You may know Morgan Rider as co-owner of Thriving Design and the unmistakable voice behind C-BITEs quirky, fun vibe. But what you may not know is Morgan’s unwavering commitment to environmental conservation, her previous history as a storyteller to get people to care about the climate crisis, or the fact that she has two very large cats and a Japanese Garden in Portland, Oregon. We chatted with her about all of these things, plus how her mom shaped her to be a fearless leader even when there weren’t many other women in her field. We hope you are as inspired as we are by our fearless co-leader!
On Morgan’s Time BTD (Before Thriving Design) & History Working In The Sustainability Field
I graduated from Cornell in 1991 with a degree in environmental engineering. I spent the first 20 years of my career in corporate compliance and sustainability, working on environmental health and safety issues and helping companies to minimize their environmental impact from operations. For LSI Logic and Nike I managed state and federal compliance with hazardous waste, wastewater, stormwater and air quality regulations, and I consulted for clients including BMW, Ball Aerospace, and a short stint on a project in China for the World Bank to reduce acid rain in the Anhui province.
I remember when Al Gore was running against George Bush, I was struck by the fact that surveys show that across the country, people all want clean water and clean air — nobody wants their family to get sick. Yet, if we all ultimately care about the same quality of life for our families, regardless of political affiliation, how are we so far apart on issues like climate change and environmental protection? Thinking about that and thinking about my involvement with environmental nonprofits and working in corporate sustainability, our standard practice of writing reports and telling people facts, hoping that people (and businesses) presented with the evidence would do the right thing — which they mostly didn’t.
That conundrum motivated a career swerve into advertising and communications; the idea that storytelling influences people to make changes. If you look at what Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth did, it's really a story that changed people's minds and hearts about climate change. Rarely do facts alone influence actions. Once people know, like and trust the messenger, then maybe they’ll listen to facts and ultimately change their behavior. But it’s a long process. It occurred to me that if advertising can get people to buy things they don’t need, then why shouldn’t we use those same tactics to get people to do things that are in their best interest and their community? So for almost seven years I worked with branding, marketing, and video production companies that were all socially responsible B Corps on how to actually move the needle with people’s thinking on conservation and climate change.
On Morgan’s Non-Profit Work
Currently I am the board chair of the Climate Trust, which helps to develop carbon offset projects across the country, mostly focused on natural climate solutions. Being of service to the community and nonprofits is so important to me and it’s really ingrained with who I am. At one point I think I was on four or five different nonprofit boards. Now I’m down to just one, which is plenty. Climate change is the biggest existential crisis we're facing across the globe. Once we get past COVID, we should be focusing on how to combat the climate crisis.
Enter Morgan’s Brother — Jason aka @Cbite_Guy
In 2019, when Jason received a patent on the C-BITE, he called and asked me if I wanted to help him relaunch the Thriving Design. Having my background in sustainability and manufacturing prior to communications and advertising, it was like a perfect marriage of my skills, experience, and networks to help bring C-BITEs to market and grow the business.
A year ago I did not expect to be working full time at Thriving Design, but when the pandemic hit, it just really made me think about what's important and what I wanted to be when I grew up. Helping Jason with Thriving Design became a no-brainer, because C-BITEs are such a great idea and useful product. And we can use the business as a force for good.
Launching a business during a pandemic is probably the worst time to launch a business. We are lucky that our products are used for gardening, which just exploded in 2020. People have ventured outside and learned to grow their own food, which we hope is a trend that continues into the future! Working with Jason to build our family business really was a blessing in disguise.
On Morgan’s Favorite Part About Co-Owning Thriving Design
I think the relationship that Jason and I have built over the past year has definitely been my favorite part. I’m two years older than him. My competitive nature may have created conflicts when we were kids, and even into adulthood. So him asking me to join the business has really been an opportunity for us to establish a relationship. We haven't lived in the same place in over 30 years, working together has given me a chance to get to know him as not just my younger brother. We've become more than just business partners , we've become friends. He’s incredibly smart and creative, and I admire his dedication to his family and our business.
Another one of my favorite parts about Thriving Design — and really working throughout my career — are the relationships I’ve built over the years. It’s all about connections, being able to know who to reach out to for help and advice. We have a super experienced, knowledgeable team who have really been instrumental to our success. Jason and I would not be here without all of the amazing people that have helped us grow the business.
On Being A Woman Leader In Her Field
So much has happened in the past 30 years since I graduated from college, as far as how women are perceived and accepted in business. Particularly being a woman in sciences and engineering, I was often in the minority at conferences and events. I think women always have to work harder to be heard and taken seriously. But the most important thing is loving what you do, being prepared, and working hard. I think in some ways as women we can be underestimated, which allows for people to take notice and be surprised when we show up and actually know what we’re doing. Which they shouldn't be.
Another important part that makes me such a strong woman now is growing up with such a strong, intelligent mom who was a force to be reckoned with. There were many things growing up that we would call “Naomi-isms,” that would be advice our mother would give us. There were times when Jason got more of something that I wanted and she would say, “Life’s not fair.” Another Naomi-ism is “Ignore irrelevant behavior.” Those nuggets of advice really helped shape who I am. Growing up in Colorado I had horses, we grew food in a large garden, and spent most of our free time outside, our folks instilled a love of nature in both of us. Caring for people and the planet is in our DNA. That’s definitely infused into Thriving Design’s mission and values.
Morgan’s Advice For Girls Our Women Going Into The STEM Field
I would definitely say my best piece of advice would be to find a mentor(s). In my twenties, I was the environmental manager for a semiconductor company, and my boss at the time is somebody who I still cherish. She influenced who I am today, and shaped my career. Finding the women who have walked the path before you to provide advice, guidance and support is really important. Also, I think believing in yourself is crucial. I don't think I ever doubted my choices, well maybe sometimes, but I always believed that I could accomplish what I put my mind to.
Morgan’s Japanese Garden
I bought my house in 1999 from an eighty-year-old couple who had lived there since the late 1940’s. I remember when I first looked at the backyard and saw the Japanese garden filled with rhododendrons, dogwoods and pines, I thought to myself that it would be easy to maintain because there wasn’t any grass to water or mow. I was wrong! Over the years I’ve added Japanese Maples, a prunus mume and a crepe myrtle for more color, and planted a variety of ornamental grasses and bamboo (only clumping varieties). The crown jewel of the house is a Chinese wisteria between my house and the garage — it’s probably 60 or 70 years old, has a trunk the size of a mid-size tree, and it shares fragrant blooms from the spring all the way through the early fall.
I am really conscious and concerned about my water use, so xeriscaping is at the heart of my plant choices. I also try to incorporate native plants as much as possible. About ten years ago my mom came out to visit for a weekend, and to help re-landscape - digging up the patches of grass from the front of my house that were a pain to mow and maintain. We spent three days moving three cubic yards of pea gravel and planting bamboo, Chinese silver grasses, and native hostas and ferns.
I like to say that I don't actually do any gardening; it's really just yard work. There’s always a lot of mulching each spring, deadheading, pulling weeds, and raking leaves in the fall. My favorite part about my garden is when everything starts to poke up out of the ground in early spring — and then explode in color within a few weeks.
Morgan’s Plans For Her Garden This Year
With all of the trees and foliage in my garden, there really hasn’t been sufficient sunlight to grow vegetables. However, this year I’ve decided to plant a container garden on the flat roof of my garage using Smart Pots and C-BITEs and Groyoyas to help with watering. I’ll probably start this year with some tomatoes, cucumbers, herbs and greens. Plants that need support, of course.
C-BITEs In Morgan’s Garden
You can see C-BITEs all around my yard. Now they’re being used to train a new crape myrtle Natchez, and the yellow jasmine I recently planted to hide my next door neighbor’s fence. I also have another trellis built to reroute midnight jasmine away from the house. My neighbors and friends all have C-BITEs in their gardens!
On Morgan’s Insta-Famous Cats
I have two 16 year old cats: Oscar and Alfred, named for Oscar Wilde and his lover, Alfred Douglas. They are half Bengal and half Manx, and 100% enormous; Oscar weighs 19 pounds and Alfie is about 15 pounds. That’s almost 40 pounds of cat combined! They're indoor cats to protect the birds, and prevent injuries and illness. At one point I thought it would fun to get a harness for Oscar to see if I could walk him on a leash. Unfortunately all the cat harnesses were too small -- he needed one made for a medium-sized dog. Oscar knows tricks. He shakes paws, high fives and can catch cat treats. During the summer I do let them out in the garden supervised. Oscar’s favorite place to lounge is on the red bean bag on the back deck. Alfie's favorite place is on my desk, as close as possible to me at all times.
Thriving Design’s Social Mission
When we re-launched Thriving Design, we incorporated as a Public Benefit Corporation and we're 1% for the Planet members. Both Jason and I really care about using business as a force for good and giving back. We intend for our operations to be as sustainable as possible, and we want to provide jobs for people in our local communities. We're proud to say that C-BITEs are made in the U.SA. - in fact Loveland, CO down the street from where we grew up.
Our raw materials, packaging, and displays are all made from recycled materials. We hope one day to have climate neutral and cradle-to-cradle certifications.
Our upbringing and shared interest in the environment have helped Jason and I make Thriving Design more than just any business. We want people to love C-BITEs, but we also want people to love us as a company, too.