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When Sustainability and Business Collide

The interview for “Graduate Success” takes place this time with Sheana Schechterman, Director of the Department of Sustainability at Dizengoff Center, a graduate of the 13th Cohort, and conducted by Galia Cukierman.

Sheana holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in sociology and anthropology from Hebrew University. She also has extensive experience in social work. In the past, she worked to promote women’s rights as a lobbyist for WIZO in the Knesset, and later ran the “Mimshak” (Interface) program for the implementation of science in government through the Israel Society of Ecology.

Q: What led you to participate in the Fellowship Program?

“After working in the feminist world, I felt that the environmental field was becoming more relevant in my life. At the same time I felt that I lacked knowledge relating to the environment, and during my work in the “Mimshak” program I was exposed to a great deal of knowledge in this field. However, that was not enough for my taste, so I decided to fill in these gaps. When I began to search places where I could further expand this knowledge, Heschel’s fellowship program seemed to be the right place for me.”

Q: How was your encounter with the Fellowship program?

“I came to Heschel after a year of managing the Mimshak program, so most of the content presented was not unfamiliar to me. However, the studies deepened my knowledge and familiarity with social change organizations in the environmental field, and allowed me to network with key players in the field. Heschel also gave me a broad perspective on the change-making processes that occur in the world, and this was very powerful for me. In addition, the Fellowship program really focuses on the connections and dynamics among members in the group. For example, we continue to meet every few months to learn and socialize with each other.”

Q: What did you do when you finished the program?

“Alon Piltz (owner of the Dizengoff Center Mall) participated in the same cohort of the Fellows’ program as me. As part of our group work and the work we did in pairs, we thought it would be interesting, and challenging to bring all the concepts and worldviews of sustainability to the heart of the business world. In my view, it is precisely this place that brings the most potential for us to reach the public. I’m excited about introducing dialogue about sustainability into the marketplace and breaking the negative image regarding it. It is important to make things happen not only outside the mainstream where it is isolated and exotic, but in a central place where there is a large population, so we can make a significant change.”

Q: How did you decide to act?

“We decided to focus on three ideas: green building, sustainable food and urban nature.

With regard to a green building, we reexamined how we use energy, treat water, and waste.

In the first few weeks we started our first carbon offsets project. We referred to our energy utilization in 2013 and took 5% of it. In addition, we did the “One Tree” project with the Good Energy Initiative run by Eyal Biger, who is also a Heschel graduate. This was a community project, where children from the Gavrieli school had the opportunity to plant a tree in their name. The trees grow on the roof of the center and they were able to come back and see how much their trees have grown. A few weeks ago, these trees were donated to the municipality. Four years later, we are still running this project and it transformed to be one of the pillars of our work – running educational workshops for school children. In these workshops which we also run for adults, we educate for values like urban sustainability, consuming locally grown foods, healthy nutrition and more.

At the same time, we bought two new air conditioning systems, which is a very large expense. But, we were able to do it with the support of the Ministry of Energy. At the same time we tried to receive a green standard stamp from the ministry of Environmental protection. This is a very important step because it was the first time that the business-consumer sector successfully collaborated with the Ministry of Environmental Protection. From my previous job, I had experience of working with the government, but at the time it was completely new to the business and commercial sector.

We have a consulting company (“Green Target”) that accompanies us and documents the process and its results. The goal is to be able to go to other commercial centers in Israel and show them the profits and changes that have taken place in our company following a year’s progress and then receive a government authorized standard It is a very general, rough guide, but can be distributed more easily.

Regarding waste: Our current effort is to create an infrastructure for orange garbage cans for recyclables at the Dizengoff Center. We want the garbage cans to come here first, before they are distributed in the city. So, we are currently creating dialogue with a corporation to convince them to bring us the garbage cans before allocating them in the city. We do not want the distribution of these garbage cans to only take place in homes, but we also want these garbage cans to be disbursed in the public sphere. We hope that it will be a process of learning and instilling good habits into the public. The goal is to simultaneously distribute them in homes and in the center. It’s not simple, but it’s very interesting because I believe that the proper treatment of waste challenges deep layers in our subconscious.

With regard to sustainable food, we decided that for our first project we would establish a farmers’ market with the intention of linking food with an environmental agenda. We are connected to a movement, where people are interested in buying healthy food that comes directly from the ground and was not refrigerated beforehand. The people who are a part of this movement prefer buying from small local farms rather than large commercial  enterprises. Every farmer who sells their produce in the market has a type of identity card that shows how many kilometers the food traveled until it reached the customer, including the methods of cultivation , and if a form of pest control was used or not. We chose to hand pick the farmers and the food manufacturers because it was important to us that we sell high quality food.

We learned that our audience, the Tel Aviv population, appreciates the quality of food, even if it is at a slightly higher price.

However, the establishment of the famous hydroponics center Green in the City (Yarok Ba’ir), brought us some new insights about transporting foods to the restaurants at the mall. Green in the City is an agricultural center that shows how hydroponics can grow food, mainly greens. This center opened in cooperation with a company called LivinGreen in 2015. The owner of LivinGreen succeeded in promoting the issue of urban agriculture at the United Nations and implementing it in China, Ethiopia, etc. I am glad that I succeeded in connecting it to the development of the Dizengoff Center. When we started this program we did not know what will be the effect. But after a few months of experimenting with hydroponics on the rooftop of the mall, we realized that we have the capacity of growing greens in much larger scale. We turned to the chefs and restaurant owners in the mall and offered them fresh, beautiful looking and tasty greens that were grown right above their heads. The center now brings students and visitors from all over the world to learn about hydroponics and growing greens in their free spaces.

In addition to the nursery we also brought a couple of beehives with bees that pollinate the flowers right in the middle of city of Tel Aviv.

Q: I’ve heard about your many contributions to the Heschel Center’s projects and the projects of a few Heschel graduates. How can graduates of the fellowship program contribute to you?

“Just  in our conversation today I mentioned two graduates who we worked with. When I need to consult with someone in different fields, the first people I turn to are naturally Heschel graduates.

I think that our work as Heschel graduates is quite clear in terms of the goal we want to achieve in our own professional sphere, whether we work in the civil society, government offices, businesses or any other field. In my opinion, there is a need to talk about what is happening in our world and what our colleagues are doing to help, which I think will bring more people into the circle of sustainability and will dispel the cloud of cynicism. For example, the director of Green Course picked up the phone and told me about the activity that he was raising money for in his organization and he was wondering if I was willing to make a donation. He said that he is a Heschel graduate and I told him I am a Heschel graduate, and then I said I would immediately help him. I am also certain that if I need the cooperation and support from the social sector, then I will have a sympathetic ear and a supportive shoulder from the Heschel graduates who are in this sector.”