After an eye-opening visit to a toxic landfill in Ethiopia in 2007, Conor Riffle knew that if we wanted our cities to evolve, we were going to have to start with the garbage that pollutes them. The toxicity was so high that children playing outside at a nearby school would often faint from the dangerous fumes. He knew something needed to change.
At the time of his landfill visit, Riffle was working for President Bill Clinton and The Clinton Foundation on the Clinton Climate Initiative. The role allowed him to travel the world and get a global view on sustainability challenges in different countries. It also opened up the opportunity to move into a role focus on sustainability in cities as Director of Cities and Data Product Innovation for the Carbon Disclosure Project, an environmental non-profit in London.
With a yearning to bring home the sustainability and city impact knowledge he has acquired while living in the U.K., Conor has joined Rubicon’s Strategic Initiatives team. Conor is based in New York as the Senior Manager of Public Policy and is helping to build and grow the RUBICONSmartCity solution.
We are so excited to have Conor on our team to aid in the next phase of our mission to eradicate the same types of landfills that had such an impact on Conor’s professional trajectory.
Question: What is one thing you learned your first month in your new role?
Answer: In my first month working here, I learned that Rubicon is just filled with smart people. I’m really impressed by everyone that I have worked with thus far and just by the caliber of talent across the board in the whole company.
Question: What sparked your passion for sustainability?
Answer: Two things really sparked my passion for sustainability. Growing up in California, there is just a culture that deeply values a clean environment. When I was growing up, my family and I went to the beach and there had been an oil spill. I remember playing in the water and coming out and being covered in oil and my parents had to really clean me off after I got out of the water. That really made an impact. The second thing that really sparked my passion for sustainable living happened right after college. I traveled the world when I was working for the Clinton Foundation on different climate change projects and through that work I visited a bunch of landfills. Going and walking around a landfill makes a big impression on you. I challenge anyone to go do that and just try to walk away and not think that the trash industry is fundamentally broken.
Question: How do you plan to contribute to the RubiCulture?
Answer: Of course, my background in climate change and sustainable practices is something that I plan to contribute. In addition, I’ve worked heavily with data at my last job and in the process, I developed a deep passion, interest, and understanding for data collection. I also have a deep appreciation for cutting-edge technology (like we are actively creating) and all of the power that comes with that. Another thing I am really interested in is emotional intelligence. I heard a quote once from Diddy that really stuck with me, “inner peace is the new success.” For me, I have found that spending time doing introspection, practicing mindfulness, and meditation has helped me a lot personally and professionally and I think that some of those experiences will work well with the Rubicon culture.
Question: Did the fact that Rubicon positions itself as a “mission-driven” corporation play into your decision to come aboard?
Answer: Absolutely. I think businesses are the key to a sustainable world. We can’t do it without business but we have to really align the incentives for making money with the incentives for building a sustainable planet. Those have to work together. Rubicon is doing that in the waste sector and that is exactly where I want to be.
Question: What is one piece of advice you heard in a previous role that you can apply to your current one?
Answer: “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” This is especially true for cities because they have to manage so many difficult and challenging services. We want our cities to be measuring and collecting data every day so we can help improve everything as efficiently as possible. That quote played a big role for me in the past, but I believe it’s even more relevant now for the work that we are doing with cities at Rubicon.
Question: If any actor (dead or alive) could play you in the movie of your life, who would you cast and why?
Answer: Is it cheating if I say, Leonardo DiCaprio? The guy clearly cares about sustainability and climate change so I feel like he would be a good fit!
Question: If you could play any professional sport: what would it be and why?
Answer: Baseball. No question. I love the San Francisco Giants and I would love to play for them professionally. I am still holding out hope that my career will take a turn in that direction.
Question: You’re on a deserted island and a helicopter drops down one food for you daily, what would you eat every day for the rest of your life?
Answer: It would have to be a Clif Bar. I’m hoping that maybe the helicopter would be able to vary the flavors for me.
Question: Who is your favorite B-Corporation and why?
Answer: I am a big fan of Patagonia and I got to take a tour of their offices a few years ago. They put such effort into recycling their ripped, torn, and damaged clothing. They also resuscitate clothing that has not been used for a long time and I found that to be very cool. They also had “surfboard parking” at their offices so everyone could bring their surfboards to work and park it in the front room and then after work or during lunch they just all grab their surfboards and run down to the beach in Ventura.
Question: What are some eco-responsible actions that you try to incorporate into your everyday life?
Answer: I just moved into a new apartment in New York so I have been trying to figure out the recycling system and sort my stuff into the different containers. I also try to avoid cars at all costs and either walk everywhere or use public transportation. I’m a huge fan of the Tube in London, the subway in New York, and MARTA in Atlanta. The fact that I can get from the airport to inside of our office building on MARTA is fantastic. It’s so efficient.