Welcome to the first installment of “Women in Circularity.”
Through this new series of monthly spotlights, I hope to shine a light on women contributing to the development of the circular economy, which prioritizes economic growth offering positive societal and environmental benefits and includes practices such as zero waste, closed loop, sustainable materials management, resilience and regeneration.
We will feature women leading the way across a range of sectors, including individuals at major corporations; consulting businesses; nonprofits; local, state and federal government agencies and more. My intent is to provide you with quick snapshots that offer inspiration in your personal and professional sustainability journeys.
I am pleased to also note the series is launching in March to tie into International Women’s Day, March 8. This day is a global celebration of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.
And to kick things off, I talked with a global waste warrior who gives me regular doses of inspiration: my colleague Stephanie Barger. Stephanie manages the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) global, third-party verified zero waste certification program called TRUE (Total Resource Use and Efficiency). The program enables facilities to define, pursue and achieve zero waste goals, while cutting their carbon footprint and supporting public health.
How did your interest in sustainability start?
Cleaning up beaches with my youth-based nonprofit, Earth Resource Foundation. We went up the rivers to find the sources and research solutions. Understanding the entire ecosystem, both natural and business, provided a holistic foundation to connect with many different stakeholders.
What has been your most meaningful experience in the industry?
Founding the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council and the certification program that is now TRUE. Its global reach helps businesses, communities and governments create prosperity, efficiency and a better living standard. I am forever grateful for my family, friends and colleagues who believed and helped build the little engine that could.
What will most impact circularity in the future?
Going beyond recycling! We need to redesign our products, packaging and purchasing habits so we do not create waste in the first place. By focusing on reducing and reusing, we can shift our culture to understand that everything and everyone is valuable.
What’s your favorite work project you worked on and why?
That would be Sisters of Saint Joseph, Orange, Calif. It is a mixed-use facility that includes a medical center, events center, women’s home, classrooms and much more. The staff truly understood and embraced the impact our wasteful habits have on communities around the world. Once we trained them in zero waste, they immediately took action not only at their facilities but in their community by starting a food composting program.
What would you tell your younger self about your career?
Keep your passion and mission strong while allowing for flexibility and patience as you never know where the world will take you.
What credential do you recommend for people starting out?
TRUE Advisor, of course!
MaryEllen Etienne is the creator of “Women in Circularity.” Etienne works on the Market Transformation and Development team for the U.S. Green Building Council. She has over 20 years of experience in sustainability and is a champion of the circular economy.
The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not imply endorsement by Resource Recycling, Inc. If you have a subject you wish to cover in an op-ed, please send a short proposal to [email protected] for consideration.