Name: Sheila Ongie
Title: Senior Strategy Director
Current residence: Portland, Oregon
Hometown: Iowa City, Iowa
Fun facts: Sheila can list every U.S. state in alphabetical order and grows carnivorous plants in her backyard.
Tell us about your background. How did you end up at thinkPARALLAX?
I came to tPX most recently from Lush Cosmetics, where I led their North American sustainability team and their global process for understanding risks of the climate emergency. Prior to that I worked in sustainability roles in the natural grocery retail world, and consulted on sustainability strategy in various contexts. My educational background combines hard sciences with an MBA in sustainable business from Presidio Graduate School, one of the first graduate business programs with a curriculum designed around sustainability.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
I’m excited by the opportunity to solve the type of big, daunting global challenges we’re faced with today (climate crisis, biodiversity, plastics) while simultaneously making businesses more resilient and fit to thrive in a changing world.
thinkPARALLAX’s purpose is to inspire fresh perspective on sustainable business transformation. What perspective do you bring to tPX, our clients, and/or our industry?
I believe that every solution the world needs is within our reach – the answers already exist. Research has shown that we have all the technology and know-how to solve the climate crisis today, if we really wanted to do it. I believe this is true for the other major challenges as well. For example, we can look to nature’s 3.8 billion years of R&D to learn how to create materials for every human need without plastics, pollution, or waste. Solutions are everywhere, and my passion is connecting businesses with these existing solutions to create a safe, just, equitable, and thriving world for all.
What’s a project you’ve worked on (at tPX or a previous role) that you really enjoyed or that felt meaningful?
My favorite projects are those with a big vision or a really broad scope. While at Lush I really enjoyed working together with my colleagues to measure the carbon impact of our supply chain. This process allowed us to see which product formulations had the highest intensity climate impact. We found that the natural essential oils, which give the products their lovely scents, were among the highest contributors, since they are highly concentrated. This understanding allowed us to offer several strategic options for reducing Lush’s largest climate impact: designing products to use less of the natural essential oils; working directly with growers to adopt more regenerative ag solutions; and in the shop, finding ways to guide the customer toward the lower carbon footprint products. [This work was ongoing when I left, so I can’t say where the company landed on adopting any of those potential solutions.]
What causes are you most interested in?
I’m interested in multi-solving, or causes that recognize the interconnectedness of social and environmental issues and solve for the health of each. When I entered this industry in the early 2000s, my awareness was on traditional environmental issues like pollution and endangered species. I quickly learned that pollution (“environment”) causes negative public health outcomes (“social”), and often in very unjust ways (also “social”), and the line between social and environmental started to blur. Similarly, I began to process how the loss of species and habitat (“environment”) was a loss of richness and resilience for humans, who depend on the natural world for air, water, food, and medicine (“social”). Just as environmental issues and social issues are inextricably linked, so are the solutions!
I see cooperative business models as holding potential for multi-solving transformation. Luckily supporting cooperatives in daily life is easy by banking with a local credit union, shopping at co-ops, supporting cooperative brands, etc. In the nonprofit realm, I’m excited about causes that help people reduce their participation in capitalism, such as the Buy Nothing Project, which promotes the gift economy, reuse and repair groups like Reclaim It PDX, and responsibly foraging for food and medicine.
What brings you joy outside of work?
Outside of work I’m a foodie and I appreciate modern art. I also love exploring the diverse beauty of the Pacific Northwest with my husband. We’re often found hiking, birding, kayaking, or adding native plants to our Portland yard.