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Kate gets creative with clients' waste

WasteSolve Creative Director Kate Cawley recently made the cut in Management Today’s ‘35 under 35 business women to watch’ list for her impressive approach to leadership. Andrea Lockerbie finds out more about the key to her success

What inspired you to set up WasteSolve?

I wanted to create a company that turned waste management on its head; that took a fresh, more relevant approach to possibly the biggest challenge of our lives – resource scarcity. So WasteSolve helps ambitious and visionary companies deliver their environmental strategies through engaging teams fully in the social and commercial benefits of success.

What does that really mean, and where does gender come into it?

It’s not necessarily about gender, it’s more about how you approach business problems and build teams. I constantly saw the same operational stuff being rolled out, with no nod to the consumer and even less nod to our future. Traditionally in waste management it’s been about operational delivery - transport, logistics, hitting targets and making the numbers add up.  I wanted to do more: take us forward to looking at how we are thinking and behaving at work, being part of the bigger picture.

Does the sector needs more women, and if so, what sort of roles do you think they should be in?

Yes but I wouldn’t like to pigeon hole anyone, there’s a huge array of jobs in our sector, depending on your skills or interest. Women bring a different dynamic to any business, and in particular I think working mothers work harder and faster because of time and family pressures. We do need more women in management positions, there just aren’t enough women applying. I don’t think our sector is on radar as a creative industry but we’ve proved that it is.

WasteSolve has tripled turnover in just under two years, what key factors have led to this result?

The way we’ve looked at our client needs in a different way, with a more people focussed vision, bringing marketing and communications into the mix. We connect with the emotional side of resource management, linking it to how it will benefit individual people and families, as much as the company or business. It is also part of our team focus, we all share the same beliefs and passion, we enjoy what we do.

The company is still relatively young, what are your ambitions for it and how will you achieve these?

I want to build secure, long-term relationships with our clients, to grow and develop with them. For example, helping our clients to extend their thinking and actions across all resources; we’re already offering integrated waste and water management strategies for example. We’re ambitious and want to work for ambitious clients but we don’t want to get too big to dilute our offer. I like being able to make decisions quickly, being reactive and responsive.

What motivates you at work?

Making sure our clients are getting ‘best in class’ and giving them a competitive edge. Knowing they are satisfied, that we are innovative and different to other people. It’s also really important to be part of a happy and successful team.  I think I’m probably especially motivated because it’s a family business and the buck stops with me. I want to build on the legacy and reputation my Dad has built, and take it forward. 

You are Creative Director, a job title usually more associated with industries such as media, advertising or fashion rather than waste/recycling. What does your day to day job involve?

Everyone in the industry knows how competitive our market is, how a business has to be completely transparent with clients and buttoned down on costs to make it work.  So I have to be sure that every element of the chain is working smoothly, as the buck stops with me.

When you think of the scale of some of our clients, like Westfield’s Stratford Centre, the biggest shopping centre in Europe, that’s a pretty big task. But waste management is a people-based industry and my day to day focus is actually much more on staff; devising and delivering creative and interactive staff engagement and behavioural change programmes for clients. Leading my team; brainstorming ideas; looking for solutions and new approaches. That’s where the creative element comes into it.

I see my focus as connecting with the HR and marketing departments for our clients, as much as the operations department or managers. 

We’re about creating dynamic  staff engagement programmes which tackle the whole issue of resource  efficiency from an emotional, holistic point of view and that certainly means employing skills that you would more usually associate with media, advertising or fashion. It’s about finding that emotional connection with people that makes them want to be involved in something. We effectively help promote our client’s green strategy and brand to all key stakeholders.

Do you think having such a role has been key to the success of the business?

Definitely.  Take Westfield again; it is right next to the Olympic park and an estimated 5 million extra visitors were predicted to come through during the Olympic Games.  That was obviously an important logistics task, to make sure all the extra waste was collected, with no loss of quality or missing targets. We tackled that first of all from the staff point of view – how can we get all the retail staff on board, ready and willing to play their part? So we created a motivational staff engagement programme involving a retailer vs retailer mini Green Olympics with a Green Personal Fitness Trainer on hand, which made it fun for everyone to be part of it. Waste volume did increase, by 225%, and we were completely ready for it and hit every target – of which zero landfill is just stage one by the way.

We do this for all our clients, and keep coming back with new ideas to keep staff motivated and engaged. With Adelie Food for example, after meeting our zero food waste target we moved up a gear to look at extending the behavioral change to staff home life by helping their families recycle their unwanted electrical and electronic items. We launched our Wow WEEE! campaign with a new programme of activity and  rewards, which also revitalised and reinvigorated the day to day thought process of resource efficiency at work.

You are a young mum as well. How do you get your work/life balance right?

I don’t really have the work/life balance right!  I have to be really strict with time; I have a great support network at home and a supportive team at work including other young working mums. We all respect and understand that family commitments have to come first.  We have the flexibility to work at different times, and the understanding that you will make up the time or do the work at different times, maybe when the kids are asleep. I’m honest with our clients too, they know we’ll deliver, often many of them are in the same boat anyway.  It all comes back to working smarter and harder.

Kate Cawley CV

Kate Cawley is Creative Director of environmental consultancy WasteSolve, whose key clients include the Westfield shopping centres in Stratford and White City; Red Bull Racing and ready-made food producer Adelie, which supplies three million sandwiches a week to Britain’s high street retailers and café chains.

Educated at Bedford Girls School, Cawley studied politics at Leeds University before joining Reuter’s graduate training scheme where she worked in the marketing department, eventually moving with Reuters to work in Sydney, Australia.  Returning home in 2006, she joined the family waste management business, Cawleys, where she was a trailblazer for food waste management, setting up the UK’s first commercial food waste recycling service to Anaerobic Digestion and winning Waitrose as a first key client.

She set up WasteSolve in 2010 to offer a new approach to waste management on a national scale, putting people and staff engagement strategies at the heart of resource management programmes.

Cawley is mother to Lily, now aged four.

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