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Meet Sheena DeBellis of Follow Your Heart in Canoga Park

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sheena DeBellis.

Sheena, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I started at Follow Your Heart/Earth Island in 2004, drawn to the company because I was a vegan and I loved both the restaurant and the retail products. I immediately fell in love with the dynamic, ethical, and innovative company environment and left my career teaching writing at a local university to work full-time at Earth Island, the manufacturing facility for Follow Your Heart products. I love that our company is values-based, truly values employee growth and fulfillment, and believes in demonstrating leadership in the ethical, social and environmental responsibilities of operating a business. I am so proud of the incredible culture our founders have created and maintained for over 50 years.

I started in a quality assurance role as we were establishing our quality and food safety programs and grew in my role and responsibilities over the years. In 2012, we defined sustainability goals in earnest and moving us forward in the sustainability arena also became part of my responsibilities. Today, I manage both the quality and sustainability programs of our company and enjoy my day-to-day as much as when I first started 16 years ago.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Most journeys are full of bumps and detours and ours is no exception. Since 2012, when we first identified our sustainability goals and five areas of focus (Reduce Energy Consumption, Eliminate Waste, Choose Low-Impact Products and Packaging, Demonstrate Social Responsibility, and Promote Employee Wellbeing), we’ve faced many challenges. One particularly challenging part of our journey started in 2013 when we took on the ambitious goal of becoming a Certified Zero Waste facility, an idea that I honestly thought may not be possible for a manufacturing facility. We overcame many obstacles along the way, including finding a hauler to take our organic waste (food scraps), finding alternatives to unrecyclable materials (like nitrile gloves and label backing), and educating ourselves and our staff about what can and cannot be recycled, and the importance of waste reduction at all levels. We worked with our suppliers to change to recyclable materials, learned from colleagues in other industries, and conducted hours and hours of training and were proud when we achieved our Zero Waste Certification in 2016. Last year, we upgraded our certification to from Gold to Platinum Level, diverting 98% of our material waste from landfills and the environment.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
Follow Your Heart started as a small vegetarian market and café in 1970 in the heart of the San Fernando Valley by four hippies. Now we operate out of a 100,000 square foot solar-powered, zero-waste plant, and our products are sold in more than 25,000 stores in more than 35 countries worldwide. Our flagship product is Vegenaise, an egg-free mayo that was invented by our CEO Bob Goldberg. We have expanded our product line into many other plant-based products, including dairy-free cheeses, yogurts, cream cheese and sour cream, VeganEgg, and a full line of salad dressings. We’re proud of our product quality, our focus on innovation, our independence, and our staff of nearly 300 employees who make everything possible. We’re equally proud of our mission-driven approach and our sustainability initiatives, including being a solar-powered, Zero Waste Certified manufacturer.

Do you feel like our city is a good place for businesses like yours? If someone was just starting out, would you recommend them starting out here? If not, what can our city do to improve?
Yes, we think LA is great place for business. LA has an incredible talent pool for many industries and is such a desirable place to live and work that new talent is always moving to the area. There are over six thousand manufacturers in LA, so this is a testament to LA’s ability to sustain manufacturing businesses. We do get approached from other states offering incentives to produce outside of California, but we have never considered leaving the area because we believe we are in the best place for our business and are very much aligned with our state’s and city’s focus on sustainability. We are proud of Mayor Garcetti’s Green New Deal initiative to fight climate change and see ourselves as working toward the same goals of reducing the environmental impacts of operating a business.

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