February 11, 2019
It took 10 years for Nathan Gassmann to get his bachelor’s degree — the “scenic route,” as he called it. But finally getting that diploma in 2014 from the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University was the result of a lot of hard work, persistence, and balancing responsibilities as a parent, student and employee.
Gassmann recently landed a job as Subway’s manager of global sustainability, and he said he’s excited to enact change at a large scale. His advice for all Sun Devils is to challenge themselves.
“Seven years ago I was working behind the counter on Mill Avenue making sandwiches, and by embracing all that the School of Sustainability has to offer and by pushing myself to get better every day, I'm now in a position where I can make a global impact — one sandwich at a time,” Gassmann said.
Read the Q&A below to learn more about Gassmann’s path to sustainability.
Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study sustainability?
Answer: Let’s just start by saying that I took the scenic route to enrollment. I was 28 with a two-year-old daughter when the lightbulb lit for me. I had been working in the food service industry for a little over ten years and attending classes at community colleges as life allowed, but with no real direction. I can't say that there was an “aha” moment before enrollment, rather a few long hard looks in the mirror and a realization that I wanted to provide the best life possible for my daughter and family.
I think it was my personal definition of the "best life possible" that led me to sustainability, and it was a realization that I had been unintentionally making a lot of sustainable lifestyle choices, so it was more of a connecting of the dots for me. I did, however, have a real "aha" moment when I first heard the poem that Ray Anderson of Interface made famous called Tomorrow's Child. That one really hit home, as my wife and I were expecting our second child, and from that moment forward my compass had found its true north.
Q: Why did you choose ASU?
A: The choice was easy for me. I had moved to Arizona when I was 18 with the plan to attend community colleges and knock out some general education credits while earning my resident status, and then transfer to ASU to complete my degree. It took me ten years to get that accomplished, but that was my plan and I stuck to it. It was also an easy choice because ASU has the first and the best School of Sustainability in the country.
Q: Can you tell us about your new position with Subway?
A: I'm so excited about this role and the opportunity that it presents! I recently joined Subway as the manager of global sustainability, and it’s at a really exciting time for the brand. Subway is iconic in North America and it is truly a global brand with over 42,000 restaurants in over 100 countries. A few years ago the brand recognized that consumer expectations have evolved, so Subway is evolving with them. A key component of that transformational journey has been the addition of a global sustainability function, and we're now building out Subway's sustainability agenda. We're excited to find opportunities to improve and to tell the stories of all the great things Subway has already been doing in this space.
I'm also personally really excited to create impact at scale. I view food systems as a real nexus of sustainability where the social and environmental worlds collide, so working to affect change at the biggest restaurant chain in the world presents really exciting and challenging opportunities!
Q: How has the School of Sustainability prepared you for your career?
A: I had some amazing professors who really challenged me, some amazing peers who motivated me to work harder, and some really great experiences at the School of Sustainability. I have to say that the difference-maker for me was getting involved outside of the classroom, with activities at Changemaker Central, The Wrigley Lecture Series, and working with GreenLight Solutions. These types of opportunities were really inspiring and gave me exposure to some amazing people, but most importantly, they allowed me to apply my education outside of the classroom.
Q: What does sustainability mean to you?
A: For me sustainability is a really broad concept, but really it’s just about life. It’s about beating hearts and smiling faces, it’s about enjoying each other and it’s about love. It’s about coming to a collective realization that if we want to enjoy these things, we have to find solutions to both social and environmental challenges. It’s so much deeper than solar panels and recycling. At the same time, sustainability is also about applying these types of improvements and not resisting change, along with respecting our past and getting back to simpler times. If we can find the right balance, life will thrive.