Connecting People To Nature: A Q&A With Tom Tyler

At Blue Beyond, we’ve built a culture around creating the future we yearn for. One of our key commitments to this culture is:

“We have a deep, sustaining, and conscientious connection to nature and an enduring stewardship for our particular place on the planet”

One way that we hold to this commitment is by going on hikes as a team — like this one shown in the video below: our hike at Sibley Volcanic Regional Perserve led by our CFO and Earth Science ace, Tom Tyler.

This time spent in nature gives us a break from the exhausting pace of our daily lives — much of which are spent indoors surrounded by technology. Any time we spend in nature allows us to reconnect to the world around us and to each other. Tom was kind enough to share his insights on the importance of remaining grounded in our place on Earth, in the following Q & A.

What’s your role at Blue Beyond?

I serve Blue Beyond as our Chief Financial Officer, a rather lofty title that really comes down to these rather “traditional” roles: handling the payroll, coordinating our employee benefits program, monitoring accounts receivable and payable, and managing the cash flow with all of our clients.  My role has also evolved in less traditional CFO ways—by finding ways to promote interpersonal and family connections among our employees (e.g., sending out bi-weekly in-house updates, leading local outdoor adventures, coordinating our company picnic, etc.)  and by facilitating ways our company can serve the larger community (e.g., leading service projects, promoting our company “giving” programs, etc.)

Do you remember when this commitment was created? If so, what was your role in that?

Eleven years ago, I took a sabbatical from my full-time job as a high school science teacher to deal with some pressing health issues and to consider how I might better balance my professional and personal goals, especially as they related to being a teacher, husband, and father. During that discernment process, Cheryl had the opportunity to launch her own consulting company.  What started out as an experiment while I was healing (i.e. Cheryl as the primary breadwinner and me as the primary childcare parent) worked out very well and led to my decision within a year to leave the classroom to support Cheryl in her new business venture, primarily to manage the finances of our growing company.

How is stewardship of place similar to or different from stewardship of people (growing a company, hiring employees, etc.)?

To me, stewardship implies taking responsibility and caring for that with which you have been entrusted—and it implies a certain moral obligation—whether it be about the sustained well-being of your colleagues, your neighborhood, or our planet.

In some ways a company is very much like an ecosystem—an interconnected and interdependent collection of people and principles that is dynamic, growing, and seeking a healthy equilibrium. 

I see it as my responsibility to help foster healthy relationships in that collective, to shepherd and safeguard values that promote our collective well-being, and that serve the larger community in which we are embedded.

How does a connection to nature inform your work, personally?

I begin each of my days with an early morning walk, usually around dawn and almost always in a wooded area in a park, typically for about 40 minutes. I find these walks to be unfailingly restorative and uplifting—a combination of physical exercise, meditative calm, and steadying mindfulness that gives me a healthy perspective at the beginning of my day. These walks in nature remind me that I am deeply rooted in the world, that I am a part of something quite grand and marvelous, and that there is a life force within me for which I am eternally grateful. This connection to nature grounds me and elevates me at the same time—giving me a more refined and joyful sense of purpose and gratitude.  I try to carry that perspective into the rest of my day, in all the things that I do, including my work.

How does a connection to nature inform Blue Beyond’s work?

It is not a coincidence that Cheryl and I met while I was camping and she was volunteering in a national park.  From the beginning, we have shared a deep and abiding connection to nature, tapping into that wellspring often (e.g., hiking, camping, exploring) to help us keep our perspective and balance as our lives have become steadily more complicated, demanding, and stretching. One of the things I particularly like about our new Blue Beyond logo (thanks, Sara!), is that it evokes in me a sense of being grounded on the Earth while reaching above and beyond the horizon. I think that graphic captures much of what I hope our company does for our clients (and for our colleagues)—gives them a strong sense of what grounds and connects them to each other while inspiring them to create the future they yearn for.

How do you view the threats to our planet and our response to those threats (as people, organizations, etc)?

While every generation may feel a similar sense of urgency about the perceived threats to our planet, there’s no denying that we currently face challenges that are absolutely unprecedented in human history—global climate change, soaring population growth, fouling of our air and water, etc.—that will require equally unprecedented global cooperation and action to address.

Organizations like Blue Beyond, while small, can create in-house microcosmic models of how to work and live ethically, sustainably, and with an eye to the future—and can help much larger organizations (i.e., our clients) with considerably more influence and reach to lead the way in creating a more sustainable and healthy future for all.

While it may sound a bit Pollyannish, I firmly believe that our company (and any committed group of people) can achieve surprisingly great things—or, as Margaret Mead famously put it, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

What does it mean to have a conscientious connection to nature? How does that impact the day-to-day?

Having a conscientious connection to nature is increasingly challenging to establish and maintain, partly because so many of us lead largely sedentary, indoor lives (especially at work) that keep us much more connected to our technology (e.g., television, computers, cell phones, etc.) than to the natural world around us (which in itself can be challenging to access in the dense urban environments where many of us live and work).  A groundbreaking book, Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv, demonstrated the particularly high cost of this estrangement from the natural world that is emerging in our children, the very same generation that will need to feel more connected to our planet if they are to be inspired to help save it.

How does the connection to nature as a value and commitment show up in Blue Beyond’s work? Culture? Lived experience?

Most people have a strong positive connotation to the word “home”. Growing up in the 60’s, I was profoundly influenced by the first images astronauts took of the Earth as seen whole from space—it greatly expanded my sense of what “home” means to me.  The field of study—ecology—that emerged from this expanded sense of what our home is literally derives from the Greek word oikos: “family home”.

In my work with Blue Beyond, I look for ways to give our employees experiences that give them a keener sense of place, of their connection to the natural and human communities woven together where they live and work, and of their stewardship responsibility to this larger home. Over the years, I’ve lead our employees on outdoor hikes and mini-adventures in local parks (e.g., Angel Island, Lake Chabot, Sibley Volcanic Preserve, Brooks Island) to help foster that connection to our home, to our sense of place, and to each other. On a smaller scale, the members of our Ops and Finance teams nearly always begin our meetings with an hour walk together in a local park before we settle into our more structured time at the office.

We find that the time on the trail is very well spent—the fresh air, relaxed camaraderie, and stimulating exercise always seems to lead to more focused and productive time together.

What do you have in mind for a next outdoor adventure with your Blue Beyond colleagues?

I’d like to celebrate the extraordinary bounty of this year’s rainfall (following over 5 years of California drought) by going for an extended walk and picnic dinner at Sunol Regional Park—which, come spring, will have glorious wildflower displays and incredible creek flows (highlighted by an amazing grotto of pools and boulders called Little Yosemite).  It’s the same hike I did for nearly 20 years with my students to celebrate the end of the school year—and I’d love to share it with my Blue Beyond colleagues.