Legendary Lefty: Laura
Welcome to ‘Legendary Lefty’ — a series of interviews that reveals the personal stories of our amazing team members.
Today, I spoke with our in-house ‘Champion of the Earth’ (a.k.a our UI/UX Designer), Laura Lefurgey-Smith. Laura is passionate about making her mark by helping others learn about their environmental impact. In our chat, we discussed how she came to live in the Lower Mainland, how she became an environmentalist, and the Green Challenge, which she created for our Lefties.
Amber: As you are originally from Vancouver Island, what brought you to the mainland originally?
Laura: I grew up in Nanaimo where I lived for many, many, years. Growing up in an island town, as most kids do, I felt my hometown was lacking excitement, and that the big city was much cooler [laughs].
When I graduated high school, I moved out to attend Simon Fraser University where I studied Psychology and Criminology. About half way through my degree, I realized that although I enjoyed the topics covered, it wasn’t something I wanted to do long-term.
It was in 2008 that I made the goal to live and travel in Ireland for a year and moved back home to save. While I was back in Nanaimo, I met Blake, my partner, and we started dating. He was living in Vancouver, so I would ferry over constantly.
I went to Ireland a year later. I wasn’t able to stay as I had originally planned due to the Great Recession. Like everywhere else, Ireland had very few available jobs. So after a few months of exploring, I came back and moved in with Blake in Vancouver.
Amber: So what got you into UX and Design?
Laura: After I got back from Ireland, I started trying to figure out what my next steps would be. I grew up playing the violin, so I had a creative side. I have also always been good at technical drawing, like cityscapes, pencil drawing and shading. When I heard about a one night course in web design offered at BCIT, I decided it could be a good fit and to try it out.
It felt like a great fit, so after the class I signed up for a year long program at BCIT called ‘New Media Design and Web Development’. Following the program, I got an internship at the David Suzuki foundation for web and graphic design. It was a cool internship as it was a lot like Left, where the interns are actually doing real work and not going on coffee runs [laughs]. I learned a lot working there about environmental issues.
Amber: Did you become more of an environmentalist through working there?
Laura: I think I always appreciated nature, having grown up where I did. By this point, I did think Nanaimo was cool again [laughs], because it was so beautiful and quiet. It was really when I worked there that I became more aware of the issues that are facing the environment. I enjoyed being a part of that. It caused me to become more aware of my own behaviours.
I would see the team bringing their own bags everywhere, not using paper cups at coffee shops, using natural products for everything, and I started taking those habits on myself. I became more outspoken on the environment as, over the years, I just started noticing how many people don’t do little the little things that can make an impact. For example, in my role before Left, I encouraged the team there to bring in a proper recycling system. Eventually they started one, but only after being pushed. I feel like I have always been the gentle push [laughs].
Amber: How did you find out about Left?
Laura: Inspired by the David Suzuki Foundation, I made it my goal to try to do good in the world with the work that I do. I went back to school at Red Academy for UX, as I wanted to transition into web and apps within the tech sector where I felt I could make a difference. It was there that I met Left at a hiring event Red Academy was throwing for recent graduates of the program. And now, I am here [laughs]!
Amber: Was there a core value that you most identified with at Left when you applied?
Laura: I identified with ‘Impact your Community’ and ‘Make your Mark’. A part of my personality is that I am very sensitive, I am not ashamed of this as I think it is a driving factor that has led me to want to make change in the world. I empathise with others. From this trait, I decided to only focus on jobs or projects that have an impact. That is why I like working on the RightMesh project that is bringing connectivity to those who lack it.
Amber: So, how did you earn the role of ‘Champion of the Earth’ at Left?
Laura: A few months ago, when talks about Left’s need for more office space due to our rapid growth occurred, I started bugging John about looking for space that was waste free and completely renewable. A bit later, when we decided to stay in our current space and expand to the floor below, John approached me to be the office person to make internal environmental changes. He knew about my passion for the environment, and since we don’t have a lot of control over the energy that we use in the office, we could find ways to educate our team to make it up at home, or on their commute, or in other ways. That is when he gave me the title of ‘Champion of the Earth’.
Amber: And how did you come up with the Green Challenge?
Laura: I started brainstorming a plan to encourage our team to make changes in their behaviours and the changes we could make in-house. I created a big list of all of the issues that I saw with the environment and with Marinna and Jenna’s help, we broke it down into four sections:
1) Reducing our carbon footprint
2) Reducing single-use plastics and waste
3) Supporting local
4) Going ‘meat free’ or eating sustainable meats and seafoods.
To get people excited about it, I decided to gamify it because I felt like people like doing things for rewards.
Amber: And everyone here is competitive [laughs].
Laura: I knew that, too [laughs]! With the topics selected, I used my skills as a designer to make a passport for the team to keep track of challenges that they accomplished with stamps. It turned out really well.
Amber: How do you feel that the team has responded to it?
Laura: Really good! I think better than I thought in some ways. I was really happy with the level of engagement and excitement.
I am also happy that we are at a stage in society with these environmental issues that people actually want to change. Whereas I think, even five years ago, it was hard to get them to do so.
Amber: It was great timing for the Green Challenge, especially with the unit on single-use plastics, with all the media attention the issue has got.
Laura: Yes! !t just happened to line up that way which I think also helped educate our team on the importance and gravity of the issue.
Amber: Do you think Left being a B-Corp is part of the reason why they have been so open to green changes?
Laura: Yes, B-Corps are committed to the highest standard of environmental performance, and I think it is an issue that they had been wanting to address further. It has been great being able to make suggestions and see the team act to make changes, such as with the recycling… Ryan has been calling me Captain Planet [laughs].
Amber: For someone who is looking to start making a change on their environmental impact, which of the four sections would you recommend starting with?
Laura: I think reducing single-use plastics can be a pretty easy switch, especially if you buy the alternatives. It is really not that hard. We are used to Starbucks providing a cup and a straw to hold your coffee, but if that wasn’t an option, you would bring your own mug…or you would stay there and drink it. Same with grocery stores, they provide you a bag, but if they didn’t, you would need to bring your own. Trying to get people to change their behaviours is a slow process, but it does happen over time.