Our Climate Journey with Ritu Narayan
“To me, sustainability isn’t complicated—it simply means living in a way that leaves the world as good or better than we found it.”
CEO & Founder, Zum
At Zum, we’re not only revolutionizing student transportation, but electrifying it as well—shifting our traditional buses to EVs, and helping usher in the energy transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. What began as a mission to serve parents has evolved into our current vision: to build the sustainable future in which our children move, learn, and live.
In short, we’ve been on a journey.
It’s a journey that involves everyone in our ecosystem: the incredible drivers, parents, administrators, employees, and business partners executing on our mission every day, driving our vision forward. Each of us is on our own individual journey, too—the journey to figure out how best to shape a green, sustainable, and meaningful future.
That’s why we’re kicking off this interview series—Our Climate Journey. Every month, we’ll sit down with a different member of the Zum team and ask them three simple questions about sustainability and climate. We’ll start with our Co-Founder and CEO, Ritu, and over time we’ll hear from more and more people, both within and outside our company—because building the future of electrified student transportation isn’t something we can do alone. Only by joining all of our stories together will we be able to make a difference.
3 Questions with Ritu Narayan
At Zum, we’re revolutionizing student transportation in order to build a green, sustainable future. What does sustainability mean to you?
Last year, I was in Patagonia with my family—the national park. Trees and mountains, snow-capped peaks, water a shade of blue you won’t find anywhere else. Toward the end of the trip I remember looking around and thinking, “This … is perfect.” Nothing was processed, everything had grown like that. Nature is such a gift. Then I looked at my son and daughter, Yash and Anusha, and I remember thinking, “One day, they will have kids, and if we continue down the path we’re on—polluting and burning fossil fuels and creating mountains of trash—all of this won’t be around when they come back.” I’ve had similar thoughts before, but something about Torres del Paine made it more visceral to me. I don’t know, more real. It sounds childish, but the idea that my children’s children wouldn’t be able to see the park—it was heartbreaking. To me, sustainability isn’t complicated—it simply means living in a way that leaves the world as good or better than we found it.
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 grew up in the outskirts of Dehradun, a valley in the foothills of the Himalayas. As a kid, I used to cross a dry riverbed and walk ten minutes to a pickup spot, where I’d get a ride to school. If it rained, though, the river would fill, and it would take me nearly an hour to get to the same spot. That was years ago. Today, with extreme weather patterns as a result of climate change, the rains in that part of India are more unpredictable, and that river is more likely to fill up. I’m very fortunate to live in the United States now, but there are children back in India who still have to cross that river, and who have to do it more frequently than I did. Climate change is little girls in India walking two hours every day to get to school. This, of course, is only one example. It’s taking the lives of those who are already struggling, those who are already marginalized or vulnerable, and making their lives harder. That’s why we need to do everything we can to slow and reverse it.
What can Zum do to be a leader in sustainability, to spearhead the charge in the fight against climate change?
As a company, we’re making a huge push to electrify our fleets. That means, instead of internal combustion engine buses, we’ll have zero-emission vehicles transporting our children around San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, Seattle. Less pollution means healthier students and bluer skies—and this is the tip of the iceberg. Our plans are still under wraps, but I will share as we go. I’m very excited about the sustainable future we’re building at Zum.
One of the most important things we can do, though, is watch, listen, and learn. Last year, on a visit to the Los Angeles bus depot, our CTO, Abhishek, noticed large piles of disposable cups littering the yard. He suggested to the yard manager that we give a reusable carry mug to each driver. Within a week the mugs had been distributed, and the trash cleaned up. I was inspired by how quickly the yard acted, and the amount of litter they eliminated—400 drivers drinking two cups a day, 200 days out of the year. That’s a lot of waste! Even small actions can make a big difference.
Sustainability is a big goal, but it’s made up of millions of tiny wins. Everyone has something to contribute, inspiration to share—not only our drivers and employees, but our students, our parents, our school administrators, investors, partners, and communities. That’s why we’re launching this interview series—to hear the stories of those around us, so that together we can build the sustainable future we all want to be a part of.