“I was at the point in my career when I wanted to do something different and really something more meaningful than sell a lot of stuff for big companies,” Nicole Juntunen ’99 explains. After graduating from Notre Dame with a double major in marketing and government and a specialization in international business, Nicole had what she describes as a more traditional sales and marketing career path. She held roles at PepsiCo, L’Oreal, General Mills and, most recently, Mars Inc., where she worked for about 14 years.
Much of her time at Mars was spent doing sales and marketing at Wrigley, the candy side of the business. In February 2017, she moved to the food side, leading a large sales team working on Mars’ organic brand, Seeds of Change. Nicole had to learn more about the consumers they were marketing to and about the farming methods and production of these products, particularly rice and other grains. She discovered that rice has a huge environmental footprint due to its high water demand. “The environmental impacts became very real to me,” she says.
Last October, as she began thinking about the sustainability implications of her work, Nicole was approached by BeGreen Packaging and asked to lead their sales and marketing team. “At some point you start to think about your career and how you may be contributing more to the problem than solving it,” Nicole says. With a vision to eliminate single use plastic packaging, BeGreen began manufacturing molded fiber trays in 2007. The idea of fully compostable biodegradable packaging appealed to Nicole and she accepted the offer.
Unlike her roles with big name brands, Nicole’s new job involves introducing a largely new idea to many companies. “Ultimately the goal is to make sure [BeGreen] is healthy and it grows and succeeds in our goals,” she says. She develops marketing materials and works directly with potential clients to convince them that it’s worth paying a little more for compostable packaging materials. “One of the biggest challenges is to help businesses understand why it’s important to convert their packaging,” she explains.
Companies may think they’re doing a good job because they’re using recyclable packaging, but they don’t realize that only about 10% of what consumers recycle actually makes it to the recycling center, Nicole explains. Or they think that changing their packaging materials will upset customers, when this is rarely actually the case. Nicole thinks of strategic ways to inform potential clients. “It starts with a really thorough understanding of who your customer is,” she says. Some companies are in cities with recently enacted plastic or Styrofoam bans, while others feel little external pressure. She can help them all understand how to gradually transition to compostable packaging, the value of adding signs to highlight to consumers that they are reducing waste, and the potential financial benefits from waste reduction and the attraction of new customers.
Nicole values her network, often getting new leads through family and friends, and is very involved in the Notre Dame Alumni Association. She emphasizes the importance of collaborative innovation around reducing plastic use. Her job shift has also affected her own family’s purchasing decisions and changed how she and her husband teach their young boys about reusing. “When I worked at Wrigley and had candy and gum samples, that was a lot more fun for them,” Nicole laughs, going on to express the long-term value she sees in the lessons she now brings home for her children. “There is a lot of power in awareness,” she says.
Nicole emphasizes the value of having a background in sustainability, saying that current sustainability minors “need to have faith that the choice they’ve made in having that minor in sustainability will benefit them no matter what career field they choose.” The unique skillset, perspective, and sense of efficiency and minimizing waste that comes from a background in sustainability is a competitive advantage, “that translates across any function or department that they’re going to compete in.” Nicole is eager to hear from any Notre Dame students interested in her work. The recent graduates on her staff bring visible added value, as they are tuned into current consumer practices and developing trends. She says, “Having young people with a mindset towards [sustainability] is very much needed.”