An interview with Austin Hohiemer, Copywriter + Digital Associate
Sorting Out the Trash
Austin was a super-intern. After a couple of months, we realized that he was a good cultural fit, he worked super hard, and we didn’t want to live without him. He splits time between writing and working on digital projects.
Interview by Brad Flowers
BF You kind of went above and beyond as an intern.
BF Okay, so as an intern, you wanted to do a project focused on recycling. Describe the project.
AH Sure. I decided to create a resource to help people understand recycling in Lexington. We all think we know what’s recyclable until we’re faced with the moments of truth: is waxed cardboard okay? What about paper coffee cups? Plastic to-go containers? And if recycling isn’t complex enough, all of these answers can change depending on where you live and who manages your collection. So, I decided to start small and create a chatbot that could answer questions about our local curbside recycling program.
BF So, you could have written a blog post, and you created a chatbot?
AH I think it is more helpful.
BF Fair enough, but it does support my above and beyond point. So, why recycling?
AH Well, when we think about sustainability, recycling is often the first tangible thing that comes to mind. If the big, systemic environmental problems feel hopeless, recycling is a thing we can do to affect some small amount of change. But its approachability can also be its undoing. Contamination is a big problem.
BF How so?
AH People tend to be optimistic recyclers. They are hopeful that the pizza box with the grease stain is recyclable. What they don’t realize is that it causes more problems by making the recycling process much more complicated locally.
BF I have literally done that exact thing.
AH I think we all have. Hence the chatbot.
BF I see. What was something surprising that you learned?
AH What we’re able to recycle is driven less by technology and more by profitability. Our recycling is baled and sold to processors, often on another continent. If paper (or cardboard, or number 4 plastic) is no longer profitable, it won’t be accepted. It’s a much more complicated calculus of costs and benefits than I think most of us realize.
BF That is a little depressing.
AH Yeah, I guess so. It makes me think there is an opportunity, too, though.
BF Did this experience change what you do at home?
AH I’ve tended to be frozen by indecision at the recycling bin, unsure of what to include and whether anything will actually be recycled. But a funny thing happens when you try to train a computer — you end up learning a lot yourself.
BF What is an outlier idea that Bullhorn could adopt to reduce its environmental footprint?
AH I think our biggest untapped impact lies in sharing what we know. After all, we have some experience in communicating complex information. By distilling what we know about sustainability and distributing it freely, we can help others reduce their footprints — which benefits us all. It’s a way to broaden our impact beyond what’s possible in our own office.
Really, this is what drew me to Bullhorn in the first place. Our past work showed me that a business could be an agent of change, a force for good that values its community and planet. And it doesn’t have to choose those things over quality of work. I think we’re on to something.