Tequila Smith applies Afrofuturism to sustainability as Covanta EVP

Tequila Smith achieved industry-wide acclaim in her previous position as VP of sustainability for Georgia Power. Now the successful corporate leader who spent more than two decades with the Southern Company has decided to take a higher calling to bring awareness to and promote sustainable career options to the Black community while making more waves as executive vice president and chief sustainability officer for Covanta.

What makes Covanta different?

At Covanta, we’re looking at all things waste to energy, but also looking at sustainable material management. So, what does that mean? Do you ever think about where does your medical waste go? We take care of that. Do you ever think about what happens to your garbage, once you sit it out front or out back? There are two options, you can typically send it on the truck to the landfill, where it sits and gets covered in dirt, and then it continues in that cycle, or municipalities [can] contract with Covanta that knows there are other ways that they can dispose of [waste].

We pick it up, and then we transport it to one of our facilities all over the U.S. and we turn that waste into energy. Then we can sell it to the municipality. We can sell it back to the utility that’s in that particular area, while we’re creating jobs, and we’re assisting our community.

How does it feel to be in a company that is working to improve how we look at waste?

So I’m often asked “what’s your passion?” The answer over the past 15 years has been STEM [for] science, technology, engineering, math, and young people. Every role, every speaking opportunity, every time I’m out in front of folks, it’s about young people in STEM, because I truly believe technology and learning about it can create generational wealth. Science, technology, engineering, and math are life-changing for you, your children, and your grandchildren. Engineering is one of those degrees where right after undergrad, you can go in making north of $70 to $80,000, depending on your geographical region, and your expertise. Think about … future technology, and sustainability. If you’re not on one of those paths, chances are you might be missing out.

This new generation is thinking about “what can I do today, to ensure that I’m powering tomorrow? How do I make sure the life that I’m living today brings a better tomorrow.” That’s what sustainability is all about. From a waste and recycling perspective, our carbon footprint, the cars we drive, the homes that we build, the water we drink, how we clean our homes, has all of our young people thinking, “how does this product and service impact future generations?”

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