"Society is a collective force attempting to understand unanswered questions." - Amanda Newman, Sustainability Intern
Starting in summer 2023, Bridgetown had the privilege of partnering with the Oregon Applied Sustainability Experience (OASE) internship program. Funded by US EPA and administered by Oregon DEQ and Oregon State University, OASE actively aids Oregon businesses in achieving their sustainability goals. We are grateful to have been among the 8 businesses chosen for this program in 2023.
Through the OASE program, we were paired up with Sustainability Intern, Amanda Newman. Amanda collaborated with our Director of Sustainability to explore solutions for reducing plastic waste in mushroom cultivation and optimizing energy usage. While the OASE internship typically spans 10 weeks over the summer, Amanda’s outstanding work led to further opportunities and we extended her internship to six months.
We sat down with Amanda to reflect on the internship experience. Read the Q&A below to hear her thoughts.
Q: What motivated you to apply for OASE, and particularly the internship with Bridgetown?
A: Well, I’m a bit of a soil fanatic, and fungi and mushrooms have played a huge role in growing that interest. As I was exploring potential careers in the environmental realm, I came across the OASE program. I’m a huge advocate for sustainable agriculture, so when I saw the opportunity to work on a sustainability project WITH a mushroom cultivation company, the pairing was perfect!
Also, getting the opportunity to work with a small business partnered with academic advisors was a huge plus – this is something I believe needs to be implemented across the entirety of higher academic learning! The US is a country filled with opportunities for individuals to build and start their own businesses. By being a part of this program, I was able to “look behind the curtain” I guess you could say. This type of opportunity doesn’t present itself often for undergraduate students!
Q: Why are you interested in this work?
A: When I applied for the OASE program, I hadn’t fully grasped the immensity of the field of sustainability. I was initially tasked with the question: “how can Bridgetown reduce plastic waste from mushroom cultivation?” But while the question may seem simple on the surface, the solutions are not easy. And I think that is what is so exciting about developing sustainable solutions; they’re never surface level! I am able to be creative and think a bit outside the box, and this allows me to tackle the hard question of whether a proposed solution is actually better for the environment. And also: how do we make sustainable solutions affordable and accessible to all? That, I think, is the most rewarding piece of this type of work. I really wanted to ensure that the proposed solutions wouldn’t just work for Bridgetown, but the specialty mushroom industry as a whole.
Q: What were some of the biggest lessons learned during your internship?
A: Solutions are slow and if action is taken too quickly, it can cause further problems down the road. A large part of this internship was understanding how sustainable infrastructure can be harder to attain for small businesses. It often involves a large upfront investment, making it unattainable for many mushroom cultivators who often begin such ventures as passion projects. When you start a business out of your garage, you aren’t necessarily thinking about plastic waste and energy use or the problems that can arise when dealing with daily issues in running a small business.
While working with Bridgetown, it was made clear from everyone on the project that there is no clear-cut solution available to cut plastic waste. So how do we fix that? Ingenuity came as a result, and now the company is attempting to bring some really amazing and accessible solutions to the table. It’s a little early to fully dive into the proposed solution, but when it comes, it’ll be huge.
Q: How do you see this experience fitting in with your future goals?
A: My experience with OASE and Bridgetown has completely changed my career trajectory! I’m unsure how familiar people are with Life Cycle Assessments or Circular Economies, but before this program, I had very little knowledge of either of these frameworks. This internship has opened my eyes to a completely different area of study that is very in tune with my interest to ensure that proposed solutions make sense from all directions, especially emissions. Choosing to recycle or change materials is more than just reusing or ensuring something is “compostable.” What we have to begin looking at is whether new and “better” products are actually better for the environment. Transportation and energy usage are the two highest emitters in the US and often we think of these in a linear fashion, but really, we need to be thinking about how each step in the production process adds up. What are the carbon emissions from a single plastic mushroom grow bag? Well, I was able to find the answer for that and hope to continue answering these questions in the future!
Q: Do you have advice for students or early career sustainability professionals?
A: Dive head first into any and all opportunities that arise! I’ve had a good deal of success in my life thus far and it has come from approaching both school and work from a place of confidence and assurance in myself as a leader and researcher. Did I have all the answers when I started? Absolutely not. Did I have all of them when I finished? Also no… but what is important to remember is that society is a collective force attempting to understand unanswered questions. During the OASE internship, I had the amazing opportunity to interview industry professionals across the country and internationally. Every single one of them was open and willing to discuss issues and work with me without hesitation. So for those that are nervous or unsure if they should send that email or ask that question: do it. Chances are you’ll end up gaining some really valuable knowledge and make a new connection.
And that’s where my final piece of advice comes in. Make as many connections and build as many relationships as possible. A degree doesn’t guarantee a job; being remembered–for the right reasons–just might.