UVM alum helps improve Whole Foods sustainability

Students on the verge of graduating should have no fear.  The jobs are out there for UVM grads.Take UVM environmental studies alumnus Tristam Coffin, for example, who is now the Green Mission Specialist at Whole Foods.  Today, Coffin oversees green initiatives for New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.Throughout his years at the University, he was involved with courses ranging from sociology to environmental studies to religion, which spoke to several of his interests, he said.After getting his degree in 2008, however, Coffin was uncertain of what his next step would be.”I didn’t want to turn myself over into any old job,” he said. “I wanted to do something for me that was worthwhile for what I studied all those years.”Coffin said he was not even sure he would work for a major corporation.At first, he began working with  as a research assistant and studied sustainable transportation in Vermont.  Then, just as Coffin was getting ready to move to Oregon to work for a nonprofit political organization, a job with Whole Foods opened up and the pieces fell into place. Because Coffin had previously worked with Whole Foods in high school, he already had his foot in the door.  “Knowing the operations behind the company and having an environmental degree landed me in a pretty good spot,” he said. Coffin offers advice to new graduates looking to get into an environmentally related field. “Never give up and never stop looking,” he said.According to the UVM Career Services website, contacts are crucial for uncovering the hidden job market, or 85-90 percent of all professional jobs.As a result of Coffin’s network with Whole Foods, he landed his green job.Being green does come with challenges, which Coffin experiences first hand. “We need to make sure that team members and managers are educated and that they are composting and recycling correctly,” he said. Whole Foods is known for its eco-friendly mission. According to their website, their mission is to “respect our environment and recycle, reuse and reduce our waste wherever and whenever we can.” “Each store has extensive compost and recycling programs,” he said.  “We try to make sure we are sorting all waste and it’s not just ending up in landfills.”Whole Foods has already made strides by no longer offering plastic bags at checkout. “In 2008 we stopped providing plastic bags in our stores,” Coffin said. “The rate of reusable bags at our store has quadrupled since we stopped offering plastic bags.”Some UVM students think that Whole Foods could still make improvements in sustainable practices.  “I would like to see them focus more on bulk foods [to reduce packaging],” senior environmental studies minor Stacey Apple said.”Environmental jobs are going to pop up in more and more places,” Coffin said.”Reach out to people you’ve worked with in the past, even professors, and something is bound to pop up,” Coffin said. “Look under every rock.”