Profiles in Leadership

On a mission to protect the environment and reduce waste

After appearing on a Project Greenprint Action Panel of It Happens at STN, Waste Not Executive Director Hillary Bryant joined us again for our Leader Profile series to share how her passion became her profession.

Waste Not collects excess prepared and perishable food before it goes to the landfill and donates it to 75 nonprofits that feed the hungry.

In this video, Bryant talks about the things in her life that influenced her love for the environment, like her grandfather and her volunteer work, and how these helped her understand the importance of creating true, systemic change to the way we look at food usage and waste.

Waste Not Executive Director Hillary Bryant

“Being involved in the nonprofit sector for so long, I see a lot of nonprofits that do so much good, but a lot of times they’re just putting bandaids on the issue. In order for true change to happen, we need to be making changes at the policy level and work together to create that change within our government. “

– Hillary Bryant, Waste Not, Executive Director

How Hillary Bryant’s love for nature transformed into a successful career

This article has been edited from the original interview for content, length and clarity.

Where are you from originally, and what was growing up like for you?

I’m from Arizona. My family has been here for four generations. We started out as miners in the Douglas and Miami areas, and my grandpa moved to Phoenix, then my mom moved us to the East Valley, and I grew up in the East Valley.

I actually spent a lot of time in the White Mountains with my grandpa. He had a cabin up in Show Low, and I spent a lot of spring breaks and a lot of summers there. I really connected with nature up there. I loved being outside in the mountains. I loved being by the creek, climbing trees. All that kind of good stuff. It really helped me connect with my environment and really pushed me into what I do now.

What drives the passion for social transformation that you’re currently seeking?

I’ve been involved in the nonprofit sector for many, many, many years. Before I had it as a career, I did a lot of volunteering when I was a teenager. I went to soup kitchens. I created blankets for the unhoused. I did a lot of different volunteering.

Through college, I got involved in Greek life and started doing a lot of philanthropic things. I was on the council for the community service committee and really got heavily involved in nonprofit events and fundraising.

So it was kind of ingrained in you. You said you started volunteering when you were a teenager?

Actually, even before that. I have been volunteering for a very, very long time. Packing boxes for food banks, all kinds of different little things. I think probably since the time I was about 10.

What did you study in college, and how does that connect to what you do now as the executive director for Waste Not?

I studied public health. In my public health program I studied a lot of different things, but I studied environmental health and science and how our built environments affect our health. And I studied how the systems create disparities within our community. And that really has tied into what I do for work now.

You talked about growing up and having all of those experiences with nature and with your grandfather. You have the sustainability side of having that love for nature and being concerned about our planet, and you also have that connection to public health and making sure the people who are at a disadvantage are getting the help and resources that they need. How does that love for the outdoors connect to sustainability and, ultimately, being able to reduce waste and reduce your carbon footprint here in Arizona.

Growing up I was really into my environment. I loved nature. I have Greenpeace ‘Save the Whales’ sweatshirt that I wore out as a child because I loved it so much. I also was the self-appointed energy and water conservation patrol in my house. I made sure we didn’t use too much water.

Arizona, it’s very dry. We’ve been in a drought for as long as I can remember. So really, as a child, I wanted to inspire people to change their actions to create a better environment.

Tying that back into my public health background, I really studied how people react to their environments and how people flourish in environments that are safe and healthy. That really solidified my love for people and my love for helping people.

When it comes to collaboration opportunities, how do you like to be approached for partnership?

When it comes to collaborating, I like to be approached for partnership in all kinds of ways. I love teaching people about how they can make our environment better. So even if you don’t know anything about sustainability, I want to talk to you.
I love teaching people about that kind of stuff. I also love collaborating with people that have the same passion for systemic change as I do, and who use their power for good.

When it comes to establishing a partnership with Waste Not, what have been some of the things that have stood out as far as steps to take that help lead to a good partnership?

We partner with a lot of people who have their own sustainability and zero waste initiatives. That really helps move the needle for environmental change. A lot of people who are like-minded actually reach out to us and love the work that we do and want to be involved in helping their community and helping Arizona flourish.

Arizona has a very large problem with food waste. We are the number one producer of food waste in the United States. To partner with these companies that already have that buy into sustainability truly makes a difference.

Why are you so passionate about systemic change?

Being involved in the nonprofit sector for so long, I see a lot of nonprofits that do so much good, but a lot of times they’re just putting bandaids on the issue. In order for true change to happen, we need to be making changes at the policy level and work together to create that change within our government.

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