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NEMO says: Don’t wait for perfect

"Even flawed projects can spur positive change," says NEMO founder Cam Brensinger.

Climate change is big—so big that we often assume that no ordinary person could possibly slow its progress. And maybe that’s true: One changed light bulb probably can’t preserve Arctic ice or save New England’s maple trees. But when you recruit a handful of bulb-changers, who in turn inspire many more, your momentum generates real power. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world,” said social scientist Margaret Mead. “Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Theresa Conn of NEMO shows how much garbage we sometimes produce.
Recycling is key, but even recycling consumes energy, so NEMO is looking globally at ways to reduce the materials it consumes in the first place.Courtesy

So when NEMO’s 24 employees decided to band together in a company-wide initiative to reverse climate change, they aimed high. Their Raise the Stakes challenge implemented sustainable food practices, lowered their collective and individual energy consumption, and fortified the forests and wetlands near NEMO’s New Hampshire headquarters. Soon, they’ll try to empower half the world’s population through their “women and girls” effort, and they’ll adopt zero waste habits at work and at home.

Some of those lofty goals turned out to be even harder to hit than NEMO imagined.

The food challenge that spurred employees to buy as many local edibles as possible? It was scheduled for early summer, when very few of the region’s home-grown produce was ready for market. And launching a company-wide project during the travel-heavy summer season meant that some employees missed out on big chunks of it. Still, NEMO founder and CEO Cam Brensinger has no regrets–other than wishing the company had embarked upon the project years ago.

NEMO employees use teamwork to rebuild trails near their office.

“I valued teamwork the most. We all got to work together to build the bridges, it wasn’t individualized at all. At work, we each have our own work to do but it was nice to work together on the trail. When the planks were too heavy, someone would offer an extra hand and we’d carry the plank to the work site together. I think the office got to bond in a really unique way on the trail that day. It was satisfying to be able to give back to a local trail and hopefully we can carry on a trail work day tradition at NEMO in the future.” —Sam Rokos, warranty and repair specialist

NEMO employees build a bridge in a trail system near their office.

NEMO spent a day building bridges on a newly conserved piece of property close to the office.

Cooking food that is locally sourced helps the environment.

Kaitlyn Ferguson joined the local New Hampshire Community Seafood CSF; here she cooks up this week’s Jonah crabs from Southern Maine Crabs company.

NEMO employees learn how to cook seasonal food at a local culinary school.

A group from NEMO took part in a cooking class at the Boston Public Market’s KITCHEN, a community gathering place dedicated to restoring the craft of seasonal cooking from local farms.

“Did we execute Raise the Stakes perfectly? No. Are we making all the sustainable efforts we can as a business? No. But you can’t wait to be perfect to start openly addressing these issues,” he states. “The need to tackle climate change is far too urgent for that. It’s important to start taking action now, no matter how big or small, and do your part to make climate change part of mainstream dialogue.”

Making climate change part of everyone’s daily focus has been the best part of Raise the Stakes, says Brensinger. Our to-do lists generally include shopping for groceries and getting kids to sports practice—not developing wind power and using safer chemical refrigerants. “These are complex issues to address and easy to put aside in favor of task lists and short-term priorities,” he admits.

A NEMO employee bikes to work through a water covered trail to conserve energy instead of driving.
Kendall Wallace commutes to work via some soggy trails.Courtesy

But as employees shopped from local farmers, biked to work, raised the thermostats in their air-conditioned offices, and cleaned up coastal wetlands, they made climate change an everyday priority, at home and at work. “We engaged and inspired our team, we reinforced our values with our customers, we found ways to reduce the climate change impact of our business, and we strengthened sustainability as a component of our culture and day-to-day conversation going forward,” Brensinger explains

Now, climate change no longer seems untouchably big. NEMO employees have started to weigh the necessity of air shipments that sacrifice energy for expediency. They scrutinized the company’s retirement investment program and asked for a socially-responsible option, which hadn’t been offered before. Some employees are moving forward with plans to install solar panels on their houses; some have signed on with Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm shares.

Employees have started to incorporate these habits at home, like Kate Paine, who just started a new compost bin for their garden.Courtesy

“It raised the collective level of conversation internally, and hopefully, externally,” says Kate Paine, NEMO’s VP of Marketing. “And sometimes that’s enough of a first step.”