Follow Your Passion: Q&A with EcoNomics’ Trevor Blythe

In this Q&A interview, Trevor Blythe, a Waste360 40 Under 40 award winner, discusses his journey from college recycling activist to business leader.

Willona Sloan, Freelance writer

July 8, 2024

5 Min Read

Trevor Blythe, Vice President and Co-Owner of EcoNomics, Inc., has overseen the implementation of recycling and organics programs for over 20 municipalities. He joined the company 17 years ago, out of college, and five years ago became a co-owner. 

In this Q&A interview, Blythe, a Waste360 40 Under 40 award winner, discusses his journey from college recycling activist to business leader.  

This interview has been edited for length.

Waste360: What would you say are some of the values that you hold for your company?

Trevor Blythe: I think what makes us unique, our special sauce, is that every single person in our company deeply cares about making an impact sustainability-wise. We have a passionate team that likes to work together; that likes to have fun while they do this; and likes to build personal relationships with clients and with each other. That is what has made us successful. I think that's why we have 20-plus-year relationships with clients, and that is why we have good retention rates. Everyone is here for the same reason. That results in fantastic work products and something that we can all get out of bed and get excited about every morning.

Waste360: What would you say are some of the challenges that you have to solve in your position as Vice President and Co-Owner?

Trevor Blythe: Being conscious about the jobs we take kind of sets the tone for the type of place we work. If there is a job that doesn’t align with our values but is very profitable, five years ago, I probably would’ve jumped on that. These days I’ve been much more wary after we’ve experienced some pretty fantastic 60-percent-plus growth. That certainly takes a toll on our team.

After experiencing that, I think one of the bigger challenges we’re facing is deciding, what type of work do we want to do? What type of work just pays the bills? Distinguishing between those types of jobs that come down the pipeline is a pretty challenging endeavor.

Bringing in top talent, and making sure that our team is happy, and is aligned with our mission; making sure that they’re well compensated; and making sure that they can see the impact that they’re making is really important to us. And it’s not easy, but it’s something that we really prioritize and something we’re constantly trying to do better.

Waste360: What was your professional path to co-owning this company?

Trevor Blythe: I’ve always had a healthy concern for our environment. I grew up in Northern California in the wine country, Sonoma Valley, where I saw a lot of the forests and fields that I played in being bulldozed over for housing or for vineyards, even. That didn’t sit well with me. I went to UC Santa Barbara, where I got my degree in environmental science, a Bachelor of Science.

I started working on the on-campus recycling program. We had this program where it was all people-powered. There were a bunch of tricycles, basically adult-sized tricycles with trailers in the back. We also started a vermicomposting program, Department of Public Worms that is still in place today.

Then I got a call from EcoNomics, which was based in a little town north of Santa Barbara, saying that they wanted an entry-level consultant with some experience in environmental studies and recycling. I applied, and that was 17 years ago.  The shop was three or four people when I first started working there in 2006.

I got a solid five years of experience on the ground in the field working with businesses to set up recycling programs; conducting waste characterizations; knee-deep in trash, literally, trying to see what was recoverable in the waste streams and get a better feeling of how to influence behavior to reduce those materials ending up in the landfill.

We started to grow a bit, and I got some management experience for another five years. I kind of became a director with our shop. Five years ago, my partner and I figured out a buy/sell agreement that we’re in the middle of now, and that was 2019. These last five years have been focused on growth and impact and seeing if this model can scale to a comfortable level, which so far it has. There have been some bobbles here and there, but it’s working.

After spending 10-ish years working on that and getting my MBA in sustainability, I guess I got good at it. When my partner, who’s an older gentleman, presented me this opportunity, it seemed like the right thing to do.

Waste360: What advice would you give to a young professional starting their career in the waste industry?

Trevor Blythe: I think it’s probably pretty cliche, but if you’re interested in something, get involved, and follow your passions and your interests. A lot of doors will open for you if you’re tenacious and you stick with it and you’re constantly learning and taking every opportunity you can to get better at what you do.

Don’t be afraid of following your passions and injecting that into your day-to-day. I think people coming out of college these days are seeing the climate crisis as existential and it’s scary for a lot of folks and hopeless and capable of inducing a lot of despair. Aligning your career, with trying to, in your own little way, correct that or mitigate that climate crisis feels rewarding. Being part of the solution is the best kind of antidote to the despair and the cynicism that comes with the huge and thorny problem of climate change.

What appeals to me about this industry, is that there is such a tremendous opportunity for impact. Every single person has the agency to make a choice about how they manage their waste and what they throw away and what they buy. Everyone has dozens of choices per day of how they deal with waste. Those little choices when well-informed can add up to a pretty tremendous impact across billions of people.

Read more about:

Thought Leadership

About the Author(s)

Willona Sloan

Freelance writer, Waste360

Willona Sloan is a freelance writer for Waste360 covering the collection and transfer beat.

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