Matthew Toavs ’98 has played many roles at Whole Foods Market since he got his first position in 2001 as a bulk buyer for the Lake Calhoun store in Minneapolis.
At Northland College, he studied outdoor education-natural history with minors in earth science and environmental education and worked for two summers on Lee and Judy Stadnyk’s organic dairy and vegetable farm, south of Ashland.
“That experience and hours discussing ideas with Lee got me hooked on farming,” he said.
He went on to earn a master of sustainable agriculture degree at the University of London, then applied to Whole Foods to learn the business side. Toavs was quickly promoted from bulk buyer to grocery buyer then store accountant.
When the regional president put out a call to form a regional environmental committee, Toavs jumped at the chance. Elected co-leader, the committee began promoting sustainable practices like encouraging reusable bags by paying customers ten-cents for each bag they brought in, creating standardized recycling signs, and training programs for team members.
In 2005, he was promoted to regional financial analyst at the regional office in Chicago and his side role as environmental committee co-leader evolved into what became called the regional Green Mission specialist.
In this role, he promoted company-wide initiatives: finding opportunities to donate and compost food waste, offsetting one-hundred-percent of electricity consumption through the purchase of renewable energy credits, standardizing the bag refunds, and banning single-use plastic bags from all of its stores.
In 2017, he was promoted to team leader for enterprise data modeling at Whole Foods headquarters in Austin, Texas, and continues to work with the Green Mission team.
“While this work is a far cry from the outdoor adventuring and natural history interpretation I focused on at Northland, it has been very satisfying to see my ideas and love for Earth translated into some significant, positive, real-world impacts,” he said.