Q&A with WRAP’s outgoing chief executive Liz Goodwin

As the Government's Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) prepares for the next chapter of its resource revolution quest under a new leader, edie speaks with outgoing chief executive Liz Goodwin about the charity's success story so far, and her own plans for the future.

Goodwin, who has led WRAP for the past nine years, announced this week that she would be leaving the organisation in June – to “pass the baton on to someone else”.

The announcement was met with an outpouring of sentimental messages and tributes on Twitter from across the sustainability and resource efficiency sector, with particular praise for her role in tackling and raising awareness of the issue of food waste.

A timeline of Goodwin’s leadership (see below) is, in itself, demonstrative of the sheer amount of effort she has put into accelerating the move to a sustainable, resource-efficient economy through re-inventing how we design, produce and sell products; re-thinking how we use and consume products; and re-defining what is possible through re-use and recycling.

But she’s not done yet. WRAP’s official announcement on Goodwin’s departure stated that she will continue to work “in an indirect way” with the organisation in the future, and Goodwin herself still carries an ambition to “leave a positive legacy”.

edie Q&A with Liz Goodwin

To find out more about her plans for the future, edie spoke with Goodwin shortly after the official announcement, with the full transcript of our conversation below. We also talked about her biggest career challenge, the circular economy and e-waste.

edie: Having spent 14 years working with WRAP, it must have been a very difficult decision for you to leave the organisation after such a long and successful time…

Liz: It’s one of the most difficult decisions I’ve made in my life. When I was talking to staff this morning, I talked about my decision to join WRAP 14 years ago and how that felt like a bit of a leap of faith. But it feels like even more of a leap to leave.

It’s the end of a chapter, but it’s also the beginning of a new one, and I’m very optimistic about it all. Some of the messages of support I received this week have made me well up with emotion – you don’t realise that people think so highly of you until someone actually tells you.

edie: And, as chief executive for almost nine years, you’ve overseen a huge change in approach of the organisation – what’s been your biggest career highlight?

Liz: The way that the whole food agenda has moved from being underpinned by a complete lack of awareness to actually being talked about internationally. We recently became one of the founding members of the Champions 12.3 initiative to inspire action to reduce food loss and waste.

There’s some really great stuff going on in the area of food waste and it’s really moved up on the global agenda. And we’ve played a big part in helping to put it there, which is phenomenal and something I’m very proud of.

edie: What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your WRAP career?

Liz: There have been a few significant challenges and difficult times. Clearly, the issue of fluctuating economic conditions has made it very difficult for plastics re-processors and other re-processors to operate successfully.

The ongoing pressure on material prices has also been difficult and working out how best WRAP can help in that situation has been a real challenge – it’s one that continues to worry me.

edie: You’ll be officially stepping down on 30 June – what are your plans from there? Do you have another career move lined up, or is it perhaps time for a well-deserved rest?

Liz: I don’t do well-deserved rests! But I don’t have any fixed plans at the moment. I just felt it was important for me to make a decision and I’m now thinking about my options and plans; about what’s most important to me.

I still care deeply about the issues we’re working on at WRAP and I want to continue to make a difference in this space – I’m open to suggestions as to how best to do that. There’s just too much to do in this space and we’ve got to leave a positive legacy.

edie: The press release we received on your departure stated that you’ll continue to work “in an indirect way” with WRAP in the future – can you expand on that?

Liz: The reason for saying that is that both WRAP and I are committed to trying to ensure this is as positive an exercise as possible, so that everybody benefits.

Having been at WRAP for more than 14 years, I know an awful lot about the organisation’s history; things we’ve tried in the past – I have a lot of corporate memory and I’m happy to talk to WRAP over time about all of that.

edie: What’s next for WRAP, then, in terms of the next chief executive?

Liz: The WRAP board will decide what it’s going to do. I’m sure they will be planning a recruitment process, but nothing’s set in stone as yet.

edie: During your time as CEO, we’ve seen some major developments in the waste & resource efficiency space – perhaps most notably the evolution of the circular economy movement. Are you happy with the way the circular economy is developing?

Liz: I’m quite impatient. I would like things to move more quickly, but I realise that sometimes it’s not always possible.

We have made phenomenal progress on the circular economy – particularly over the past eight or nine years. But I would always like more to happen more quickly. The progress we are making on the circular economy and alternative business models is frustratingly slow – we have to make more progress on that front.

edie: So what do you think needs to happen over the next few years to accelerate the transition to a global circular economy?

Liz: Everybody must recognise that they have an important role to play.

Businesses have a massive leadership role; they don’t need to sit around waiting for Government policy. We then need policymakers to understand what needs to happen and provide the right framework. But we ALL have a role to play – we can all make a difference without sitting back and expecting others to do something. It’s down to our own individual responsibilities.

edie: And, for WRAP, what do you think will be the biggest enablers and drivers for a successful future?

Liz: I would like to see issues around our work on textiles and SCAP moving up the international agenda, in the same way that food has.

Our work on electricals is also crucial – the issue of the environmental impact of e-waste is just as concerning as food waste and I’d like to see that taken a lot more seriously in years to come.

Timeline: WRAP milestones under Liz Goodwin’s leadership

  • 2007 – Liz Goodwin becomes CEO
  • 2007 – Love Food Hate Waste launches
  • 2008 – WRAP launches a new voluntary agreement for the UK construction industry – Halving Waste to Landfill commitment that aims to meet its objectives by 2012.
  • 2009 (January) – Since the launch of the Love Food Hate Waste campaign, WRAP identifies that consumers were saving £300 million worth of food going to waste, preventing 137,000 tonnes of food going to landfill.
  • 2009 (March) – The On-Pack Recycling Label (OPRL) scheme launches in response to research identifying a need to communicate better with consumers about what types of packaging can be recycled.
  • 2010 – Courtauld Commitment 2 (2010 – 2012) launches, that looked again at food and primary packaging waste, but also secondary and tertiary packaging, and supply chain waste.
  • 2011 (May) Date labels and storage guidance launches to help prevent food waste
  • 2011 (July) – £10 million anaerobic digestion fund launches
  • 2013 (May) – Courtauld Commitment 2 (2013 – 2015) launches which aims to further reduce the weight and carbon impact of household food waste, grocery product and packaging waste, both in the home and the UK grocery sector.
  • 2013 (September) – Trials of a food waste campaign taking place in West London Boroughs saves consumers over £1 million
  • 2013 (November) – Courtauld Commitment Phase 2 helps deliver over £3 billion in savings to the food industry
  • 2014 (February) – Love Your Clothes launches, and major retailers, fashion labels and textile producers in the clothing sector agree to cut environmental impact by 15%
  • 2014 (May) – First of its kind tool launched with UNEP to prevent food waste
  • 2014 (October) – WRAP extends its international reach as the campaign Love Food Hate Waste is set to roll out in Vancouver
  • 2014 (October) – Julie Hill is appointed as the new Chair
  • 2014 (November) – The Electronic and Electricals Sustainability Action Plan (esap) is set to revolutionise the electrical market, with over 50 signatories signing up
  • 2014 (December) – WRAP becomes a registered charity
  • 2015 (June) –  WRAP unveils details of its new five-year strategic plan to drive a ‘resource revolution’
  • 2015 (July) – WRAP partners with Argos to launch a nationwide gadget trade-in scheme
  • 2015 (September) – WRAP provides its response to the EU’s consultation on the circular economy package
  • 2015 (September) – A new report by WRAP reveals that a European transition to the circular economy could create three million extra jobs by 2030 and reduce unemployment by 520,000

Liz Goodwin at edie Live 2016

WRAP chief executive Liz Goodwin will be among the expert speakers at the edie Live 2016 exhibition in May. In a session focused on new business models within the edie Leaders Theatre, Goodwin will be discussing WRAP’s recent partnership with Argos for the launch of a gadget trade-in scheme.

The edie Live conference and seminar programme, produced by the edie editorial team, provides visitors with practical insights to make businesses more sustainable. Register to attend here.

Luke Nicholls

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