projects across our organization and actively participate in our events. Currently, the Sustainability Club has DTNA chapters in Portland, Detroit, and Fort Mill in the US, Saltillo in Mexico, and there is a Daimler chapter in Germany, as well. We work on many different topics, and we have started with events and education on the importance of sustainability. This includes our executive perspective series interviewing company leaders on the importance of sustainability, or newsletters on how employees can be sustainable at home. We have also hosted a number of different environmental events including the recycling of different items like Styrofoam and soft plastics, and have recycled over 30,000 pounds of personal electronics to date to name just a few.

That sounds like great dedication...

Our team has accomplished so much more since starting in 2017, and we are excited to continue to support sustainable culture at our organization. None of our impact would be possible without our amazing leadership teams and executive sponsors who volunteer their time to help lead the Club and truly go above and beyond to drive impact at their locations.

Tell us of one of your favorite projects you have worked on in this role.

Often, I am focused on the environmental impact but the social impact is a true passion for me, as well. They very much go hand in hand, and I love projects where both come together. This past year one of our partners, the Portland Timbers, had leftover shirts that they did not want to go to waste. Together we worked with a local partner to upcycle these shirts into backpacks and we filled the bags with school supplies that the soccer players themselves handed to kids in a school in Costa Rica. I was so honored to be part of a project that could give back to kids while also reusing material that would have otherwise been wasted. Because my own family is from Latin America, this was an extra special project for me to be part of.

What drove you working in sustainability in the first place?

In my undergraduate studies at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), I majored in Business Economics with a minor in Environmental Systems and Society. I remember some of my business professors talking about how the environmentalists were stifling economic growth and my environmental professors complaining about businesses wanting to create economic growth at all costs, including to the detriment of the environment. I believed there had to be a common middle ground, a way that society could progress while communities and the environment could thrive in the process. In graduate school, I was introduced to the concepts of sustainability and corporate social responsibility and I knew that I wanted to dedicate my career to this field. Companies are not perfect, but it is critical to constantly being improving and maximizing positive benefit to the world. Sustainability is a journey for all companies and I am thrilled to be a part of it!

Please complete...

For me, taking responsibility means...
"...understanding where your organization’s and your personal impacts on society and the environment are, and working to constantly be improving those impacts."

The special thing about DTNA is...
"...the people!"

If I had one wish...
"...it would be that all organizations would embrace the concept of sustainability and continuously drive to be better than they currently are."

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