Portrait of Helen Sahi
People Spotlight
Until we start to measure and incorporate the true cost of this industry’s impact on people and the environment, we will constantly have this tension with sustainability and pricing.

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Helen Sahi

Senior Director, Sustainability

What inspires me:
People do. We are all stewards of this planet and every life form on it. It is our obligation to make sure that we treat it and all people with dignity. I especially love to see the change in people when they have an “aha” moment, seeing the connection between the choices they make at home or at work and the impact they have on people and the environment. Because once you start thinking like that, you can’t stop.

How I inspire my team:
I always encourage them to think bigger and to get outside of themselves. I also remind them that we need to understand and learn from everyone in our business, from the shop floor to the C-suite. We all offer valuable input and have a unique perspective.

What sparks my interest in a project:
First and foremost, I want to know that I can make a positive impact. I truly believe that individuals and organizations can be a force for good.

The biggest sustainability challenge facing apparel and footwear:
We work in an industry that wants to do the right thing while, at the same time, offer the best price possible. Until we start to measure and incorporate the true cost of this industry’s impact on people and the environment, we will constantly have this tension with sustainability and pricing. There are several companies whose business strategy is their sustainability strategy, and those purpose-driven companies are where innovation and creativity are unleashed. When you lead with purpose, profits will follow.

The future of sustainability:
Sustainability is here to stay, and I see it becoming central to every business strategy. Those companies that prioritize it will be the ones to thrive. Stock exchanges are asking more questions around sustainability, consumers are asking for more transparency, and new hires are seeking to work for companies with sustainable practices. This will only increase. A carbon tax is likely to happen, so I envision sustainability becoming more and more engrained in company culture and business strategy.

My path to RBIS:
Growing up, my family had a garden, we upcycled plastic bags, saved leftover pieces of thread, etc. Fast forward to my job at an environmental consulting firm where I worked as a geologist, drilling for soil samples, taking water samples, mapping out contamination, and designing remediation systems. After a few years, I went to work for a jet engine manufacturer to undertake similar work but for a large corporation. One day I got a call from a recruiter who said that a Boston-based bank was looking for an environmental specialist. I was so intrigued because I couldn’t think of why a bank would need that kind of expertise. I got the job and had a 17-year career there, initially evaluating and cleaning up contamination on bank-owned real estate then working with procurement teams to buy better inks, less paper, and look critically at energy use. In 2009, I went into energy consulting, but after two years realized I missed working for a company where I could see my projects from start to finish and have an overview of the larger sustainability picture. I joined Avery Dennison in 2011 and have been here ever since.

Best career advice I’ve received:
I was a graduate student studying hard rock geology and one of my professors said to me, “You really are not happy doing hard rock geology, are you?” He was right, I wasn’t! My professor suggested I go into this new field of environmental science where I could put my education in chemistry and soil science to good use by cleaning up contaminated soil and water. I took his advice and the rest is history.