Sustainable entrepreneur and communications expert Sara Miltenberger knows how to make the climate cool. Solving climate change is uncharted territory for humans; however, Sara knows that it is imperative to stay hopeful and positive. Imagine that you are an explorer during the Age of Discovery. Would you sail into uncharted territory without being hopeful? Sara has channeled her concern for climate change and belief in a positive message into starting and running a business, RSTR Media + Strategy, that is transforming how other businesses take action to mitigate their climate impacts.
Soaking Up Knowledge
Just as many scientists believe life started in the ocean, Sara’s climate-focused lifestyle began in a class about oceans during her freshman year at Union College. She learned about the devastating impacts of human activities on marine life and wanted to dive deeper into understanding the environment and climate change.
Accordingly, she studied sustainable development, city planning, and restoration ecology abroad in Australia. Sara wrote her senior thesis on how companies can be more proactive to prevent oil spills.
Sara said that when she was in college, she felt guilty that seemingly most human activity hurts the environment in some way. Feeling this way can make traveling and living a fulfilling life quite difficult. Rather than floating in an ocean of despair, Sara dedicated her life and career to creating change. Her first job after college was cleaning up oil spills as an environmental scientist. In this job, she got a first-hand view of human impact on the environment.
“We can mess up the planet as much as we want, but ultimately it’s going to get rid of us,” Sara realized through her work. “We’re harming ourselves by harming the planet. It’s not really so much about protecting the forests as much as we need to protect ourselves.” Consequently, she has focused on climate change as an issue that is about protecting people and the planet. She said that taking climate action can help people grow, thrive, and enjoy all that life has to offer. Sara knows people will continue to mindlessly consume and impact the environment, so she finds ways to make our lives as environmentally-friendly as possible. “If the planet doesn’t support us, then we have nothing,” she continued.
Rising from the Waters
Sara really started to make waves after graduating from Columbia University in 2019 with a master’s degree in sustainable business management. With so many possible career paths and such a large need to create a more sustainable world, Sara had a tough time deciding which direction to take. She took an introspective approach, thinking about her goals to work with people and help the environment. She had an opportunity to do consulting to help companies be more sustainable, similar to her work at Tesla before her master’s degree. She loved working with many different businesses instead of just focusing on one, making her realize that she wanted to share her positive approach to climate change with as many people as possible.
Sara decided to create her “dream job” by starting a Connecticut-based sustainability consulting business. She wanted to move away from the typical sustainability terminology, like “eco,” “sustainable,” and “green,” and tap into the emotion around improving how humans affect the environment. She liked the term “restore,” a feeling of peacefulness and a sense of action, doing better, getting to a better place, and feeling healthy. That is what she wanted to do for her business and the planet, so she launched RSTR Media + Strategy.
“For me, it was always about how do I build a business that is so focused on our communication style within the companies I work with and within their communication strategies,”
she explained. Her experiences in sustainability showed her the importance of talking about sustainability in a way that is not paralyzing but rather shows change is possible. Positive climate communications and stories of successful endeavors to help the climate can inspire people to make change and encourage others to do the same.
To showcase successful work done to help the environment and change the narrative that the future is hopeless, Sara started a podcast called Make Climate Cool Again to complement her business.
She knows many people still speak and act as if the future is set in stone and headed for disaster, but she has channeled her strengths to change that dialogue. She is an extrovert who loves networking and talking with people, so she spreads climate messages through her podcast, Clubhouse talks, and videos on TikTok and Instagram. Using these platforms helps her also learn from others and create conversations around climate change. She emphasized that paying attention to what energizes you will help you shine and make the biggest impact.
With these efforts, Sara is showing that there is hope for solving the climate crisis.
Riding the Waves
Despite her success, Sara’s entrepreneurship journey has hit choppy waters and snags along the way.
The sustainability consultant pointed out that it can be mentally challenging to work in the sustainability space because of the grim climate impacts that are already happening, like island nations being covered by rising sea levels. However, she has found ways to overcome this difficulty. Although she has felt guilty for traveling, she makes efforts to offset the its impacts so that she can find a balance between protecting the environment and having fulfilling and inspiring experiences. Sara also emphasized the need to shift from focusing on personal lifestyle changes to changes with a larger impact, like encouraging businesses to prioritize sustainability.
Moreover, she shared that the companies she works with are made up of humans who cannot control everything; they want to do what is best for the planet but ultimately cannot always afford to make the most sustainable changes. She pointed out that this obstacle creates the opportunity to be innovative and push for new ways to be green.
In addition to these issues related to sustainability, entrepreneurs often have to make sacrifices. Sara said she has to spend time running the business, which can take away time from serving customers and their sustainability goals. Every day is a new challenge because there are so many aspects to running a business, like marketing and public relations.
Sara said that you get what you put into running your own business, which has its pros and cons. While she creates everything she does and gets credit for her work, it can be hard to take time away from the business; she often works on weekends, and vacations are rare. Ultimately, she said she loves her job more than most people love their jobs, and she is thankful that she gets to help the planet, making these challenges well worth it.
It also helps that RSTR Media + Strategy is not Sara’s first business. She launched a company while in college to reduce the huge disparity in athletic opportunities between men and women, which she noticed when she played hockey and golf for the school and worked on the women’s hockey team. As part of her first business, she focused on mentoring and fell in love with entrepreneurship. Now she gets to channel that love towards another important cause, saving the world from what is likely the greatest threat ever for humanity — climate change
Sailing into the Future
To keep working towards her mission of saving the world, Sara has a lot of plans. In particular, she is pumped for a big research project at her company. Since there are already many studies about large businesses and sustainability, her team is researching how small businesses feels about sustainability and their sustainability goals.
She has two main goals for RSTR in the next five years. One goal is to make more businesses sustainable, which includes making sustainability accessible for more small businesses and people.
Sara said there are so many companies doing their best to be green and “we need to do everything in our power to protect these businesses.” Her podcast is one way she helps support companies to take meaningful steps to be sustainable. She also shares what she can on social media about cross section between businesses and sustainability. A lot of media focuses on the negative environmental impact of business, but it is also important to promote the great things that some companies are doing to protect the environment, especially since these companies are taking on higher costs in order to protect the planet. She appreciates businesses making decisions that align with their values despite the costs. “I just want to make sure that people know we should be supporting these businesses wherever we can, and share them on Instagram, promote them, share them with your friends. Because the more businesses we have that are green, the less businesses we have that are not,” she explained.
She said fear is a significant inhibitor of businesses making sustainable efforts because they worry about pushback if they are not perfect. They know that if they make some efforts but are not fautlessly sustainable, people may criticize them. Sara said,
“I think we have to be a little bit more forgiving to the companies that are trying, and guide them in a way that’s productive and not necessarily destroy them on social media just because they’re trying.”
Sara’s other goal is to help people create sustainability in their careers. She knows many people, especially young adults, are interested in consulting and pushing for increased sustainability in businesses, and she wants to help train them to go out and create positive climate change together.
Sara said almost anyone can be an entrepreneur if they want it badly enough and that it comes down to taking advantage of opportunities. She noted two key points: anything you do is an opportunity to create something bigger, and everything you do is also a lesson that you should use toward your greater project or goal. She said there are so many problems right in front of us that need to be solved, and people have different skill sets that can help solve them. There is so much potential for more people to join the fight against climate change, making Sara’s efforts to help quite impactful.
Sara considers sustainability to be not just a passion, but a lifestyle. She has dedicated her career and calendar to encouraging and assisting others to do what they can to conquer climate change. Creating and sharing hope can sail us into a new Age of Discovery as we unearth how we can help our earth.