Sally Paridis and Erika Whillas: Aussie’s spreading environmental awareness

 Sally Paridis and Erika Whillas (L-R)
Sally Paridis and Erika Whillas (L-R)

Sally Paridis is a powerhouse eco-entrepreneur. She’s the founder of CoClear – a sustainability consultancy that specialises in life cycle analytics.  Product life cycle analysis makes it easier for corporations to analyze the impact of their products and supply chains.

She is also helping consumers to make smarter purchasing choices through the Carbon Catalogue, a visualization tool that depicts product emissions data.

Sally has been a member of Advance since its beginnings. She credits Advance with teaching her the benefits of reconnecting with fellow Australians living in New York. “Get in a room full of Australians and you’re bound to have a good time.”

Having called New York home for many years, Sally works closely with another Aussie, Erika Whillas, sharing a passion and vision to grow environmental awareness among big corporates and consumers.

Interview by Tammy Lee, Marketing & Communications & Digital Manager, Advance

Sally Paridis

How long have you been in New York? What made you move there?

I’ve been in New York nearly half my life having moved here for ‘2 years’ when my husband was transferred for work in the early 90’s.  He didn’t have to ask twice for me to join him.

How did the idea of CoClear come about? How does it work?

The idea for a platform where real information could be shared about consumer products and their impact on the environment came through what I can only describe as, “a crack where the light gets in.”

Having worked with the Australian Wildlife Conservancy building their base here in the U.S. , then establishing the Advance Green Network which created networking opportunities for environmentally focused professionals (in the days before LinkedIn), it was a natural progression to develop a platform where sharing, storing, monitoring and accurately reporting product carbon emission activity would be possible. 

Our app works like most social network platforms except this is for products – you share data on the life cycle analysis (LCA) of a product. The ‘engine’ is  a patented methodology developed by Dr Christoph Meinrenken at Columbia University (also now Chief Data Scientist at CoClear) that calculates emission factors and green house gases to provide a lens into the environmental and financial impact of a product or portfolio.  This allows corporations to balance the risk and reward when they’re weighing up options to improve the efficacy of their value chain.

What’s the biggest sustainable development challenge for consumer goods companies?

Knowing where to start.  That’s where we step in.  You can’t manage what you don’t measure.  The first step toward any sustainable development is understanding your impact – measuring where your carbon emissions are most intensive and isolating hot spots in the supply chain which can be adjusted to lower emissions. We work with forward thinking companies such as Ben and Jerry’s, Nike and Tom’s of Maine to help them understand this impact, and ensure their products are sustainable, have market longevity and remain relevant in the future.   Millennials are going to put the spot light on corporations with a bad or no environment or sustainability record.

How can consumers adopt more socially conscious shopping habits?

Purchasing power is the ultimate key. We all should start shopping with a little more thought and purpose.  To encourage this we’ve created a visualization tool, called the Carbon Catalogue, with company product data voluntarily submitted to CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project), via a detailed questionnaire about their products’ emissions data. The data covers 2013-2017 and 866 products made by 145 companies from 28 countries. By providing the Carbon Catalogue for companies to see the current global status of LCA practice, our goal is to also allow brand managers, regulators, consumers and non-LCA experts to begin to assess products and familiarise themselves with the data involved in calculating a product carbon footprint.

The younger consumers of today care more and more about the impact of the products they buy and consider the environmental impact of their purchases. I think soon you’ll see that the sustainability story will become part of a product’s DNA and part of their marketable story. 

You are also an Advance Global Ambassador. How did you get involved with Advance?

The irrepressible Elena Douglass and Consul General Ken Allen had the brilliant idea to create a platform to connect the Australian diaspora (love the use of a good connecting platform).  I’d been in New York for ten years by then where most of my friends were American or European.   The Advance network taught me the benefits of reconnecting with fellow Australians living in New York.  Australians who move to New York are always passionate about what they do or are particularly good at whatever it is.  I loved the familiar energy and couldn’t resist the invitation to build an Advance Green Network reconnecting luminaries such as James Cameron, Ken Newcombe and Mina Guli with Australia’s first Department of Climate Change.   That network ultimately went on to create an advisory group for Penny Wong.  The diaspora is a powerful tool when it’s utilised in a positive way. Politics aside, the Australian Government may need to draw on this brains trust again in the future so these relationships are important.    I can’t think of anyone who has consistently done more to continue to strengthen the relationship of the diaspora with Australia than CEO, Serafina Maiorano.

What do you miss most about Australia?

My family and the beaches. Also, a risky joke here and there.  New Yorkers have sharp senses of humor, but I miss the sense of unbridled fun we share as Aussies.  Get in a room full of Australians and you’re bound to have a good time.

Erika Whillas:
Can you tell us your role and what you do?

I’m Co-founder and Chief Product Officer of CoClear, which involves working closely with Sally to shape and communicate our business goals. Sally and I worked together to establish how our life cycle analytics tool should work to benefit our clients, and my role was to design and oversee its implementation. 

What has been the most rewarding experience of your career?

I’ve been passionate about data visualization from my early days as an information architect, so to be able to use this approach to communicate the financial and environmental impact of consumer products, and reveal opportunities for their improvement, was immensely rewarding.  

How does sustainability drive innovation?

Sustainability of the modern world is not only an environmental challenge, it also depends on economic and social sustainability. To achieve sustainability will require the cooperation of numerous political actors, scientific disciplines, the private sector and of course the public. Bringing together so many perspectives and voices will be necessary to solve the global and local challenges of the 21st century, and as we know from the proverb, this necessity is driving innovation. 

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your career in sustainability?

That there is no silver bullet. 

What do you miss most about Australia?

Erika: I’m lucky enough to divide my time between Sydney and New York, but when I’m in New York I miss Sydney’s waterfront and crazy birds (friends and family included), and when I’m away from the apple I miss its social and cultural interactions drenched in synchronicity.