After reviewing hundreds of nominations, Waste360 announced five of the most influential women in the waste and recycling industry for their leadership, achievements, and empowering others. Congratulations and thanks to Anne Germain, Joy Grahek, Dana Gunders, Michelle Leonard, and Ana Wood. Be sure to say hello to them all at Waste Expo! Read more about these five remarkable people on Waste360.
About Michelle Leonard
Michelle has invested more than 35 years into a career focused on solid waste management, working to lead communities nationwide in their efforts to reduce, reuse, and recycle waste materials. She is a leader and influencer in the waste industry and at SCS Engineers. Michelle sits on the firm’s Board of Directors as a senior vice president and leads the future-focused practice of sustainable materials management (SMM). SMM to reduce waste directly correlates with climate change as an implementable solution to reduce emissions. A recent quote from one of her clients epitomizes her impact, “Even if I already knew, I still get amazed every time realizing how knowledgeable you are.”
Michelle mentors, guides, and influences all SCSers and young professionals.
She is particularly interested in promoting the cause of women, diversity, and equity in the industry and at SCS. She guides and mentors young female professionals on their professional journey in her practice and the broader company. “As someone newer to this industry, I feel very fortunate to work with Michelle. She constantly supports my growth within the industry and our company,” states Kelli Farmer, an SCS young professional and SMM team member.
In the words of SCS President and CEO Jim Walsh, “Michelle informs some of the country’s largest cities and waste company programs. Her knowledge and dedication to her clients, industry, and within SCS earn our respect.”
Recognized for her positive influence on the waste industry, Michelle is a sought-after speaker at industry organizations and has served on their boards and key committees. Look for her presentation Why is Multifamily Recycling So Hard? at Waste Expo.
She is well-known for her guidance in successfully helping businesses, educational institutions, and municipalities adopt a sustainable materials management program as a systemic approach to using and reusing materials more productively over their entire life cycle. As one of five influential women, Michelle’s work finds new implementable opportunities to minimize environmental impacts, conserve resources, and reduce costs across the nation.
A History of Serving
In 2016, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker appointed Michelle to serve on the U.S. Department of Commerce Environmental Technologies Trade Advisory Committee (ETTAC) from October through the term of the Committee’s charter in August 2018. Michelle represented SCS and the U.S. environmental technology industry’s waste management and recycling segment. Following her term of service, Michelle said, “I was honored to help support the unique role environmental technologies play in advancing the solid waste industry. We can safely help mitigate many global environmental problems.”
Michelle is a Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) member and has been on the Board of Directors of SWANA’s Southern California Founding Chapter since 2009. She has led the organization in various key roles as International Board Past President and Past Director of SWANA’s Recycling and Special Waste Technical Division.
Michelle is the past Southern California Waste Management Forum Director and the Women’s Environmental Council President. She serves on the leadership team of Southern California Women in Solid Waste and Recycling.
Recognized by SWANA with their Distinguished Individual Achievement Award (DIAA), the organization acknowledged Michelle’s success and service to their Technical Division and her clients for long-term achievements in the solid waste industry.
“Michelle Leonard’s influence and work are supporting communities and states to manage waste economically and responsibly,” said SCS President and CEO Jim Walsh, “Her work greatly benefits her clients, our industry, and the public.”
Impacting the waste and recycling industry
Michelle’s expertise in solid waste management regulations and practices has helped many city, county, and state regulators to manage successful and award-winning waste management and recycling projects. She is a proponent of integrating the principles of a circular economy into the waste industry. She promotes municipalities and private waste companies adopting circular strategies, which reduce waste going into landfills. Reducing waste reduces methane emissions, thus improving air quality and public health, and safety.
Michelle says, “Sustainable materials management can help meet the challenges of waste reduction and management as states impose disposal bans, diversion mandates, and emissions restrictions. It’s economically sound and socially responsible, too.”
Michelle stays attuned to evolving regulations, maintains relationships with regulators, and keeps her clients and the industry abreast of current issues. She publishes peer-reviewed papers, articles, blogs, and presents on these issues at various industry organizations.
Working at SCS
Born and raised in Southern California, Michelle graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Studies from the University of California, Berkley. While working on energy conservation projects in California, Michelle worked her way into a position at SCS Engineers. She is now a senior vice president and SCS Board of Directors member. As the firm’s National Expert on Solid Waste Planning, Recycling, and Sustainability projects and plans, she drives the firm’s strategies and response to California Senate Bill 1383. This experience and understanding of economic sustainability enable her to meet the growing need for composting strategies, technologies, and facilities nationwide as more states and regions aim to go greener.
Michelle is a mentor, guide, and influencer for the 341 women and young professionals at SCS Engineers. She is particularly interested in promoting the cause of women and diversity and equity at SCS Engineers and in the industry. Elizabeth Purington, a young professional at SCS and SMM team member, says, “As a young woman in the solid waste industry, I am inspired by all that Michelle has been able to accomplish in her career. She leads the Sustainable Materials Management practice and sits on the company’s Board of Directors, all while empowering other women to become leaders alongside her.”
Michelle is instrumental in the education and certification of young professionals, municipalities, and members of professional organizations. She strives to help others find ways to reduce waste and recover more materials to meet their environmental responsibilities sustainably.
Michelle would be the only woman in the room at the start of her career. Today, Michelle is proud to see the industry evolve, albeit slowly, and noted, “I think there are a lot of very strong and vital roles that women are playing in our industry now.”
In various roles in the industry and at SCS, Michelle firmly encourages women to be smart, search for opportunities, and use personal strengths to their advantage. She firmly believes that women can play an important role in the environmental consulting and waste management industries and is happy to see women take on more critical roles.
“This program directly supports the county’s Roadmap to a Sustainable Waste Management Future by helping businesses to implement recycling programs,” says Leonard. “And not only recycling but waste reduction, as well, all of which, of course, contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, resource management and sustainable materials management.”
By Michelle Leonard, Solid Waste Planning and Recycling; Sustainability
The term describes the desired end-state and a call-to-action rethinking what we regard as trash as potentially valuable resources. The overall goal of zero waste planning is to establish the goal of diverting at least 90 percent of the waste generated by all sources from a landfill.
Zero Waste is to:
Communities across North America have embraced the concept of Zero Waste, some by adopting a Zero Waste goal or policy, and others by completing a Zero Waste Plan. The plan includes implementing zero waste programs and infrastructure in a manner most sustainable for the community. Many communities establish a long-term goal of Zero Waste by setting interim goals to achieve and benchmark measuring progress. Goals may be quantified over years, by percentages, or by environmental factors relevant to your community.
There are several factors critical to sustainable Zero Waste programs.
Phasing in programs encourages acceptance of new policies, programs, and facilities, and the behavior modifications that come with them. Instead of continuing to focus on results at the end of the process, we find ways to fulfill the equation “waste = resource” within our industrial and societal systems. This mindset change helps to lead us to more systems that eliminate wastes to the environment, avoiding systematic deterioration of the environment. These systems are modeled by nature as the most efficient, less costly, and most profitable ways to move toward Zero Waste.
Programs that contribute to Zero Waste include upstream policies and programs. Over 71% of the waste generated happens before products and materials enter our homes, offices, schools and institutions. Upstream policies and programs aim to reduce the volume and toxicity of discarded products and materials and promote low-impact or reduced consumption lifestyles.
Producer Responsibility is an upstream activity, including advocacy at the state level and implementation of local ordinances for hard to handle materials, such as pharmaceuticals, sharps, batteries, CFLs. Local jurisdictions can support state legislation for Extended Producer Responsibility for materials such as carpet paint, etc.
Downstream programs aim to ensure the highest and best use of products and packaging at the end of their useful lives. They establish a hierarchy of:
Managing these materials will most likely require a combination of facilities which may include:
The issue of how Waste to Energy fits into a Zero Waste system has been a hotly debated topic at many Zero Waste conferences, workshops, and planning sessions. The Zero Waste International Alliance includes in its definition “no burning or burying”. However, even the most aggressive, advanced Zero Waste system will still have some residual materials, and these materials will need to be managed. Some cities that have adopted Zero Waste plans and/or policies include waste to energy in their strategic plans. These cities recognize that Zero Waste policies and programs will achieve a high diversion rate, but they also acknowledge that a portion of the waste stream residuals will need to be disposed or processed. For these cities, waste to energy, or another alternative technology facility will fill that need, and will further reduce the use of landfill disposal.