That's a WRAP

Written by: Geraldine Faulkner | Published:

The Waste and Resources Action Programme’s outgoing CEO Liz Goodwin discusses the organisation’s achievements during her 15 years there - including the Courtauld Commitment - receiving her OBE and what the future holds, both for her and waste management. By Geraldine Faulkner

Unpretentiousness may not be a proper word but, if it were, it would be the perfect description for Liz Goodwin, OBE, along with terms such as modest, stoic and team player. Because as far as WRAP’s outgoing CEO is concerned, the adage ‘There is no ‘I’ in team’ is alive and thriving.

When asked what she would like to see as the legacy of her nine years spent as WRAP’s CEO, she replies unhesitatingly in the plural: “Our work on food waste; we really put the subject on the agenda and got it recognised internationally.”

She recalls how she attended an international conference on food waste and how a delegate from UNEP asked if there was anyone from WRAP at the event. “It was fantastic feedback and a great acknowledgement of the work we carry out. Essentially, we’ve transformed habits in the UK and I think WRAP as an organisation has proved itself.”

Coming of age

The Waste and Resources Action Programme was only a year old when Goodwin joined it in 2001.

“We had a three-year window to begin with and that was 15 years ago,” recalls the CEO with obvious satisfaction. “We’ve proved that the whole concept of voluntary agreements work.”

Among voluntary agreements brokered by WRAP, Goodwin has overseen the delivery of the Courtauld Commitment – which involves major retailers, brands and their supply chains – to deliver “significant” reductions in packaging. Through consumer campaigns such as Love Food Hate Waste, she has also helped to ensure the problem of food waste is now more widely understood, with WRAP helping the UK to deliver a 21% reduction in avoidable food waste since 2007. Then there is the construction sector where more than 700 companies are reported to have successfully halved their waste to landfill by 2012.

Despite the success of the schemes, Goodwin acknowledges that: “People are still very critical of voluntary approaches, but by collaborating you can do things in a different way. As CEO I wanted to prove that we could work in partnership.”

As an aside, she points out with a smile that a CEO need not be arrogant and aggressive to be successful. “Everyone does not have to be macho; you can be a chief exec in a more gentler way,” she says firmly.

However, this doesn’t mean there is no place for ambition in the grand scheme of things, particularly when it comes to the government.

“I would like to see more ambition, drive and enthusiasm. We need to have more vision about we want in the UK,” she emphasises. “What do we want in 20-30 years’ time? That is the role for government. We need people to think long-term; we see it in infrastructure so why not in resources?” asks the CEO with a distinct note of exasperation.

Returning to the role played by the organisation that acquired charitable status in December 2014, she says: “WRAP works in the space between government and the industry and acts as a liaison.

“Basically, we understand how each works. We’ve played a role in providing continuity. In our latest plan, we are looking at what the strategy should be for the resource sector over the next few years and how we can influence and help it improve.”

Electricals and textiles

However, while a great deal has been achieved in the food and drink industry, Goodwin recognises more engagement and commitment are needed in the textiles and electrical sectors.

“Electrical goods should not have built-in obsolescence. It is scandalous,” she states unequivocally. “There are complicated supply chains, but we want to work with them and understand the business case to make products last and enable them to be repaired – thereby offering greater service to consumers.”

Admittedly textiles and electricals are affected by global markets and, as pointed out by Goodwin, are difficult to protect and nurture. “You see that in the oil price and how it impacts on the world economy. It has so much impact on what we do.”

Speaking of making an impact, did she think she would still be CEO after nine years?

“No, I never thought I’d be here for that long. Things are always different and changing and you never get bored.”

Receiving acknowledgment for the work carried out by WRAP clearly means a great deal to Goodwin, hence her obvious pride in the OBE she was awarded in June 2015 in the Queen’s birthday honours. Even though it was a personal recognition of her achievements, she was keen that the staff were involved when she received her award. “I took my colleague Wendy Cleveland from our Welsh office to make sure someone from the staff was with us. The event is run like a military machine to make sure the correct person gets the right award.

“When we heard that I was being awarded the OBE, we really wanted the Prince of Wales to be the person awarding it, so my husband Bruce wrote requesting that it be HRH and we were delighted when we were told it would be him. With all his work on the environment, Prince Charles just seemed to be the right person.”

Regarding the day itself, Goodwin smiles as she recalls the protocol. “You get this enormous burly person in full spurs telling you how to stand and bow and curtsy.”

Did she become emotional?

“I felt myself welling up, and thought ‘Come on Goodwin, get a grip’, and I managed to keep it under control, but I understand Bruce had a few tears. When it came to my one-to-one chat with Prince Charles, we briefly discussed issues on the circular economy on which he is well versed.”

After June 30

Looking to the future and Goodwin’s successor, has someone been appointed?

“Not at the moment; the recruitment selection process is taking place as we speak,” says the CEO, whose last day at WRAP will be June 30.

What are her plans for July 1?

“We’re going on holiday. I plan to stop and take a bit of time for myself and then I’d like to do a mixture of things; things that interest me and things I care about, like acting as an ambassador on issues such as consumption and food waste.”

Goodwin pauses before commenting: “People can relate to food, they prepare food as a way of looking after their families, to celebrate friendship.

“You can also understand a connection with an item of clothing. For instance, my sister and I both wore my mother’s wedding dress – although I did have to have a display of flowers to hide a rust mark.”

Does she have any regrets about things left undone at WRAP?

“I really wish we’d made more progress on consistency on waste collections. It’s such a hot potato and we ought to have achieved more. Rory Stewart needs the local authorities to engage. He can bang on the drum and shout about it, but he doesn’t have many levers at his disposal. The other thing I wish we’d been able to do is make the case to the Treasury for making better use of resources contributing to the economy and creating more jobs. I feel we haven’t found the right language to communicate about the green economy being part of the economy and not something separate from it.”

The CEO also points out that the way materials are looked at needs to be addressed.

“Economists talk in economic terms all the time and we need to talk in economic terms as well. There are loads of issues to address; we need to hit climate change and carbon targets, but there is also the potential for us to realise a massive economic gain for the economy.

“Economists are not taking enough of a long-term perspective, they’re not thinking about sustainability of resource use. We need to paint a picture of the problem in terms they understand and then get them to own the solution,” opines Goodwin.

Nonetheless, the CEO says she is happy with the progress WRAP has made.

“It’s astonishing how far we’ve come. Recycling is now a habit for the vast majority of people, plus we’re far more aware of resources. We have grown the reprocessing sector and we tend to forget about that,” states Goodwin. “We’ve come a long way since we had the reputation of the dirty man of Europe. It’s important to reflect on that and too easy to focus on the challenges still facing us.”

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