Denise Braun | Photo by Pedro Colo

A warm welcome back to “Women in Circularity,” where we shine a light on women moving us toward a circular economy. This month, I was pleased to connect with an expert in green buildings and zero waste: Denise Braun. Denise is a co-founder and president of All About Waste, a pioneering circular economy consulting firm that is proudly women- and minority-owned and is committed to a holistic approach that underscores collaboration, innovation, agility and environmental stewardship. She has more than 20 years of experience in sustainable buildings and technical waste management solutions. 

You have worked on green projects all over the world. Can you walk us through your career evolution?

I started my career in 2001 by volunteering for disadvantaged communities and beach clean-ups in Brazil, where I was born. After seeing the direct impact of the lack of a waste management program on the environment and the health of the people in Brazil, I was committed to finding a job in sustainability and, if possible, in the waste industry. In 2003, I got a job in an engineering firm in Sao Paulo that was doing the first LEED project in Latin America and they needed someone who would monitor, track and implement solutions for the construction and demolition waste being generated in those LEED projects. I worked there for seven years. I had the pleasure of working on different typologies of projects in different cities in Brazil including the World Cup Stadiums, shopping malls, commercial interiors, several multi-tenant buildings and a hospital.

Since 2011 I have been living in California. I decided to move to the U.S. to take a deep-dive into my career in waste. California and the U.S. have always been in my radar because of CalGreen’s work and because of the amount of waste the country generates. For several years I continued working as a LEED and sustainability consultant for different firms. However, in 2015, after having my first child, I was finally brave enough to start my own company and focus on zero waste and the circular economy. For the past eight years, I had the enormous pleasure of working on projects and clients all over the world, from small cities in Illinois and India to several large cities in Europe and the Middle East. While at All About Waste, I have truly been able to create the space that I have been trying to build since 2001 and put into practice my vision for a world without waste!

How does your work at All About Waste help meet the organizational goal of a waste-free world? 

All About Waste is committed to fostering environmental and social stewardship by delivering actionable, practical and innovative solutions that transform complex systems and scale the potential of the circular economy. We envision a world where waste management becomes transparent and easily understood, striving towards a future where human systems mirror nature’s efficiency in resource utilization and regeneration. Within our organization, we prioritize capability building within our workforce, while our client-centric approach underscores our core values in each endeavor we undertake. These core values are not aspirational but intrinsic to our identity.

We hold that authenticity, integrity and transparency are fundamental components in realizing a waste-free world. By upholding these values, which are deeply rooted in our organization’s essence and align harmoniously with our mission and vision, we pave the way for ambitious goals such as “the concept of waste is obsolete” to become a reality. Therefore, our work begins internally, ensuring that we not only talk the talk but also walk the walk. Externally, we provide a dynamic range of services to our clients, tailored to meet their diverse needs. We believe that our waste-related offerings are integral to achieving our overarching goal, with each service addressing a unique issue in the broader context, akin to applying an acupuncture needle. These services include policy, compliance, stakeholder engagement, third-party certifications and green building consulting, waste audits and circular economy consulting.

While we serve diverse industry sectors, we hold a particular interest in sectors grappling with high waste volumes and landfill diversion challenges. Our global waste audits have revealed that facilities in sectors with high transient occupancy, such as aviation and transportation, entertainment, healthcare, hospitality and sports, are among the most significant contributors to this issue. Additionally, we have identified unique challenges within multi-family housing and multi-tenant office spaces.

Tell us about a zero waste project that continues to stand out as your favorite?

My favorite projects are the portfolio projects. The more we can standardize zero waste practices, the better it will be for the planet and for the company. We have worked on several portfolio projects globally with tech companies, financial firms and many others. I also love to learn from different cultures and meet people all over the world. Believe it or not, every company on this planet generates waste and needs some type of support to reduce their impact and make their operations more efficient and cost-effective. As I always say, If you are wasteful, you are not efficient. There are many projects that I could mention here, but one of my favorites was the Second Harvest Foodbank, which is the first TRUE-certified food bank in the world. I am also super proud of my team and clients’ accomplishments because we have worked on several first TRUE projects and we continue creating a path for innovators and leaders in their industry. 

From your perspective, what are the key drivers behind the growing interest in a circular economy?

Depending on where we are looking, in some cities and regions like the European Union, zero waste and circularity are the law. Some states like California have also been leading the nation in waste reductions, particularly in food waste, and emissions reductions caused by landfills and incinerators. Other key drivers are cost reductions – zero waste has the fastest and lowest ROI for operational and construction, carbon emissions reductions, positive community impact and brand elevation and fostering leadership vision. 

What do you do outside of work to recharge your passion for circularity? 

My son and my hopes for his future keep me motivated. I feel our generation has enough information about things that we should do differently from the past. We learned from our mistakes, and it’s time to make our daily lives better and respect our planet and its resources. I like to speak in schools and small groups to inspire them and also learn from them. I also try my best to shop wisely and reduce my waste generation, generally by “shopping small” including buying from local small business owners at farmers markets or community events. I’m obsessed with gardening, and my dream is to have a pottery studio nearby. I am a daughter of Gaia!

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.