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.
Somshekhar (Som) Kundral is SCS Engineer’s most recent go-getter to receive the honor of a Waste360 40 Under 40 Award. Described by his supervisor, SCS Vice President Bob Speed, as ‘humble, hungry, and smart,“ Kundral has spent no time in the slow lane.
He joined SCS as a young engineer in 2010, and quickly worked his way up, reaching a senior management position in a few years.
He now oversees multiple remediation projects, from small to multimillion-dollar jobs, taking ownership of environmental aspects of redevelopment, from remediating groundwater contamination to addressing landfill gas problems as challenges. He has come up with unique and far-reaching solutions through collaboration with his team to help clients achieve their business goals.
But before telling the story of Kundral, the senior-level engineer and project manager, let’s start with an earlier chapter.
“It’s an interesting and kind of odd story,” he recalls. “A friend asked me to drive him to a job interview as he did not have transportation. The HR person, for some reason, asked both of us to interview [having heard I was an engineer too].
“I was dumbfounded and a little nervous as I was not prepared. I had to download my resume from my yahoo ID quickly… I thought, what have I got to lose? It’s a good engineering job with a large real estate company.”
He got the job and continues to seize practically every opportunity before him, growing from each one. Today at SCS, Kundral oversees several redevelopment projects, including a 500-acre landfill conversion to a large business park, which received the American Council of Engineering-Florida and the Environmental Business Journal awards.
“The landfill had a lot of environmental and geotechnical issues, with the largest ones around groundwater contamination and stormwater management. They are typical redevelopment challenges we need to overcome, and in this case, they were on a larger scale,” he says.
As the intricate strategy evolved, Kundral, working with his project advisor, Senior Vice President Eddy Smith, called many multidiscipline group huddles. Kundral has assessed, reassessed, stopped, and restarted. And he has brought in more engineers to pump up the team’s expertise and take this project to the next level.
“We are now halfway through. And I tell you, I don’t think I should have gray hair yet, but I have some now. Still, I feel so relieved because we have the formula to make this work. “We did it by integrating the groundwater and stormwater management systems,” he says.
The integration resolves two big issues: It, of course, addresses groundwater contamination. But Kundral and the team also want to maximize areas for redevelopment, and the design supports this goal as it eliminates the need for stormwater ponds.
To him, the job is as much about open communication and teamwork as technical talent.
“At the end of the day, no matter what we do, we deal with people. I believe in staying in front of our clients, explaining what to expect when, and I continually engage with staff who support me.” With this business park conversion, as they dove deeper, they saw more intricacies. “It was important to help our client see we were not simply trying to catch up; for them to understand we had to give more time and attention to do the job as best as it can be done.”
From age 28, when he came to SCS, Kundral was keenly aware that there was potential to do plenty and wanted to take on more. “I’m just curious to see what I can get into,” he says. He began with smaller projects, each with one or two focuses. Little by little, he could connect more dots. “I could start to see the big picture and wanted to know more about how to pull the whole project together,” he says.
While he mostly oversees redevelopment projects, he has also supported industrial waste permitting and compliance reporting endeavors. He describes the latter projects as straightforward.
“I prefer the more involved brownfields projects; there is more to learn when overseeing the work. Each site is unique, with different challenges. And each time, what you discover and how you approach it is different.”
Doing the work he loves has come with tradeoffs, such as giving up kayaking and cutting back on trips to the beach—once his favorite pastimes. “They’re fun, but they are day- and night-long ventures. By the time I got home, Saturday was gone. And I needed to catch up on work emails at night and plan for the next week.”
He does find a few hours some weekends for another interest—photography—heading to the zoo or state parks with his wife, Anjana, who shares his passion for watching out for a good “Kodak moment” and capturing it.
Nevertheless, figuring out how to fix problems is still his greatest passion, further maturing from experience. When asked if he could be someone else for a day, who that would be, he thought for a while, then said: “I would love to be myself again but be able to watch as a third person and make note of the scope of improvements I have made over time. From that, perhaps I can learn even more.”
Kundral speaks of three people who helped shape him: his grandfather, father, and father-in-law.
“Growing up watching my grandfather’s resilience helped me learn how to manage hard situations.
From my father, I learned to view situations in ways to understand people better. This has helped shape my thoughts to improve my communication.
From my father-in-law, I learned the importance of humor and gained a sense of humor. This is a good thing for lightening up situations and reducing stress.”
Kundral will take on challenges because it’s part of getting to the end goal. And reaching that goal is what sparks him. He goes back to the 500-acre Florida brownfield to illustrate. “This property is being converted to a business park with great companies operating there, like Home Depot and Boeing. So, our client is creating a legacy. The project creates jobs. It brings in taxes. It improves environmental conditions. We are part of it, and that excites me.”
Kundral is in good company. These other SCS Young Professionals are past 40 Under 40 Award recipients. Like Kundral, they work diligently, solving an array of complicated solid waste challenges. SCS Engineers is very proud of our YP’s award-winning accomplishments for their clients and their contributions to their communities’ health and welfare.
Steve Linehan is a Senior Project Manager who oversees solid waste and environmental services projects from SCS’s Oklahoma City and Wichita offices. Linehan has a broad range of expertise, including solid and hazardous waste regulations, landfill design, stormwater modeling design, and remedial action plans. He holds professional engineering licenses in Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Oklahoma.
Srividhya (Vidhya) Viswanathan, Vice President, is recognized for her innovative engineering plans and designs of traditional solid waste and renewable energy programs. Viswanathan, Southwest Director of Engineering, continues consolidating and integrating engineering operations to provide more streamlined and efficient services. She leads solid waste engineering operations in California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and New Mexico.
Solavann (Sol) Sim, a Project Director and OM&M Western Regional Manager for SCS Field Services, has expertise in all facets of landfill operations, including landfill gas and liquids management. His teams keep landfills safer and running within compliance. He is a licensed professional engineer in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, and Utah.
David P. Hostetter, Business Manager for SCS RMC® (Remote Monitoring and Controls), works in environmental engineering and technology. He serves clients by leveraging technology to reduce business and industry environmental impacts. His environmental solutions reduce potential greenhouse gas emissions and lower environmental risk from landfills, thus protecting workers and local communities.
What makes Sol shine so brightly?
For Solavann Sim it’s his positive qualities as an individual and his ability to work effectively using a multidisciplinary approach with his clients. Our industry’s strongest and most respected leaders are those who are considered collaborative, not fixated on making all decisions themselves or working in a silo. On the contrary, innovation happens at the crossroads of different disciplines and that is where Sol shines brightest.
Sol’s landfill gas design-build and operations experience, along with his knowledge of hydrogen sulfide treatment programs, help prevent and mitigate potential problems quickly. His comprehensive technical and field competence, along with his clients, and his team comprised of staff in several disciplines approach solutions in various ways; each having unique perspectives but a common goal. Working collaboratively with clients the team solves complex challenges facing landfill owners and operators. Innovative solutions are often found where perspectives, ideas, and fields of expertise meet.
See SCS’s 40+ years of innovative thinking at SCS Firsts an interactive list of client solutions, underneath News, Events, and Blogs.