Welcome to the TSSS Series on Canadian Women in CSR. Learn about their journeys, discover what inspires them and explore how they’re making a difference through their careers in sustainability. Please follow the link to read about other exceptional Canadian Women in CSR.
TSSS: Briefly describe your current role and responsibilities and how many years you’ve been in the business.
Mary Ann Sayers: I have held various leadership roles within Ricoh Canada Inc. for close to 14 years. In 2011 I wrote the CSR strategy to broaden our existing policy so it would better serve our community, our customers and our employees.
In 2012, I began a Certificate Program in CSR at The University of St. Michael’s College. This helped me to better articulate Ricoh’s CSR activities (e.g. zero-to-landfill philosophy, extensive history of environmental concern) and to refine our CSR strategy so that it assumed a more tangible structure within our business. This resulted in the creation of our Corporate Sustainability and Community Relations department. As the leader of that department I am responsible for our ongoing CSR Strategy and execution efforts. A key part of my approach is to ensure that there is a solid succession plan in place so that this area of our business continues will continue to grow.
TSSS: Have you always been concerned about environmental and social issues – where/when did your passion begin?
MAS: I grew up on a farm in the Niagara Region and have always inherently understood the importance of the relationship between people and the environment. My family farmed organically before it was trendy. I remember picking, packing, stocking and then selling what we grew at a road side stand starting when I was 9 years old. Our produce was sought after at our local farmer’s market. Fruit and vegetables didn’t always look picture perfect, yet the taste and flavour was exceptional. I still prefer to eat what is in season, as I like a tomato to taste like a tomato; the same for peaches, corn, strawberries and blueberries. My parents hired both local and migrant workers, and treated everyone with respect – personally, economically and socially. Watching how everyone worked together for a common cause stayed with me; I like to think that is how I manage change and demonstrate leadership in my professional life.
TSSS: What issue (and why) causes you the most concern and gets you up in the morning?
MAS: Fertile farmland is rapidly disappearing as it is developed for subdivisions or industry. We are feeding more people with ever-decreasing expanses of land. The land is under tremendous pressure, leading to the use of more chemical-based products to achieve higher yields on smaller parcels of land. This is a simplified version of the problem but we must be aware that GMO foods are positioned as the ‘next big thing’. There’s danger in scientifically altering food that should evolve naturally.
TSSS: Can you share a recent accomplishment that you’re especially proud of?
MAS: I was very proud when Ricoh won the Canada Order of Excellence in 2013 and the Recycling Council of Ontario Platinum Award in 2014. On a more personal level, developing a national environmental partnership, creating Green Teams within our organization and being assigned a Team Lead role in a Ricoh Global Environmental Project have been immensely satisfying.
TSSS: Tell us about someone (mentor, sponsor, friend, hero) who affected your sustainability journey and how.
MAS: My daughter, Emily, has always had a passion for the environment. When she was seven years old, we were walking in downtown Toronto and a person walking in front of us discarded a piece of trash. She let go of my hand, picked it up, ran up to him and said “Sir, I think you dropped this.” She stood there until he took it and put it in a waste basket. Imagine if everyone took the time to make a small gesture like that – how much healthier would our planet would be?
Others include: My dad, who demonstrated good leadership and the value of treating everyone with kindness; Mimi Marrocco, the professors and contributors of the St. Michael’s University CSR Certificate Program who were the most knowledgeable, sharing, collaborative and caring group of professionals I have had the pleasure to learn from; Glenn Laverty, our President & CEO, whose inspiration, belief and support have enabled me to bring our customers, employees and communities together to create sustainable business practices.
TSSS: What is the best advice you have ever received?
MAS: “Demonstrate your leadership and don’t ask others to do what you wouldn’t do yourself.” Leading by example is the best way to engage others and to create a common focus on whatever it is you want to accomplish.
TSSS: What one piece of wisdom would you like to share with the next generation of female sustainability leaders?
MAS: Go for it! I think as women we sometimes wait until the thought is fully formed, the document fully written or until the opportunity fully presents itself. I say, if you have a good idea, work it and do it – don’t wait for it to be perfect. We are natural collaborators, whatever we think can work, will work – especially when we are in the presence of other like-minded people. Educated risk-taking and collaboration are powerful attributes that can literally change the world.
TSSS: If you had the power to make one major change at your company, in your sector or in Canada as a whole, so that we could wake up tomorrow with that change as the new status quo, what would it be?
MAS: I think it would be to remove lip-service as it pertains to the environment. Too many of us in the corporate world see the environment as a convenient (and often hollow) part of a marketing plan, and it’s really far too important to be reduced to just that. Ricoh has been so engaged with environmental concerns for so long, with so much real, on-the-ground activation, it would be wonderful to see that replicated as the status quo across all companies in Canada.
TSSS: Describe your perfect day.
MAS: I try to make a positive difference every day. AND, any day at the cottage – waking up and going for my morning swim. Having my coffee watching the sun grow stronger. Kayaking on Georgian Bay or stand up paddling on Lake Huron. Yoga on the dock. Drinking a good glass of wine while watching the sun set. Above all, taking a moment to be grateful.