From a ceramics studio in California to an architecture firm on Nantucket, Anne Sherman has sought out environments and experiences that move her.
"I feel very lucky because I'm doing exactly what I want to do right now. I'm always looking for ways to challenge myself," she says.
For about a year, Sherman has been director of sustainable development at Staach Inc., a furniture design and manufacturing firm founded by college friend Seth Eshelman. Staach makes chairs, tables and other furnishings that use non-toxic and responsibly harvested materials. Sherman's job is to keep Staach focused on one of its founding principles: to do business in a way that protects natural resources, respects workers and the wider community, and creates equitable access to the benefits of growth.
"We're there to do work that we think is meaningful and to sustain ourselves," she says. "The making of chairs is an outlet for our passion but also a way to fuel projects (that have meaning)."
Sherman, 31, has always had creative pursuits. A lifelong interest in ceramics led her to work in the medium for three years after high school, first briefly in a studio in San Jose, Calif., then as an assistant manager in a crafts gallery back home in Hyannis Port, Mass.
Gallery work was fun but not intellectually stimulating enough, so she enrolled in Rochester Institute of Technology, intending to focus on ceramics. She switched to interior design-keeping the creative focus but boosting her income prospects-and graduated with a B.A. in 2006.
Her first job out of college was at Botticelli & Pohl Architects, a Nantucket firm that focused on residential design, and she worked there for five years. But Sherman had grown up in a family with a clear sense of social justice and environmental responsibility, and eventually she became disenchanted with her work helping to design sprawling compounds on the island.
"The last house I worked on was for Tommy Hilfiger," she says. "They lived in these giant homes for three months of the year. It goes against everything I believe in."
Sherman decided that to advance her career she would have to focus on something she believed in-sustainable design. She enrolled in Philadelphia University, where she earned an M.S. degree and grew interested in business practices, an application of sustainability new to her. Developing anything in a sustainable way-whether it is a business or a building-requires respect for natural resources, individuals and communities.
Sherman's master's thesis dissected the B corporation, also known as the benefit corporation. Roughly 800 companies in 27 countries are certified as that type of business entity-a company that defines success not only financial terms but by considering social and environmental performance and accountability. Sherman used Staach to frame her thesis research, and in her job now she is using the portfolio of materials she amassed to apply for the company's B corp status. Staach was founded as a corporation in 2008, before New York law permitted B corporations.
With design interests that extend from the creation of a business to the building of a physical space, Sherman also remains involved in design work at Staach. She particularly enjoys space planning and other architectural elements of a project, so when one of her mentors, RIT professor Alex Bitterman, encouraged her to enroll in RIT's new School of Architecture, she took the plunge. She is studying part time, taking business courses as electives.
"I need to be doing things all the time to stay interested," she says. "The benefit of going through a program when it's new is you have a lot of opportunity to influence how it's developed."
At Staach she has found a tribe of people who, like her, are invested in making a difference while doing what they enjoy.
"I think we're building a really fantastic community of creative people who are actually working and making it happen," she says.
Faststart is a biweekly feature focusing on young professionals. Send suggestions for future Faststart stories to Special Projects Editor Sally Parker at email@example.com.
7/19/13 (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.