Welcome to our Employee Spotlight series — a chance to get to know the folks behind NEMO who work hard to innovate amazing gear, improve our impact on the planet, and inspire adventure for all.
Employee Name: Theresa McKenney
Title/Position: Director of Sustainability
Years at NEMO: 6
What does your role entail? What types of projects do you work on, or what duties are you responsible for?
I’m in charge of championing the sustainability strategy and projects at NEMO. That’s a super broad description, I know, and the projects themselves are super broad – it could be anything related to our carbon accounting process (that’s been a huge focus for the past six months) all the way to piloting a circularity/recommerce takeback program alongside REI and Trove. I also spend a lot of time working to support the internal teams here at NEMO, because sustainability is really embedded into a lot of our jobs. Learning is a big part of my job so I can keep the teams current with a rapidly changing landscape.
Sustainability is becoming something that’s more and more of a focus — especially within the outdoor industry — but it’s still fairly new in terms of companies having a dedicated person for… Is your role still pretty rare for businesses?
It’s a growing field that more and more companies are recognizing is vital for business sustainability. A lot of companies want to do the right thing, and in the outdoor industry, that mindset is often embedded in their business model — plus, weather is often a huge driver for their product use and sales.
It often starts as a handful of champions working on those projects, an internal team of people who are doing it part-time, but that isn’t... sustainable [laughs]. So, then they might transition to a full-time person, which is where NEMO’s at now, but it’s still not super common. Right now, there are a lot of open Sustainability Manager positions in the world because a lot of companies are realizing that this is a thing they need to support with a person with dedicated expertise.
I think NEMO’s on the forefront, as a company, for saying that this position is a vital function of the company, the same as Marketing and Operations are. It’s new, but it’s definitely going to grow.
What part of your background/experience led you here? To this role, and/or at NEMO?
I grew up outside the Boston area and was a Girl Scout and really liked spending time outside. I went to the University of New Hampshire, right down the street from NEMO, partially because of my outdoor adventure interest, and I ended up majoring in Environmental Conservation and Sustainability. My bachelor’s degree was a very hands-on, science-based degree, and during my senior year, I had to take a general business elective, and it had a section on corporate sustainability. I found it really interesting because I had done some internships at the National Park Service and New Hampshire State Parks department and felt like the government/public route maybe wasn’t for me. I was excited by the idea of working on the private side, doing something related to sustainability, and the dream would be for it to be in the Outdoor industry because I liked hiking and adventuring outside.
I ended up doing a one-year accelerated MBA program after I graduated that really helped me, later, get my foot in the door at NEMO. It gave me a lot of skills that I still use on the reg here. NEMO had been on my employer wish list, for sure, and I was lucky enough to land a Logistics Coordinator position with them. I never planned on working in logistics — I always figured sustainability would be more of a marketing function — but from my first interview with the brand, I really identified with the mission and culture, and saw that there was strong intention here with regard to sustainability.
It was just me and Brent [the current COO] on the operations team for a long time. I started out doing inbound and outbound logistics for warehousing, working with our factory partners… later, I did some purchasing and supply chain planning. It ended up being a really great spot for getting my feet wet with sustainability because more than 86% of emissions happen before a NEMO product even leaves the factory. Our materials, our supply chain, our push for renewable energy and improving our efficiency – that all requires working with our factory partners, which I had a great introduction to.
I was vocal about wanting to focus on sustainability over the years and had a lot of support from Cam and Brent, and it culminated in me going full-time in this role this past February.
What’s the best part about your role, specifically?
The best part is just how truly important this work is for NEMO as a brand, for the country, and for the planet.
I think one of my favorite ways of seeing that in action is seeing the lobbying opportunities that NEMO has through the OIA and Conservation Alliance… To be able to walk into a Senator’s office and speak to the $689 billion annual GDP that the outdoor recreation economy generates for the United States and have them listen to what matters to our business. Like, in California, they shut down all the national forest campgrounds over Labor Day last year because of wildfire risk, and that has a direct impact on our mom-and-pop shops in California and our success as a business. To be able to speak to our decision-making elected officials from that business perspective, the same way big oil can, is really exciting to me.
Theresa lobbying at Capital Hill.
What’s the best part about working for NEMO?
All the adventures. I’m a very high-energy person and I felt very supported in my adventure habits – which are not necessarily, like, thru-hiking a trail, even though that sounds fun. More things like having a stupid idea for an organized bike ride where you ride from place to place, eating a bunch of different clams (we called it “Clam-sanity”), and having multiple people sign on to join. It’s a lot of like-minded folks and can feel more like a friend circle than just a place to work.
The NEMO team participated in Reach the Beach, a 200 mile relay race in the White Mountains of New Hampshire in 2017 and 2018.
How is NEMO different from other employers you’ve had?
This was my first job out of school, but I can say from interacting with so many other folks in the industry that it’s pretty unique to be working for a privately held, family-run company. We don’t have shareholders to answer to, so there’s a lot of room for innovation and investment in things that matter to us, like Climate Neutral Certification. I really value that and don’t think I’d be able to switch to a big, publicly traded company very easily. I really value the flexibility and self-sufficiency of our model.
What advice do you have for someone looking to join the outdoor industry or NEMO, specifically?
You don’t need to be a diehard backpacker to join this company. I think our tagline of “Adventure Anywhere. Adventure for Anyone.” really applies for working here, too. If you are a triathlete or AT thru-hiker, sure, come on down, but I personally had probably spent two nights in a tent before this job!
I definitely wondered, “Am I outdoorsy enough to work at a company like this?” And the answer for everyone is yes. If you value time spent outside doing anything, yes.