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Topeka nonprofit strives to improve the health of people, their communities, and the planet

While Baker University helped her explore and develop her own style of advocacy for sustainable living, Justine Greve, ’09, believes she’s been an environmentalist pretty much from birth.

“I’ve been interested in sustainability my whole life,” says Greve, a Topeka native who majored in English, German, and history. “As long as I can remember, the environment has been a key issue for me.”

She says she started a paper recycling program when she was a high school student at Shawnee Heights. She was a member of the Baker Sustainability Committee and president of the environmental club Earth We Are, where she helped spearhead a trayless program at the university’s cafeteria to reduce the number of dishes students used and as a result the amount of water needed for dishwashing.

“I found that, if you’re in a small enough pond, you can get some face time with the biggest fish,” Greve says of her advocacy efforts at Baker.

Working to Change Default Habits

Today, Greve and her business and life partner, Robert Riley, have taken environmental action to the next level. They cofounded Full Circle Sustainability, a nonprofit that provides environmentally conscious consumers minimally packaged local groceries, home products, and liquid soap refills in an effort to reduce plastic waste and support local agriculture.

Greve says the goal is to help change the mindset of consumers away from the default, standard ways of living and to create systems that make it easier to live in a more conscientious way—one that is healthier for those consumers, their communities, and the planet.

Greve says when she met Riley in November of 2019, “we connected over wanting someplace to get local produce that was more convenient than the farmers market. We were looking for a bulk, zero-packaging store like Sprouts in Kansas City, where you could bring your own containers and that also carried local veggies and other products.

produce in a refrigerator

“I have no business sense, so the idea of creating that myself was really scary,” she says. “But we had this vision of a sustainability hub with produce, compost drop-off, locally sourced meal kits, all these things.”

In June of 2020, Riley started the Topeka Growers Group, aggregating fresh products from several local farmers online and delivering them to area homes. A year later, Riley and Greve learned about a liquid soap refill supplier out of Springfield, Missouri, and started selling its products. In 2023, they incorporated as a nonprofit and set up in an old elementary school building at 2303 S.W. College, where they currently sell their sustainable products from 5-7 p.m. every Thursday and from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. every second Saturday of the month. They received a couple of small grants to fund a TerraCycle collection program, so customers can also drop off items to recycle that are not accepted through other local recycling programs.

Fortunately for Greve, Riley brings a sharp business sense to Full Circle and handles many of the sourcing and distribution details so she can focus on nonprofit administration, content creation, and grant writing. But they work closely together to develop strategies, brainstorm, and work out the logistics of new ideas.

“Justine is a strong leader and is very organized,” Riley says. “She has a laser focus on sustainability and views nearly every decision through an environmental lens. Her everyday commitment to environmentalism is admirable, and she inspires those around her to follow her lead.”

“I Wanted to Learn About a Lot of Things”

Greve says when she graduated from high school she really had no idea what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. But this she did know—she wanted to learn a lot about a lot of things. And she found that Baker fit that bill perfectly.

“I was looking for a liberal arts school,” she says. “I wanted to get a broad education. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I wanted to learn about a lot of things.”

Baker stood out from other liberal arts schools in the state because it had an orchestra, which would allow Greve to continue playing the violin, and all three majors she was interested in: English, German, and history.

“[Baker] allowed me to play in an orchestra and string quartet without being a music major,” she said. “I liked that I had the opportunity to pursue German and get to study abroad. I felt like I was learning for learning’s sake, which was awesome.”

Greve credits her majors in English and history for getting her current job in research and development for the Jackson County, Missouri, Family Court performing statistical research and developing programming.

Perhaps most important, she says Baker allowed her to have a voice when it came to her passion of advocating for a cleaner environment. She wrote an opinion column for the Baker student newspaper, which gave her a forum to write about many of the issues she cared about. She also won an award her senior year for a paper she wrote about controlling plastic bag use and was the recipient of a prestigious Fulbright scholarship that allowed her to teach in Germany.

“Justine was one of the most thoughtful, intellectually curious and linguistically gifted students I’ve had the pleasure of working with,” says Dr. Cynthia Appl, former professor of German and member of the faculty in Baker’s Department of Humanities, who taught Greve and developed a friendship with her. “Knowing her as a student and then as a friend over the years, Justine’s commitment to living ethically stands out as a constant.”

Plans for Expansion

Justine Greve and Robert Riley

Greve says she has a vision of Full Circle eventually being a sustainability hub for the Topeka area, complete with compost facilities and a community education component.

“We want to expand from weekly delivery and pickup to more options throughout the week,” she said. “We’d like to expand into more bulk foods—grains, nuts, coffee. And we’d love to offer meal kits in returnable packaging, made with local produce or food that would otherwise go to waste.”

Appl, who shares Greve’s passion for environmentalism, says she’s confident the world will be a better place because of people like Greve who is “being the change she wants to see in the world.”

“I’m immensely proud of her perseverance in turning her vision into reality,” Appl said. “And I’m excited about the growth of Full Circle Sustainability.”

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