Mar 19, 2021

Safe workplaces in a time of COVID: Behind the scenes of the Zymergen machine

As part of our We Make Tomorrow conversation series, EH&S Manager Andrea Pezda shares the challenges and rewards of responding to the pandemic

Andrea Pezda, Zymergen Environmental Health & Safety Manager

At Zymergen, we not only partner with nature to make breakthrough products, but we also partner with each other to create safe, productive workspaces. Environmental Health & Safety Manager Andrea Pezda explains how the pandemic has changed the way we do things, and some of the unexpected rewards that can come along with that.

What do you love about your job? 
I think for a lot of people in my field — for me at least — we do it because we truly believe in protecting people. That’s really the driving force. I never anticipated working in EH&S — I came from research originally — but I’ve enjoyed this work so much because you get to use your own creativity to come up with ways to enable everyone to do their jobs and stay safe. It doesn’t always feel like that on the other end, I know, but we appreciate the work everyone is doing and how difficult it is, and we’re working just as hard on solutions that work for the entire team.

How has your work changed in response to COVID?
In general, it means we need to collaborate even more across teams, and that part has been extremely exciting and so insightful. We have people from diverse parts of the company come together and figure out what we need to do for our team members to work on-site safely. We’ll be at meetings where we say: What’s required? How can we make that work? How can we collaborate to make that happen? And that has been super rewarding.

How do you explain what Zymergen does to family and friends?
None of my family members work in this field, so this is typically how I describe it: we’re using microorganisms to make interesting molecules. They’re building blocks that we can then use for other things. Instead of making something from oil, we have the microorganisms do the work for us. And that provides more sustainable product alternatives.

How do you hope Zymergen makes tomorrow?
Zymergen has the potential to be a really trustworthy brand that people rely on. The products we’re developing now will ultimately help people live in more sustainable ways. For example, when I learned that certain types of sunscreen are killing coral reefs, I was faced with a dilemma: do I keep wearing the same sunscreen and contribute to damaging ocean habitats, or do I risk getting skin cancer myself? Not really a win-win. I could do hours of research on which brand of sunscreen will both protect me and protect wildlife. But if I know a brand is trustworthy and safe, that saves me so much time, and I can feel good about that purchase. I think that’s what Zymergen has the power to do: establish ourselves as a trustworthy brand that creates sustainable, revolutionary products. That’s a worthy goal as a company to have.