Talk on the Wild Side
with Waste Management
In this episode, we explore careers in conservation from the team at Waste Management (WM). Dawn McCormick, Director of Communications and Government Affairs at WM of Florida, Liz Foeller, Area Environmental Protection Manager at WM, and Ryan Fowler, Senior Scientist at Atkins Global. With a shared passion for the environment, each of the panelists serves a unique role to help protect our natural world. Fowler says that if you are thinking about a career in conservation, take the time to explore the details and appreciate the environment around you.
Hi, I’m Vikki Locke with C2 Communications. This is Talk on the Wild Side. We talk about jobs in conservation and it’s brought to you by the Florida Wildlife Federation. We’ve got three guests today, Dawn McCormick, director of communications and government affairs at Waste Management. Her colleague, Liz Foeller, area environmental protection manager, and Ryan Fowler, senior scientist at Atkins Global. Hi, everybody.
Well, all of you share a passion for conservation, but all of you follow that path in different directions. Why don’t you talk a little bit about how that passion was sparked in your life and how you got to be where you are today? Let’s start with Dawn.
Thanks, Vikki. Thanks, everyone. Well, I am director of communications for waste management in Florida, and I’ve been here about 12 years. I absolutely love my job. I love the fact that not only are we a waste and recycling company, but we’re a full-service environmental services [inaudible 00:01:13]. I think the most exciting thing we do involves our Wildlife Habitat [inaudible 00:01:19] projects. We have about 80 of those around the country. We’re currently protecting about 18,000 acres of conservation. I know Liz will talk and Ryan we’ll talk a little bit more about the specifics of that, but what I wanted to share was really how I got to this role.
I was a journalism major in college at Northwestern University, and I knew I wanted to do broadcast journalism. First, out of college, I actually worked in sports broadcasting, but at one point I made a transition to corporate communications and I worked for another company, the Irvine Company, which developed the city of Irvine in Southern California. We did a tremendous amount of conservation work there. It’s a project called the Newport Coast if you ever want to look into it, but the company owns 68,000 acres of amazing property in Southern California.
In order to develop it, we entered into a partnership with The Nature Conservancy to protect over two-thirds of that property in order to develop a third of it. It’s really a landmark conservation program in Southern California. I was thrilled to be a part of it. It’s really continued to propel me to follow that type of interest as I work here at Waste Management.
As a student, I would just encourage you overall to be very curious, ask a lot of questions as a journalist and as a writer. That’s what I do. That’s what makes me, I think, valuable to my company. Read a lot of books. Find your passion about what you’re interested in and become proficient and an expert in it. Really perfect your writing skills, your people skills, and your listening skills. Those are all very important in today’s world.
Most importantly, whether it’s conservation or something else, really develop a passion for it and work hard. Every day at Waste Management, when things aren’t going so well, I look around and tell my colleagues, “Listen, guys, if it was easy, they wouldn’t need us.” Be willing to work hard, be a good team member, but overall just be really curious about this amazing world we live in.
Thanks, Dawn. Liz, how about you?
As Dawn indicated, I am the area environmental director for the Florida market area at Waste Management, and I have been here for four years. Before coming here, I actually started out as an engineering student in undergraduate practicing civil engineering, and then went on and got master’s degrees in both civil and environmental engineering. I am a licensed engineer in the state of Florida, which is really tremendous in the area of not just conservation, but also environmental compliance, which is where I’ve spent the bulk of my career working on the periphery with folks like Ryan at Atkins on those conservation easements that we do for our different facilities.
I started my career though, actually in consulting. I spent about half my career consulting, which is a great start as a young professional because you get to see so many different industries and help them from a different perspective, getting those permits in place, helping them with compliance with those permits, and making sure they have all the correct regulatory submittals for those permits.
When I made the transition from consulting to industry, it is a slightly different perspective. While you’re still performing environmental compliance obligations, it’s more from the front lines. You get far more into the details of the business itself, how they operate and what they can do to do their business in the most environmentally conscientious way possible.
We work hand in hand with individuals that do conservation because part of our responsibility is to protect the land that we’re using for other purposes so that conservation can continue forward. That includes permitting all types of air-right permits for our facilities, water permits, solid waste, storage tanks for different materials, as well as compliance with other regulatory obligations for those facilities.
If you can imagine each of those days when you go to work, you’re spending about 50% to 60% of your time in the field, working directly with the individuals who run the operations to ensure they understand what the requirements are, and they are performing those in a way that is protective of the environment. It’s a lot of hands-on with the folks. I think that’s what makes Waste Management such a special place to work because it is like a family when we were working with them out in the field.
We also though work very closely with our regulatory agencies to ensure that they are pleased with how we’re conducting that environmental compliance, and then help them when they decide to do changes with regulatory rulemakings to ensure those rulemakings are following really sound science and what is really truly going to be protective of the environment.
All in all, I’d say to any college student who is looking to enter into the environmental space is be passionate about what you want to do. If you love what you do every day, you’ll never work another day in your life. Keep that in your mind that you’ve got to love what you do. I certainly love working for Waste Management. I love working for the environment and really have enjoyed my time in this space. That’s it in a nutshell.
Thanks, Liz. Okay, Ryan, were you always a scientist even as a little kid?
Not especially, no, actually, I grew up on a beach community and North Florida. I spent a lot of time outdoors, but I never really stopped to appreciate it until I got to college. I actually started out my career in a pre-med pathway University of Florida and then realized that it required four chemistry classes. I struggled a bit with that. I had to stop and refocus and looked at what I loved as a kid. I just loved being outside. I’ve always loved animals. I decided to pursue a pathway in wildlife ecology at UF. Then that’s where I really found my passion for the outdoors again.
I got to spend a lot of time outside, a lot of different professors doing different types of field activities and just really fell in love and got to really focus on the nitty-gritty of the outside. Not just walking through it on trails or on a boat or on the beach, but really stopping and looking at the plants, looking at the insects, looking at the animals and just seeing how everything interacted, seeing how everything was affecting each other. Just really appreciating the green space that we have left in this world. That’s where my pathway to wildlife ecology started.
After I graduated college, I did a stint with the Georgia Department of Transportation. That was my first experience in the Piedmont, which is the lower hills and mountain ranges getting up into the Appalachians. That was really different and fun experience for me because I’d never been outside of the Gulf, coastal area of Florida. There were streams and rocks everywhere, and it was just fantastic to explore these new areas that I’d never been in before.
That helped me refocus and really broaden my professional skills as a scientist as well, learning all those new plants and animals and different ecologies and the environment up there. That’s helped me bring that additional knowledge of permitting and wetland compliance and understanding the different ecosystems in the Southeast.
When I came back down to Florida, I had a better understanding of how all that worked. I had a better understanding of the inner workings of transportation systems and private firms. That’s when I got to jump on board with the waste management project down in Okeechobee. That was one of the projects that I love the most because we did such a diverse set of projects and they had such a nice, beautiful piece of property down there.
We’ve done all kinds of wildlife surveys. We’ve installed some nesting boxes. We do all kinds of vegetation surveys for their wetlands down there. We’ve gotten to relocate some gopher tortoises, done some water quality work. It’s just a great place that we can really stretch our legs as field scientists and really push the limits of that data gathering that we do for Waste Management.
It’s been a real joy to get this diversity of fieldwork in parts of the Southeast at least. I haven’t had the opportunity to go outside the Southeast, but I’ve had a really good time just exploring different forests and ecosystems and ecotones and working with a variety of different clients in Florida.
I would say anyone thinking about environmental field, just spend more time outdoors. Just stop, don’t walk by everything on the trail. Stop and look at things. Get up close to dirt and insects and plants and water, and just really immerse yourself in it and you’ll get a greater appreciation for the green spaces that we have left and how important it is to conserve and protect them.
Thanks, all of you. Great information from each and every one of you. Thanks to the Florida Wildlife Federation for sponsoring Talk on the Wild Side and keeping the wild in Florida since 1936. You can find out more at floridawildlifefederation.org.