Andreas Souvaliotis realized who he was after his father said who he hated.
Souvaliotis, the marketer behind the Green Rewards program, was about seven years old when his dad said he’d sooner his son drop dead than be gay.
Realization and repression arrived in tandem, like piano movers or handcuffed prisoners. In his 2018 memoir Misfit, Souvaliotis describes modifying the way he talked, the way he played with friends and even his “feminine” handwriting in order to please his father. His father, he notes, was: “just an ordinary, progressive man” by the standards of Greece in the early 1970s.
Souvaliotis kept his sexuality secret from his father for nearly 15 years. In that time he moved to Canada, graduated university, and got a computer programming job in Winnipeg.
Then his dad came to visit.
Souvaliotis was at work when his dad asked if he could borrow a suitcase for the trip back.
“Sure,” his son told him. “Take my blue Samsonite from the closet.”
Inside that suitcase was a love letter Souvaliotis had written to a boy.
“In those few seconds, with a twist of irony that involved my closet, years and years of elaborate schemes and firewalls came crashing down,” he writes.
For years, his father had told everyone he’d rather have a dead son than a gay one. But after that day, the choice was made for him, Souvaliotis notes.
Reflecting on the memoir and the life that went into it, Souvaliotis laughs when he explains that his parents had to contend with a child who was “extra weird.”
“I spent most of my adulthood, until 10 years ago, feeling horrifically embarrassed,” he says. “It was only in my mid-40s that I started to realize that a lot of these things I was trying to quash were un-quashable.”
He can’t be un-gay, he says. He can’t step off the autism spectrum or trade his atypical brain for a typical one. But more than that, he doesn’t want to.
“The things that have actually made me always feel a little bit weird – like my autism, for instance – were the things that ultimately fueled my ability to innovate and invent,” he says.
One of Souvaliotis’ peculiarities, he says, is a fascination with weather and climate.
“I became the most horrifically intense and boring weather geek you’ve ever met in your life. You don’t want to go on a dinner date with me because I’ll be talking about the weather in Mongolia.”
For most of his life, his interest in weather was something to occupy his restless mind, but, he thought, otherwise useless.
In 2007, partially as a result of Al Gore’s climate change documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, a knowledge of changes in the global climate set Souvaliotis apart from his fellow marketers.
“Because of my autistic brain, I was looking at this and going: ‘Holy shit! This is going to change consumer behaviour by the billions forever.’”
But while he envisioned a “marketing megatrend,” his colleagues saw the green economy as a fad, “like square-toed shoes or miniskirts,” he writes. “And I began to realize that, perhaps for the first time in my career, I enjoyed a special advantage and I had a niche I could exploit.”
The result was Green Rewards, a loyalty program that gave points to customers for buying environmentally friendly items.
A 2007 Globe and Mail article noted that Green Rewards was a departure from other loyalty programs: “the one thing people will not be able to spend their Green Rewards points on is airline flights, which are heavy contributors to greenhouse gases,” reporter Richard Blackwell writes.
Green Rewards, which was eventually fused with the Air Miles program, marked new era for Souvaliotis.
He subsequently founded the wellness app Carrot Rewards and began a stint on the board of Windmill Microlending, which helps skilled immigrants Canadianize their credentials.
His memoir, originally self-published before being picked up by Penguin Random House, is an attempt to help young people embrace the fullness of their identities, no matter how weird.
“I don’t want the next 20 year olds to take a very long time,” Souvaliotis says. “People should figure this out at a much younger age than I did.”