World Wildlife Fund Sustainability Works

Rising Stars in Sustainability: Lauren Sweeney

  • Date: 04 April 2024

Hundreds of billions of pieces of single-use foodservice packaging are used in just the US every year. It’s well-understood that reusable packaging is more sustainable from an environmental, climate, and public health perspective, but introducing reusable packaging can be challenging. DeliverZero changes that.

DeliverZero is a full-service reusable packaging solution that simplifies reuse for businesses of all sizes. Through integrations with major delivery apps like DoorDash and Uber and POS systems like Toast, DeliverZero makes it easy for customers to receive and return reusable packaging. While DeliverZero is best known for this work in the foodservice industry, our system is also used in other use cases, such as grocery, meal kit deliveries, and ecommerce, as well as closed-loop environments such as corporate catering.

For our Rising Stars series, we're featuring the next generation of leaders who are working toward a more sustainable world. We recently spoke with Lauren Sweeney, Co-Founder and CEO of Deliver Zero, to learn about her role, her inspiration, and advice for those new to the field.

Lauren Sweeney

Why did you decide to pursue a career in corporate sustainability?

One of my first jobs was in a health food store and cafe in my hometown on Long Island. We used everything to the maximum extent–jars were repurposed as prep storage containers, local farmers came to pick up our food scraps, many customers brought their own cups and bags, and we used the same Ikea dish towels I use today. It was a really joyful place to be.

Later on, I spent a few years in early-stage consumer startups. Those roles were rewarding, too–I learned how to quickly iterate on ideas based on customer feedback, and I got to work alongside some really smart and interesting people. But I also worked really long hours and found myself regularly picking up juices in single-use plastic bottles from a place around the corner from my daughter’s preschool and ordering Sweetgreen or sushi to my office instead of packing lunch, which frankly I didn’t have time for as a single mom with a demanding career.

When I met my co-founder, who had this idea to create a zero-waste restaurant delivery app and needed help on the customer side, it felt like an opportunity to bring together my values and my professional skill set.

What have you found most rewarding about your work? What is the most challenging?

The most rewarding aspect of my work at DeliverZero is seeing the impact of our solutions on reducing single-use packaging waste and inspiring change in large corporations towards sustainable practices, even in the face of challenges and resistance. Consumers desperately want reusable solutions made accessible to them, and we’re empowering businesses of all sizes, from Whole Foods to locally operated restaurants, to meet that need.

The biggest challenge is in how slowly most corporations are rising to the occasion. Our continued survival on the planet means doing everything we can to mitigate climate change, prevent biodiversity loss, protect our oceans, and ensure that everyone has clean air to breathe and water to drink.

All this stuff is well-known, which is why policymakers are working on solutions on their end. In the meantime, big corporations are not nearly interested enough in fitting reduction strategies like reuse into their operations. They are waiting until legislation passes to truly work to reduce packaging waste–and while we all wait, they’re producing more plastics than ever, even when the climate, environmental, and public health harms are well-known. Sure, they run questionably architected pilots here and there, or they pay consultants 7-figure sums to sit in conference rooms or on zoom and talk about what solutions could look like, but they are not engaging in solutions. They are not integrating reuse into the fabric of their organizations.

And of course, I say all of this with appreciation for the partners that have already made the choice to work with us. Their peers need to join them.

What advice would you give to someone just beginning their career in corporate sustainability?

You might not land your dream job or execute the perfect version of your startup vision right away. Instead, figure out how you can create value for others and use what you have to help achieve it. By getting started and focusing on the value you can create in this space, you will open up unexpected opportunities for yourself.

What are you excited about for the future?

Mandatory Scope 3 emissions reporting and extended producer responsibility. I’m a lot of fun at parties.



The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of WWF.

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