Welcome back to “Women in Circularity,” where we shine a light on women moving us toward a circular economy. This month, I connected with an international waste-reduction consultant who brings a wealth of expertise to California’s wine country: Leslie Lukacs. Leslie is the executive director of Zero Waste Sonoma and a board member of the National Recycling Coalition and the Zero Waste International Alliance.
How has your sustainability career evolved over the years?
A childhood interest in sustainability led to an environmental studies degree at the University California, Santa Barbara. I started my career setting up diversion programs for hundreds of community events, then became a consultant specializing in large-scale zero waste programs for national sports venues and event centers throughout the U.S. I recently transitioned to the public sector, where I’m grateful to focus my energy in my own community. Zero Waste Sonoma is a forward-thinking agency that engages community stakeholders in a collaborative approach.
What has been your most meaningful industry experience?
Every day is meaningful when reducing waste through reuse, recycling and composting helps address climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, sequestering carbon and improving the soil. I’ve been particularly fortunate to share local approaches to zero waste implementation internationally. A particular highlight is traveling throughout Brazil for several years to share best practices. I’ve been impressed and humbled by their achievements and the quick adoption and expansion of zero waste programs.
What’s your favorite work project you worked on and why?
I enjoyed being a consultant in the industry for two decades, with most of that time at SCS Engineers. I was fortunate to have traveled to so many places implementing programs focused on wasting less in the public and private sectors. I have also learned so much from others by being involved in several industry associations.
What would you tell your younger self about your career?
When I was in my mid-20s, after consulting for so many events, I grew increasingly frustrated that events produced so much single-use waste with little consideration for recycling, composting or waste reduction. So I wrote and presented draft legislation to address the wasting at events to the organization then called the California Integrated Waste Management Board. A legislator was interested and agreed to author a bill. It took four years, but my efforts led to the adoption of AB 2176, which requires events over 2,000 people per day to have a recycling program in place. Instead of advising my younger self, I often remind myself to channel my younger self and remain optimistic and fearless in the quest for a circular economy, zero waste and climate mitigation. It’s easy to get jaded when working in the environmental industry, but I have more hope and determination than ever, especially working on climate action projects with so many passionate community members and youths in my home town in Sonoma County.
What training do you recommend to your colleagues?
I always recommend the TRUE Advisor credential and the California Resource Recycling Association/SWANA Zero Waste Certification program.
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.
More from the Women in Circularity series
- Women in Circularity: Bethany Cartledge
- Women in Circularity: Valentina Rappa
- Women in Circularity: Olga Kachook