"What I learned in FES I don’t think I could have learned any other way.”
Only two years after graduation, Prianka Das (BES 2014) is proud to apply her passion for the environment and her learning around sustainability and corporate responsibility as the coordinator of national food services at Holt Renfrew (HR). As part of the team behind making HR the first national Canadian retailer to achieve ocean wise certification at its cafes for their complete menu, Das’s work is an example of how to influence environmental change through a corporate role without a specific eco mandate.
“Professor Jose Etcheverry really inspired us all to see how much difference we can make in our daily lives by making simple changes,” Das said. “I made a goal to do something I would be really proud of.”
Now, through her procurement role sourcing suppliers for Holts Cafes she can make simple changes that end up with a national impact.
Das was drawn to an environmental career in her last year of highschool at Wexford C.I., a fine arts school She co-founded an environmental group at the Oakridge Community Recreation Centre near Pharmacy Ave and Denton Ave with a few of her friends . The group arranged an Earth Day Festival, with a community clean up and barbeque.
“It was brilliant,” Das said. “So many people came. My team was even recognized for our community service by the City of Toronto. I became more interested and more exposed to environmental issues and it really changed the way I looked at things. “
That summer she received many university acceptance letters for programs in graphic design and visual arts but it was her FES application that was the most exciting for her.
“I always wanted to go to York,” Das said. “My love of art hasn’t left me. But what I learned in FES I don’t think I could have learned any other way.”
One of the benefits of FES for Das was the huge variety of additional certificates she could pursue. In addition to her Bachelor of Environmental Studies she has certificates in Sustainable Energy and Emergency Management.
“It makes you really busy but it enhances your degree,” Das said.
It was the Emergency Management that lead her to her current path.
“One of my classmates was working on a project with the Canadian Red Cross and I saw it as a great opportunity to volunteer and grow my network,” Das said.
He was building an emergency preparedness plan for the GTA around food, developing agreements with caterers who could work on a large scale to feed hot meals to tens of thousands of people.
As the plan took shape, the ice storm of 2013 hit and with approximately 300,000 people in Toronto without power, the Canadian Red Cross put parts of the plan into action, providing 18,000 meals in warming centres across the GTA.
“My friend was from out west and he couldn’t even go home for Christmas,” Das said. “It was intense but it was also fascinating to be there. It felt like unbelievable timing to have done all this research and prepared all the agreements and then to be faced with a real need to mobilize.”
Eventually her classmate moved onto another project and Das took on his role. Eight months later the national food services coordinator position was posted at HR. She aced the interview and landed the position and has been thrilled with the mentorship and experience she has gained since.
“Before this job I didn’t know much about restaurants,” Das said. “But since I started we’ve launched two new locations, one in Vancouver and one in the Yorkdale Mall.”
Every café has it’s own local manager but Das coordinates all the procurement, from helping plan their menu to procuring the salt and pepper shakers. What they serve and where it comes from is part of her domain.
“I feel really lucky to be mentored by an amazing manager who supports my vision for sustainability and to be part of a company that is actively participating in making a difference in the world,” Das said.
Looking back at her time at FES, her advice to students would be to get active in extracurriculars and volunteer as soon as you can.
“Volunteering is such an amazing way to expand your network,” Das said. “There are great opportunities out there to make friends and get involved in student groups. I wish I had got involved in the Canadian Red Cross earlier, it really helped me in my career.”
Current Job Title
- Coordinator of National Food Services, Holt Renfrew