A warm welcome back to “Women in Circularity,” where we shine a light on women moving us toward a circular economy. This month, I connected with a sustainability professional who specializes in circularity: Valentina Rappa. Valentina is the circular economy strategist at Rheaply, a technology platform that facilitates opportunities within organizations to help lower their procurement and storage costs and reduce waste. She has over four years of experience in materials management initiatives. 

Valentina Rappa

What was your first sustainability position and how has your career evolved along the way?

I started my career as a research associate for the New York City Center for Materials Reuse, where I worked with nonprofits to quantify the environmental impact of their reuse efforts. After stepping away to explore circularity in the plastics business and sustainability consulting, my career has now come full circle back to reuse. With Rheaply, I am expanding my reuse expertise to various product categories, ranging from office furniture and electronics to building materials and textiles.

How does your work help organizations scale their waste reduction and reuse efforts? 

The first step of any successful engagement requires the involvement of key stakeholders who understand a resource’s life cycle. We then map these life cycles as a series of stages from procurement to end of “first life.” This helps us identify opportunities to recirculate or redistribute resources, which is the beginning of a resource’s “second life.” We typically start at a small scale, either at a single campus or with a specific resource such as employee workstations. Lessons learned during this stage help us to develop strategies that are scalable across multiple locations or resource types.

Can you tell us about an exciting/interesting project you worked on recently? 

I am currently working on Rheaply’s Estimated Embodied Carbon Avoided report, which calculates the carbon emissions from an item’s manufacturing processes that are avoided when it’s reused. We understand that even if an organization reuses an office chair, it may still buy a new chair for another floor in the office. Therefore, the relationship between new resource procurement and resource reuse is not always one to one. We are working to advance our report by quantifying this relationship and building it into our reporting process. This is an emerging area of circularity research I am excited to support. 

Beyond compliance, what is the main reason companies are committing themselves to environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals?

Consumer and investor pressures are the main drivers for companies to address ESG topics. These pressures motivate companies to develop baselines and set targets using the latest climate science. Investors expect more from companies beyond delivering strong financial returns and reducing business spend. Companies must understand and act on their ESG risks and opportunities to retain the support of these investors. It is also important for companies to rethink their products and services through the eyes of environmentally and socially conscious consumers. 

Do you have any circularity advice that you would like to pass on?  

If you are looking for ways to engage in the circular economy, whether in your personal life or work life, I suggest that you “keep it simple.” Various products and services are often marketed as solutions for reducing waste or building more sustainable habits. Unfortunately, many of these solutions often lead to more waste and carbon emissions. Before buying a product or subscribing to a monthly service simply because it is labeled as “sustainable,” think of creative ways to use less and extend the life of items you already own.

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.

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