Waste champion lauded as pioneering business woman
Creative director of WasteSolve Kate Cawley joins a growing band of women blazing a trail in the waste sector. Nick Warburton caught up with her
Luton-based business woman Kate Cawley made the headlines in July when she was listed in the Sunday Times' "35 under 35 business women to watch".
As creative director of environmental consultancy WasteSolve, she has helped pioneer a new approach to waste management that has won her contracts with leading brands like the John Lewis Partnership and the iconic Westfield shopping centres.
For a former politics student at Leeds University, it might seem a surprising choice of career, but then again her interest in marketing and internal communications, which lie at the heart of WasteSolve's success, was where her true vocation lay.
The defining moment was at the tail end of her second year at university when her initial motivation for the politics course began to wane.
On the look-out for a fresh challenge, she visited the careers' office and ended up applying successfully for a year's placement at Reuters in its London-based marketing and communications team.
"That's really what moulded me and where I learnt all of the skills that I am implementing now on the waste side," she says.
So impressed were Reuters that Kate was offered a permanent role after completing her degree in 2005.
Sharpening her marketing skills further and now armed with a glittering CV, she followed this with a six-month stint in Sydney before returning home in 2006 to join Cawleys, the family business.
"My father had just agreed an informal partnership with Biogen, who had set up the first commercial AD plant at their Bedford site," she explains.
"We were going to be their logistics partner. They wanted to work with a local company to source the commercial side."
Kate's father knew that marketing would be integral to the operation's success and asked her to take the lead.
"I always said I would never join the family business but it just sounded interesting, the whole AD and the renewable energy side of it," she confesses. "I could see that the corporate sector would love it."
Taking up the gauntlet, Kate developed what in essence was the UK's first commercial food waste recycling service to anaerobic digestion.
Initially focused on bulk collections from manufacturers, Kate recognised that staff engagement and internal communications would be critical to any operation's success.
"What I quickly learnt from dealing with these big manufacturers was that a huge amount of training was needed to get the segregation in place," she explains. "Obviously you don't want to deliver food waste that is heavily contaminated."
Buoyed by the experience, Kate took a punt that would take the food waste side of the business to a whole new level.
In 2007, she approached the John Lewis Partnership, which, coincidentally, was in the process of devising a new waste strategy, offering to manage the food waste from all of its Waitrose stores.
"They were the very first supermarket to start diverting food waste to AD," she says. "We set up a network of plants and I think by the end of this year, 100% of their stores will be using AD."
Having proven her credentials in managing food waste with Waitrose, Kate took over the WasteSolve subsidiary from her father in 2009.
Her first major client was the IHC-owned Adelie, which supplies three million sandwiches a week to high street retailers and cafe chains.
Breaking new ground, she introduced a management fee to cover the marketing, training and staff engagement costs.
"Although on a like-for-like basis we might look more expensive compared to some of the big players, if we put the effort in at the front end we will be considerably cheaper and they bought into it at board level," she says.
Aware that she doesn't have any formal qualifications in marketing and internal communications, Kate is about to start a one-year, part-time masters in internal communications management at Kingston University.
"We are asking these companies to spend a lot of money to work with us, so I want to give them the assurance that we are the experts and we know what we are doing," she says.
Judging by the awards she has already won Cawleys and WasteSolve for work in the food supply chain, she really shouldn't be worried. After all, the recognition she has achieved from the Sunday Times' list suggests she is someone to watch.
Nick Warburton is editor of LAWR