Saskia van Gendt — Head of Sustainability at Rothy’s
Saskia is head of sustainability at Rothy’s, a global lifestyle brand best known for creating stylish, comfortable shoes from recycled plastic water bottles. As an environmental scientist with 14 years of experience in sustainable manufacturing and design, Saskia develops strategies to reduce Rothy’s footprint and advance innovations in materials and production.
Prior to joining Rothy’s, Saskia worked as senior director of sustainability at Method, a brand renowned for its plant-based and design-led cleaning products. At Method, Saskia implemented sustainability initiatives for the European business and at Method’s soap factory in Chicago. Saskia started her career working at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) office in San Francisco, focused on pioneering approaches to waste reduction.
What is the educational and career path that led to your current career, and how did you become interested in environmental work?
Consciousness for the planet was part of my life before there were the careers in sustainability that exist today. I grew up in a tiny town of 2,000 people in Texas, and spent a lot of time outside exploring creeks and climbing trees. My parents are self-proclaimed hippies who were composting and eating organic food long before it was trendy, and we grew up riding our bikes everywhere because my dad is Dutch.
I was on the debate team at Mt. Vernon High School, and for a year the topic we researched and discussed from every possible angle was renewable energy. This deep dive into wind and solar energy, environmental policy, and climate change sparked an interest that led me to study environmental science at Northwestern University. This was in the 1990s, so sustainability wasn’t as forefront as it is now — an advisor suggested that I look for a job in the oil and gas industry. Fast forward to 2005: Hurricane Katrina forced many people to acknowledge that climate change was happening, which was reinforced by the movie An Inconvenient Truth.
One of my first jobs was at the U.S. EPA office in San Francisco. I took an internship while telling myself that I’d be able to convince them to hire me, and eventually a role opened up and I was hired on. I worked with some passionate people and organizations focused on forward-thinking environmentalism — mitigating climate change through zero waste, avoiding ocean plastic through improved packaging design, and adopting green building practices.
After seven years at the EPA, I was curious about working in the private sector and jumped at the opportunity to be a ‘greenskeeper’ at Method, the plant-based cleaning and personal care brand. There I found that I love working with mission-driven companies and bringing sustainability to all aspects of product design. In my seven years at Method I helped establish a new sustainability platform for the company, build a LEED-Platinum and TRUE Zero Waste-Platinum factory, and improve the green chemistry and packaging of countless products.
In February of 2020 I joined Rothy’s as Head of Sustainability. Rothy’s entire business model is rooted in sustainability, from the recycled materials we use and our 3D knitting production that eliminates waste, to our vertically integrated factory. Most importantly, our products are designed for longevity and washability to extend their life. I’m excited to help define the future of what Rothy’s can do.
What environmental issues are of most concern to you?
It all comes back to climate change — an environmental, social, and economic issue. With the goal to mitigate climate change, I’ve worked a lot on circularity, producing products from reclaimed materials that are durable and designed to be closed loop. The products we buy have an enormous impact on climate change — from their materials to how they’re produced and distributed. Individuals play an important role in mitigating climate change through their decisions and lifestyles, but it’s really up to institutions — governments, organizations and companies — to mitigate their carbon footprints. We all can influence the institutions that we are a part of to act with urgency.