As Chief Sustainability Officer at eBay, Renée Morin leads the development and execution of eBay’s environmental, social and governance programs including circular commerce and renewable energy and chairs eBay’s senior leadership ESG Council. She is responsible for managing stakeholder relationships with key environmental NGO partners and oversees sustainability reporting, ratings and rankings.
eBay’s website: https://www.ebayinc.com/
Recommerce report: https://www.ebayinc.com/impact/sustainable-commerce/recommerce-report/
John Shegerian: Do you have a suggestion for a rockstar Impact Podcast guest? Go to impact podcast.com and just click be a guest to recommend someone today. This edition of the impact podcast is brought to you by ERI. ERI has a mission to protect people, the planet, and your privacy and is the largest fully integrated IT and electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity-focused hardware destruction company in the United States and maybe even the world. For more information on how ERI can help your business properly dispose of outdated electronic hardware devices, please visit eridirect.com. This episode of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by Closed Loop Partners. Closed Loop Partners is a leading circular economy investor in the United States with an extensive network of Fortune 500 corporate investors, family offices, institutional investors, industry experts, and impact partners. Closed Loop’s platform spans the arc of capital from venture capital to private equity, bridging gaps, and fostering synergies to scale the circular economy. To find Closed Loop Partners, please go to www.closedlooppartners.com.
John: Welcome to another edition of the Impact Podcast, I’m John Shegerian. I’m so honored to have with us today Renee Morin. She’s the Chief Sustainability Officer of eBay. Welcome, Renee to the Impact Podcast.
Renee Morin: Thanks so much John, excited to be here.
John: Listen, you are the chief sustainability officer of one of the most iconic and wonderful brands on the whole planet. And I’m so excited to have this important conversation with you about what you and your colleagues are doing in the world of sustainability at eBay. But before we get doing that Renee, talk a little bit about your journey leading up to this great platform that you’re now, part of.
Renee: Yeah, it’s been a journey. It’s interesting because I’ve got a lot of peers in this space and all of our journeys to get to our positions have been quite different. I’m one of those who actually started out in environmental science and continued into sustainability and climate change through my whole career and before that, I was in the Peace Corps. So love of the environment, love of giving back, and no better way to do it than through sustainability at this point. So that’s my short version of the journey.
John: Now, I got to know more though. Where did you grow up Rene?
Renee: Well, my dad was in the military in the Navy. So we were up and down the east coast and then my lovely parents decided to move to Italy after I graduated from high school so I didn’t get to go with them [laughs].
Renee: Can’t you’ve done that earlier? But yeah. So east coast girl for sure.
John: But obviously you were informed somehow some way of servant leadership, Peace Corps and now you were early, early, early, you were a cool kid way before it was cool to be involved with sustainability and environment. What informed you during your childhood, was it your parents, grandparents, some teacher, what was your inspiration for this servant leadership, a role that you’ve taken on all of your career?
Renee: Yeah, that’s a good question. It’s not just the leadership. I think is just the affinity or like the passion for what we do because it’s hard.
Renee: We’re trying to move big ocean liners, one little bit at a time to a better direction. So I think my family for sure, my mom and dad service-oriented, my mom’s a teacher, dad in the military but beyond that, I distinctly remember being a kid. My dad is very handy, has a tool shop. He would take the baby jars and separate them out and clean them and put in individual screws, nails, et cetera. So, the ultimate reuse from the beginning. We didn’t throw stuff away. So just having that respect for what things are, and where they come from, and where they could end up basically great into being in eBay for sure.
John: That’s wonderful. And so, how many years now have you been at eBay?
Renee: I’ve been at eBay almost five, five in July, yeah.
John: And you were named the CSO, Chief Sustainability Officer, three years ago.
Renee: I’ve three years ago. Yeah. So actually I’m our first CSO. We didn’t have that role when I joined. A lot of good work had been going on in the world of sustainability but that was one of the first thing that I was charged with under my purview was, taking a look at what all we were doing. And are we talking about it enough? Are we pulling it together for our stakeholders in the right way and figure out where some of our gaps were? So that was one of them. We should have had a strong external leadership position in terms of sustainability and the board and the ELT, our executive leadership team all agreed and so here I am.
John: So what’s always interesting to me I’ve had the honor and privilege of over the last 16 years interviewing lots of CSOs or impact officers and things of that such and one of the things is, I love to ask CSOs who were the first one at their company. Kara Hurst, we talked about earlier via off the air. Kevin Anton was a good friend of mine and also an ex-board member of our company, [inaudible] who’s their first CEO after CSO, after over 100 years. So talk a little bit about the daunting blank page. I mean, you’re walking into an ongoing big iconic wonderful brand, cherished by many and used by millions around the world and how daunting is it to have a blank page? Is it unbelievably exciting on one hand because it’s really your blank page to do what you want with or is it also at the same time unbelievably scary because you want to get it right?
Renee: I had a feeling that we didn’t have a completely blank page, we had an impact team and we were part of the PayPal-eBay situation a few years ago. 2015 was around when we split. So work had been taking place and sustainability on the environmental side, amazing eBay Foundation eBay for Charity, and a lot of seller engagement programs. So a lot of work has already been done. My task, where I saw where my role would be best suited was initially an interface for investors because I’m sure you’ve noticed that interest from investors has been increasing tremendously. I actually sit in investor relations with my team in finance which is not typical but it works out really well. So we act then as the hub, pulling together all this information that maybe was a bit scattered and now we have a story that we’re telling more consistently and more concisely I think. Part of what you can find on our website, as well as our annual report. Sustainability is how all those threads come together to create what we consider ourselves to be a purpose-driven company.
John: And we’ll put that in the show notes as well. But the website that you’re referring to is ebayinc.com, ebayinc.com.
John: You obviously were doing environmental science and sustainability way before we reached any type of tipping point here in the United States and I always consider us being somewhat behind maybe a couple of generations behind Europe and even some of the more sophisticated countries in Asia, such as Japan and South Korea. Was one of the bellwether moments in terms of investor relations and investor interest, Larry Fink’s email and letter back in 2020 at BlackRock basically saying if you’re going to stay a portfolio company at BlackRock, you’re going to have to actually not only talk about ESG, environment, and sustainability more, you’re going to have to do the work and actually radically and transparently show the work that you’re doing. Was that one of the big tipping points in investor relations?
Renee: One, yeah. I mean it’s been an evolution. So a lot of the what we call the raters and rankers, the Bloomberg Terminal for instance had data on companies in terms of ESG environmental social, and governance aspect that investors are interested in. Is very heavily leaning towards governance because that’s what the investors were more familiar with traditionally speaking and how a company is run. Adding on the E and the S on how those are also governed plus Larry Fink’s letter, I think investors really started to see where is the alpha. Where is the money? And companies have been shown that perform well in sustainability typically also perform well in stock price and revenues. So I think the disconnect wasn’t so much evident anymore that these two things were coming together and so that plus Larry Fink’s letter was really when I think a lot of companies became interested.
John: Interesting. At eBay, chief sustainability officer at every company is somewhat different and what does it mean at eBay now that like you said, you put everybody under this umbrella, even though there was impact work being done and sustainability work being done at both firms prior to your joining. How does it look today and how does it look for the months and years ahead in terms of what your role is at eBay as chief sustainability officer?
Renee: Yeah, I think there are a few things I could point to. One is, and I’ll say I don’t oversee all those great groups but we act as a hub of information in what’s really interesting because of the investor interest because of interest of not only our employees but our consumers, our future employees, the disclosure in itself has become an aspect of sustainability. So part of our role is to make sure not only maintaining a great foundation in charity work but do we have a really good global tax policy in place and are we talking about that externally? So the governance side of things, data security, and privacy is obviously something that’s very material to an e-commerce company. So having the ability as a hub, I don’t run tax, I don’t run data security but being able to speak to all of these aspects of how we run the company are part of our ESG and sustainability journey. So that’s part of it, the work that my team and I do day to day is a bit more on the environmental side. So we’re talking about science-based targets for our carbon reduction goals. Our E100. So we have 100% renewable energy goal by 2025 and then we have a re-commerce goal too which isn’t an external body, doesn’t oversee that goal but is one that’s obviously really important to how we operate and who we are as a business.
John: Renee, since you’re an environmental and sustainability OG let’s just say.
Renee: That’s great.
John: You’ve seen so much and you’ve seen the rise, the fall, the waxing and waiting, even when we talk about a great democracy, the fits, and starts, there’s no really straight line, but progress is being made. Have you seen an acceleration when it comes to environmental science, the importance of ESG and sustainability post-COVID comparatively speaking prior to the COVID tragedy and crisis that we all faced together?
Renee: I don’t know so much about disclosure. I think that continued for a lot of companies. The reporting that companies have been doing. There were some studies or some questionnaires or service went on where you had to pull back on your programs during COVID. From what I got off my peers and a couple of studies I saw that the answer generally was no. The companies who truly are invested in sustainability continued to be so during COVID, I’m not sure what post-COVID is anymore so [laughs].
John: No, I agree with you.
John: But I mean is the importance of ESG and sustainability and your practices and how you report on them more important than ever? What I mean is practically speaking from an employee recruiting and retaining and other practical opportunities of, and how you run a business, the more employees from anecdotally speaking from where I sit seem to care more about the core values of every company they work for now, ever than they did before prior to COVID, is that playing out at eBay in what you’re seeing in the world of sustainability as well?
Renee: Yeah, I think so. The idea of health and wellbeing for the employees definitely has gained a lot more traction and it’s not just your physical health but your mental health as well. Something that our company spends a lot of time for us as employees to make sure that we’re going to be able to be productive because we have the support that we need from different services within the company. I think that’s picked up quite a bit.
Renee: Then externally, you can’t get on the news or social media and not hear about climate event of some sort with bad weather, et cetera. So, I think its out there to be consumed in terms of how important social equity is, gender equality like all these that I think weren’t talked about as much two to three years ago have gained additional traction, especially climate change. There’s a climate action summit happening in DC where I live right now, actually, so I’ll be popping over there a little later [laughs].
John: Cool. I mean, let’s talk about the culture and the DNA and the real business model of eBay. Obviously, eBay is the platinum standard of reCommerce, talk a little bit about the trend of the evolution of the growth of reCommerce around the world and why that’s so important to also the growth of sustainability and the trend from the linear to the cirque and basically literally the economy going to the circular economy.
Renee: Yeah, reCommerce and just to break that down. So it’s the buying and selling of pre-loved or refurbished goods. It’s how we define it at eBay because we have a really strong refurbished program as well. So basically we want to be able to give items a second life. And the tie into sustainability there’s when you extend the life of a product, it doesn’t go straight to landfill so we’re not throwing it away immediately. We’re allowing it additional time to fulfill its need. And that means that some new products didn’t have to be made. It’s not a one-to-one correlation but the extended use of something like this shirt, for instance, giving it a second life means that a part of a new one was never made. So the waste there is great in terms of reducing additional landfill and also carbon emissions. Everything we make has either something agricultural or from [?] up and down the supply chain every time we make something that releases carbon emissions into the air. So not only are we avoiding carbon or avoiding waste through reCommerce. I think that’s really where that tie-in happens for our business.
John: Right. And since that’s your actual business model. If you were to forecast a crystal ball of the months and years ahead, do you see that as a rising trend because the next generation of youth around the world is more interested in good circular economy behavior anyway? So it only lends to doing more reCommerce which just leads to more business for eBay?
Renee: No. Again, not just eBay there are a lot of market signals out there that it’s more than a trend because something that’s here to stay and it’s going to go around a long time going back to the baby jars that my dad would reuse. So in reCommerce in particular, Gen Zs do have and even Millennials more of an affinity to understand that linkage between sustainability hence buying something that is pre-loved but it’s also got good economic benefits as well. So we’ve actually really since third reCommerce report where we surveyed in this one, both sellers and buyers and understanding, what motivates them? Why are you participating or have you been participating in reCommerce? And the number one’s economic either, you’re going to save some money because you buying something that’s a little bit less expensive than the original potentially, or you may be making money because I just looked at a couple of things myself on eBay this weekend and it’s spring cleaning time. So there’s a benefit I think in both ways that not just younger generations, but generations in my cohort are also really interested in. It’s not a trend and that’s also what our reCommerce report showed us is over the last six months, 80% of respondents said that they have either stayed the same or increase the amount of product that they’re selling, that is reCommerce. So it’s not just a COVID thing, it’s not just economic headwind thing, we’re unlocking, I think a lot of potential through better product.
John: And it’s really more of a cultural shift we’re seeing then.
Renee: Yeah. The stigma is not there as much anymore. I go to a consignment shop and it’s very trendy now [laughs] everything is, it’s gaining a lot of attention and it’s not just fashion too, I think we kind of tend to think that automatically, but it can be anything. A story from a friend of mine, oh, yeah, I went on to a site because I needed to find skates for my kid because they outgrow them every year and they play hockey and it’s expensive. So it could be sporting goods or electronics. There are all kinds of things that do have a second life and are part of this reCommerce story.
John: Outside of reCommerce and for our listeners and viewers who just joined us, we’ve got Renee Morin with us today. She’s the Chief Sustainability Officer of eBay. To find Renee and all of her colleagues of all the important and impactful work they’re doing in sustainability, please go to www.ebayinc.com, ebayinc, I-N-C, .com.
Renee talk a little bit about where we are in terms of the race to net zero and climate change and other things outside of reCommerce that are in the media and zeitgeist on a regular basis. How do you frame that up? You’ve had a lot of experience at this, and you’ve seen hot topics come and go and other things like that. Where are we now with regards to our role in helping mitigate the carbon emissions that are in this world and get us back to some equilibrium that lets this world get to a better place and heal up comparatively speaking to where we’ve been the last 100 years?
Renee: It’s a challenge. And that it takes, I think what people forget it’s not just corporations. So we have to work alongside policymakers who allow for solutions and technologies to be developed and deployed in a way that helps us achieve our goals and individuals as well. There are little things like last out lights out kind of situation and I think people forget that the little small changes that you can make do add up. But on a corporate scale, the amount of companies now who have ambitious carbon reduction goals is fivefold what it was maybe 10 years ago when I was starting out trying to do or not even it’s like 10, 15 years ago when I was doing initial CDP reporting, climate disclosure project back in the day. So the ambition has risen, it’s science-based now these goals. Meaning that they are aligned keeping global warming to less the 1.5 degrees Celsius. And what that number is based on is that’s the tipping point for when we have guides to the scenario were bad weather patterns leaving. All the catastrophe that we hear on the news constantly that’s the tipping point. So I think we’re making a lot of good progress. What’s interesting about being in this field is how coordinated and cooperative it has to be because you can’t operate in a silo and get this stuff done.
John: It’s wrong.
Renee: Yeah. Just as a quick example. So I mentioned earlier, we have a renewable energy goal, we don’t really have a lot of facilities, and we’re offices primarily and some data centers, but we don’t have the same footprint that Kara has over at Amazon has. We’re on our own sleet for instant. So, we have to partner up with other companies, other jurisdictions to find a way for us to invest in renewable energy because we can’t do it on site at all of our locations because we have a 10-person office in a particular city. The same with transportation. We don’t own those fleets but we have a goal to reduce the emissions related to delivery. So then you have to partner up with the carrier’s, USPSs, the FedExs, et cetera. And I think now versus the 10 or so 15 years ago, the conversation is more as like how do we figure this out then whether or not it’s a problem.
John: So interesting. ReCommerce as we say it’s a cultural shift Renee. Is it something that’s unstoppable now, five years from now when we’re having a similar conversation it’s going to be many, many more multiples higher than it is today in terms of reCommerce of every type of product?
Renee: Me, I think so. I think people are starting to find that value again and the additional benefit for the planet is great but that doesn’t drive everybody and that’s okay. If it’s just because you want to save or make some money, you’re still helping out at the end of the day. I think what’s also interesting with eBay, we said reCommerce, the circular economy is a lot of things. ReCommerce is a circle within a circle if you will, that helps to give these products second life. But I think we’re also going to see different business models. Trade-ins, take-backs, buying local. How do we make small tweaks to that process of purchasing, pre-love goods that additionally adds positive environmental benefit? And then if you look at other companies that actually make products, like how are they designing? How are they designing from the beginning to use, reuse materials, recycle materials, and how are they designing for end-of-life? So all of this comes together. I think that’s what we’re going to continue to see is the little circle start to join to make the circular economy fully circular.
John: We were chatting a little bit off the air prior to taping and one of the things you said and which I really believe in is it’s a small fraternity out there of CSS. How collaborative is that fraternity in terms of best practices, best partnerships, best coalitions and best opportunities? So as you said, it’s not a zero-sum game. We’re in this race together to make the world a better place. It as collaborative as we need it to be and want it to be?
Renee: I think in certain levels it is. One of my good friends works at Etsy in a very similar role. So we’ve teamed up in the past that they have the same issue of trying to tackle delivery without having a fleet. So we can’t do that again in silo. Being in this industry for as long as I have, a lot of peers we share war stories as much as we do solutions consistently and constantly because it’s an evolving field as we all know. The problems get more complicated, but the collaboration, there’s a lot of organizations one that we belong to is CEBA, the Clean Energy Buyers Alliance. Lots of your Fortune 100 companies and smaller companies are part of that organization as well as actual energy developers. So that cooperation is necessary I think to find big long-term solutions.
John: Got it. There are a lot of listeners that we have grown over the last 16 years, that listen to the show in the United States and outside of the United States but they’re young. They’re in their teens, they’re trying to figure out career opportunities, sustainability obviously is one like you said, it’s a cultural shift not a real trend. And there are lots of job opportunities here. But what advice would you give back to the next generation who want to be the next Renee, men and women and everything in terms of teenagers, college students, graduate students, what’s the right path to take to becoming a chief sustainability officer, chief impact officer and becoming a leader in the new environmental world.
Renee: It’s funny you should ask. My cousin who lives in the area, her daughter is a senior in high school, and I just had a conversation [laughs].
Renee: To this very effect. Yeah. She’s yeah, just entering into college, but she’s really interested in environmental science and wanted to know like going on. And I said there’s not one exact path you have to follow. I think you have to really enjoy or have some affinity towards the work you’re doing. Jobs can be difficult, jobs can be tiring but if you like what you’re doing and you get some fulfillment out of it at the end of the day, that to me, helps to keep driving forward. And I was like, if you have an analytical mind science is never a bad place to start [laughs]. You can do a lot of things I think with a science background, but as I said earlier, maybe it was off-air. There are a large different paths to get to this role. I know, some folks who are on the same role as I am started out as the chief HR officer and then they co-volunteered to be the CSO, that’s not my term somebody else’s. And so that happens sometimes really strong leaders within companies, especially really large companies may not have a strong sustainability background, but they know how to make change happen within a company. And I think that’s just at the valid of a path as the one that mine is which is bit more, maybe linear than some others.
John: That’s so interesting. What keeps you up at night in terms of [laughs], with regards to sustainability and all the challenges that we face out there, good challenges but also the challenges of unfortunately misinformation and misunderstandings. What’s on your mind, top of mind today here we are in the middle of 2023.
Renee: I think it’s maintaining the momentum, the motivation because there’s a lot of starts and stops as you mentioned earlier, and some of that’s okay. I think if you don’t make a mistake, you’re not learning kind of situation but we need that momentum. We need that groundswell to really make effective change happen. So I stay up thinking about how I can pull all the levers to make [laughs] all that stuff happen within and outside the company. And we’ve been a very diverse workforce within our company from data center operators to call centers to how do we relate to each of our employees and help them along this journey as well because they’re at eBay, for a reason. We’ve got fantastic culture or a purpose-driven company. We try to have fun, so, yeah, internally you have to be able to tell a story. It’s something else that I think about. How do I translate this bizarre, not tangible concept into something that anybody within the company would be able to grasp quickly and act like change that story pretty consistently to make sure it matches up? So those are a few of the things.
John: And how many people by the way for our listeners and viewers out there? How many people approximately, I’m not going to just to get, are on Bay. How many employees are there?
Renee: About 10,000.
John: That’s great.
Renee: And global. That’s what I think. Global is great.
Renee: But it’s also just time zones and coordination and making sure you’re making those relationships happen. That’s another key lever to pull as a CSO. You have to have a good network within your company through all the different departments that we touch. I mentioned earlier, tax, data security and privacy, and ethics and compliance. We have friends in all of them and that’s what helps to get our job done.
John: And I’m sure part of it also is the two-way dialogue that you want to have with all of your environmental ambassadors throughout your organization both from where you sit on down and then from the ground, back up to you. So everyone’s informing each other and sharing best practices.
Renee: Yeah, definitely. We get pinged, and my team does like oh, we found out that we have a sustainability team, I’ve got an idea. They’re sitting on the product development, product meaning our website marketplace. So we try this out and then I’m also having conversations we have within eBay what we call our ESG Council. Senior leaders form this council, they’re in all different parts of the company. So there’s more of this top-down and bottom-up discussions are happening constantly, which I think they have to honestly, to get things done.
John: That’s so exciting. This is your platform today obviously, Renee, and we’re so just grateful and honored to have you on. What can you share a little bit about, what’s next for eBay? What upcoming initiatives are you super jazz and excited about that you want to discuss today?
Renee: I am excited about how we’re going to solve our transportation footprint, honestly. It’s complicated. It’s a great challenge and it’s multifaceted [laughs] and it’s a big impact for our business and we get to GHG emissions, carbon emissions. So our own four walls but prints really quite small like I mentioned earlier.
Renee: Because we just make stuff. So we don’t have manufacturing facilities, et cetera. We don’t have a fleet but the emissions that are released, delivering all these packages from our sellers, who are buyers globally, they add up. And we want to make sure that we’re participating in our sustainability journey not just within our four walls, but within what we call scope three. So what does that value chain impact look like? And with transportation, we’re going to have to have support from policy, there has to be infrastructure in place within cities and the roads, et cetera as well as the airline industry because a lot of packages go by air. So the carriers, it’s the policy and then what can we do on our own platform with our own consumer. So a lot of different solutions were looking at right now.
John: That’s wonderful. Renee I’m going to leave you with one last question before we sign off for today. Sustainability as you and I have learned over the years, is a journey without a finish line [laughs]. But I would love you to share your thoughts on if we make it a baseball game today, a nine-inning baseball game, where are we as a planet in this sustainability journey right now and what’s your thoughts around that? Are we in the top of the second inning? Are we in the bottom of the fifth [laughs]. Where do you think we are today?
Renee: Yeah, I’m not showing it quite that specific. But my first instinct was to say it somewhere around the fifth inning in terms of being a human race and what we’ve accomplished so far on this planet, and what we need to do. I think we’re at that tipping point in terms of, okay, we built these amazing systems, technologies, quality of life which still needs to be shared more equitably obviously, improvements for electricity, et cetera. So now what? How do make sure that continues is how I think about it and if it’s going to continue when you do it smarter, more efficiently and with less impact.
John: I love it. That makes sense. And Renee, since we’re only in the fifth, you’re always invited back on the Impact Podcast to share more innings that are going on and the future innings at eBay and your thoughts on environmental sustainability. For our listeners and viewers to find Renee and all of our colleagues, and all the important impactful work they’re doing at eBay, please go to www.ebayinc.com, ebayinc.com. Renee you are making the world a better place with your colleagues. You are making important impacts. I’m grateful for all the work that you’re doing with eBay and thank you again for being on the Impact Podcast today.
Renee: Well, thanks, John. I’d really love the opportunity. It was great.
John: This edition of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by Engage. Engage is a digital booking platform revolutionizing the talent booking industry. With thousands of athletes, celebrities, entrepreneurs, and business leaders, Engage is the go-to spot for booking talent for speeches, custom experiences, live streams, and much more. For more information on Engage or to book talent today, visit letsengage.com.
John: This edition of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by ERI. ERI has a mission to protect people, the planet, and your privacy and is the largest fully integrated IT and electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity-focused hardware destruction company in the United States and maybe even the world. For more information on how ERI can help your business properly dispose of outdated electronic hardware devices, please visit eridirect.com.