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Our Climate Journey with Liz Sanchez

“At first, I didn’t totally appreciate how critical sustainability is to our company and our future, but I came to see it over time. And the same is true for our partners across the country. That’s what we have to do—continue to lead the industry forward by showing our current and future partners across the country how vital sustainability and electrified transportation are.”

Liz Sanchez
Executive Vice President of Student Transportation

Liz, Executive Vice President of Student Transportation for Zūm and previous COO of Durham and SVP of First Student, brings over 35 years of experience in student transportation. She is an expert in all aspects of multi-state management including operations, finance, business development, labor, fleet, new start-ups, change management, and facility management. At Zum, she has been instrumental in growing the company, overseeing market expansion and on-the-ground operations.

1. Sustainability

At Zum, we’re revolutionizing student transportation in order to build a green, sustainable future. What does sustainability mean to you?

To me, sustainability is understanding and truly caring about how we impact the environment. It’s sad to say, but honestly, it’s not something I paid much attention to in my earlier years. Not until I joined Zum did sustainability really become a focus for me.

But I remember the day it happened vividly. This was in the early days of Zum, when we were still only in a handful of markets. We were getting things ready in Los Angeles, working 24/7 to get the yard up and running, hiring drivers, working with the school district, simply doing everything. One day, our CTO, Abhishek, came to the LA yard. After touring the facility, he pointed to this mountain of plastic water bottles, and pulled me aside. “Liz,” he said, “this isn’t how we do things. This company cares about the impact we have on the environment. We can’t have all this plastic.”

I was mortified—he was totally right. The first thing I did was get rid of all the plastic bottles at the LA yards. We gave all of our drivers reusable Zum tumblers. And from that day forward I’ve carried my own Zum water bottle with me everywhere I go. It’s a small thing for me personally, but when you multiply it by all of the drivers and employees we have at Zum, it actually is a lot of plastic, especially given how fast we’re growing. So it’s made an impact.

Not too long ago, I visited our main office in the Bay Area. There were plastic bottles at our HQ office, and I asked Abhishek, “What’s going on with all this plastic?” And he said, “You’re right.” So we hold each other accountable.

That’s sustainability to me.

2. Climate Change

Climate change is the single greatest threat to our way of life, but it can sometimes feel abstract, far away, a problem for another time. How has climate change affected you personally?

I love, and live in, California. I’m very fortunate to be here, but we also experience the effects of extreme weather patterns every single day. There have been a lot of storms recently; I have friends and family members who have been displaced by flooding. Every year there are fires and power outages. It gets more extreme every year.

I’m not going to be around forever, and even my kids are mostly grown—but I have two granddaughters, and things are going to get a lot worse over the course of their lifetime. Like I said, I used to not pay too much attention to our impact on the environment, but when I think about how bad it’s going to be for my grandkids, that’s when climate change starts to feel real. We have to do better.

3. Leadership

What can Zum do to be a leader in sustainability, to spearhead the charge in the fight against climate change?

Of course, transitioning from diesel to electric buses is a huge step. And our advanced routing reduces the number of buses on the road, which saves schools time and money that can be better spent on children, in classrooms. So that all helps.

To me, though, the biggest thing we’re doing is educating. Specifically, Zum is having a conversation with our school district partners about how important sustainability is—how critical it is to have EV buses, more efficient routes, and cleaner air. With any paradigm shift, there’s going to be a learning curve, and with our school district partners, it sometimes takes a while to get them to understand why it’s so critical to make all of these changes. But once we present everything we’re doing—the EV bus fleets, more efficient routes, less costs —school districts come around, and appreciate the importance of sustainability, of fighting against the climate crisis.

It’s a bit like what I experienced when I started at Zum. At first, I didn’t totally appreciate how critical sustainability is to our company and our future, but I came to see it over time. And the same is true for our partners across the country.

That’s what we have to do—continue to lead the industry forward by showing our current and future partners across the country how vital sustainability and electrified transportation are.