In northern Colorado, Becca Walkinshaw, sustainability specialist at Gallegos Sanitation, Incorporated (GSI), works with municipalities and cities to create more sustainable waste management outcomes.
Walkinshaw, a Waste360 40 under 40 recipient, spoke with Waste360 about why she loves promoting sustainability, working with people to tackle waste diversion challenges, and volunteering in her community.
Waste360: When you are working with cities and municipalities, what are some of the challenges that you're trying to help them solve for their communities as a sustainability specialist?
Becca Walkinshaw: We are in a very progressive region in Northern Colorado, and so we have got individual community goals, county goals and state goals. Some of the goals that we work with the municipalities are that they want to reduce materials going to the landfill, increase recycling participation, increase organics recycling, reduce contamination, and then we are also supporting new infrastructure.
GSI is actually like a hub for waste and recycling in Northern Colorado because we have residential, commercial, construction, event and waste clients, so we get to touch pretty much all industries of all types and sizes. Through my role, I get to help understand the goals of the municipalities and what they're trying to accomplish, and then we get to provide outreach and education on how we are supporting that [work].
Waste360: Did you have an educational background that prepared you to do sustainability work?
Becca Walkinshaw: I got my degree in sociology and human services, but when I was in college, I always really focused on helping organizations in my university. That was my passion. I could support the social side of an organization through helping them with planning events, or facilitating, or even taking notes, but always really having that lens of seeing people and hearing people and engaging with people.
I started GSI at the entry level, when I first moved to Fort Collins. I just got really excited about the possibilities when I started and realized there were gaps in education, and there were gaps in outreach. Leveraging that social capital, I started training my own department [on topics such as recycling and composting]. I started doing presentations internally, and the leadership really supported it. They allowed me to do it in my spare time, which was working overtime to accomplish this, and then over a year and a half, I went from doing it in my free time to doing it 25% of the time; to doing it 50% of the time; to doing it 75% of the time. After a year of really pitching these ideas, and coming up with programs and education, and going to events, and being a face for GSI, it took about a year to shift to being the company's very first sustainability coordinator.
Once I got that official role, my first continuing education that I did was I got my LEED accreditation. At that time, Gallegos was really focusing on construction waste and how we could divert more. I did the LEED accreditation for myself, and then brought in an advisor for our whole company to teach us about it. Then, I got my Introduction to Zero Waste accreditation. As I started learning more about zero waste, I wanted to be better at engaging people and focusing on behavior change, so I got my Community-Based Social Marketing certificate.
I've done a lot of volunteering that's really helped to hone my skills. Working with local organizations to build relationships and learn new skills like the Northern Colorado Chapter of Green Building and working on the Road to Zero Waste advisory committee. There was a program called ClimateWise, I think it's ended now, but I volunteered a lot with that and was engaged in that.
A lot of my skills that I have gained, it was all, really, continuing education after I got the job, and just constantly pivoting and growing to find out what's that next step. How can I focus on mastery of these key skills in sustainability, and then focus on mindset as well? How can I show up as a strong leader on those types of things?
Waste360: For people who aren't as invested in sustainability, what do you wish people knew about what it means to be sustainable from a waste management perspective?
Walkinshaw: When I first came in, it was this passion for the planet, and it was just like, “We're doing this for the planet. We're doing this for the planet,” which is really important, but as I have shifted, and as I've grown, I realized there’s also the social piece to it, and there’s an economic piece to it. I've seen organizations that have had great social impact who have dissolved because they don't have the economic piece.
Sustainability is really, truly, about honoring and respecting all three of the pillars that make it work. I think that is a lens that we, as a private business, have to bring to the forefront—that there are three pieces to it. Something is not sustainable if it costs a lot; or if people can’t do it because it’s really complicated, then it’s not sustainable, either. You have to look at all the pieces, and then come together for a solution.
I think with sustainability it's about the small wins, and building momentum, and building trust. I think sustainability looks different for every business. It’s not a one-size-fits-all, and that’s one of the things I’ve learned, too. It’s so much about culture and really listening—listening to connect, and listening to understand, to get to the result.
Waste360: What do you like about working with GSI?
Walkinshaw: GSI is a large company. We've grown a lot over the last several years, but at its core, it's still a family-owned company. In my job, that has allowed me to have a lot of autonomy, and a lot of creativity, and growth in what I get to do. I've been able to, in my 13 years, touch almost every aspect of the business here. It is really neat, because my c-level leadership and my manager support my, sometimes, crazy ideas, and they have allowed me to continue to grow throughout the years. I've constantly gotten to evolve, and shift, and help to make an impact.