Green.Org’s Person of the week is Stacy Savage, founder & president of Zero Waste Strategies. As a leader in the circular economy, Stacy offers her experience in the industry and her prediction’s for a ‘zero waste future’.
Tell us a little bit about you and your background:
As a young girl growing up in southeast Texas in the ‘70s and ‘80s, we thought nothing of the hazy brown sky or the pungent smells of rotten egg that wafted through the neighborhood day in and day out. This was the oil and gas epicenter of the United States just minutes from the Gulf Coast and the Louisiana border known as the Golden Triangle. For a combined 75 years, my parents both worked at big name oil refineries in this famed part of the state; as a family, we knew very little about our rights to a clean environment, and about political accountability or corporate responsibility. These just weren’t conversations we had at the dinner table.
After attending the University of Texas at Arlington, I moved to Austin in 1999 to sling drinks in the bartending industry, which is where I picked up my “gift of gab” and customer service skills. In 2003, I cut my teeth in nonpartisan activism at an environmental nonprofit committed to diverting electronic waste (e-waste) from landfills and incinerators across the state. In my 9-year nonprofit career, I knocked on tens of thousands of doors all across Texas to build community support in demanding public health protections from elected officials and to publicly hold corporations accountable for their role in polluting the state. This spurred our policy collaboration with major electronics producers to pass 2 key pieces of historic, statewide legislation in 2007 and 2011 that has since kept over 300 million pounds of toxic e-waste out of Texas landfills.
In 2013, I came to a personal fork in the road. I had made being anti-pollution a very binary issue without considering that polluting entities come with complicated human stories. Why had I made it all about shaming companies who were run by very real people with friends and families living in communities they cherished — people just like my own parents, friends, and family, in the Golden Triangle? Why shouldn’t I help companies from the inside rather than harm them from the outside? That’s when things changed for me. That’s when I started Zero Waste Strategies and positioned myself as a leading consultant in the industry, helping some of the biggest global brands use waste reduction to drive increased revenue, deeper customer loyalty, and a green marketing edge.
What is a fun fact about you?
I was a classically trained dancer from the ages of 5-20 and became a professional choreographer and dancer from ages 20-28. I traveled the country to compete in national dance competitions and won many titles. In the mid-90s, I also taught Texas high school drill teams their football halftime routines and even helped choreograph a halftime routine for the Fiesta Bowl!
Why do you think climate change and sustainability is such an important topic today?
These are such important topics today because they have been swept under the rug for far too long. We are facing down a crisis of incredible proportions, but the average person feels powerless to help due to lack of education and knowing where to start. Just 100 companies have created 71% of global emissions since 1988, but most corporations are still agreeable with internalizing profits while externalizing the health and financial costs of pollution on the rest of us. The consumer collective is starting to understand the vast amount of power it holds with its dollar. Consumers, investors, and shareholders are very savvy in demanding green operations and production, design for recycling, and implementation of Circular Economy principles when a company is advertising and vying for market share.
What do you envision your industry looking like 10 years from now?
The term “Zero Waste” usually garners looks of confusion from the average person and “Circular Economy” is not yet a household term, even though these efficiency concepts have been the increasing corporate standard for a while now. In 10 years, I envision every community in America having proper education on and convenient access to waste diversion through the reuse, repair, repurposing, re-fabrication, remanufacturing, and re-soiling (composting) sectors. I want to help build a massive movement that will create diverse, well-paying green jobs with dignity to support local tax bases across the country through the development of local material markets.
What can the average person do to make a difference?
In their daily lives, the average person can follow the recycling and organics hierarchy of “highest and best use”. They can also purchase products made from recycled materials, support local businesses, refuse condiments and plastic cutlery packs in their to-go meals, and sign on to public pledges that take a stand for the environment. Folks can also contact companies by calling and/or emailing customer service, tagging them in a social media post, or writing a letter to inquire about their sustainability record or what they intend to do about certain items they sell that may be difficult to recycle.
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