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“Share your love of nature with your kids”With Penny Bauder & Dr. Nicoletta Piccolrovazzi

Finally, share your love of nature with your kids! Spend time in the mountains or seas. Being close to nature is one of the best strategies to inspire sustainability ambassadors. And, as a bonus, nature has powerful effect on both our mental and physical health. I had the pleasure to interview Dr. Nicoletta Piccolrovazzi. As […]

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Finally, share your love of nature with your kids! Spend time in the mountains or seas. Being close to nature is one of the best strategies to inspire sustainability ambassadors. And, as a bonus, nature has powerful effect on both our mental and physical health.

I had the pleasure to interview Dr. Nicoletta Piccolrovazzi. As Global Technology & Sustainability Director, Dr. Piccolrovazzi helps organizing committees, host cities and business partners address technology and sustainability-related needs with Dow solutions. Among her greatest triumphs is Dow’s carbon mitigation platform, implemented with Sochi 2014 and Rio 2016 and expanded globally with the International Olympic Committee”. Nicoletta joined Dow in 1989 and led Technical organizations for multiple businesses, responsible for customer support and technology implementation throughout Europe. Her expertise ranges from Sustainability, R&D to end-use markets. Nicoletta holds a Ph.D. from the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich and a master’s degree in chemistry from Padua University.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

Igrew up in a really special environment. I was born in Austria to a family of six — my mother, my father, and three siblings. My father was the managing director of a paper mill, the only company in the town of Poels in the region of Styria — Austria, which was also my home as our house was literally within the factory grounds. I had to literally cross the factory gates to get from the village to our home. Growing up in this industrial environment absolutely shaped me. One thing that really sticks out in my mind is the smell of wood and wood processing. As children, my siblings and I used to play on mountains of woodchips that would get stuck in our shoes as we slid down. Ironically, when I first started working at Dow, I was responsible for technical services for paper mill products. As I walked through our customers factories, it struck me how the smell brought up all these memories. This sticks out in my mind because those memories made me feel comfortable in a manufacturing industry environment, working with technologies. I loved it and I’ve been doing it ever since.

Was there an “aha moment” or a specific trigger that made you decide you wanted to become a scientist or environmental leader? Can you share that story with us?

There really wasn’t one moment that inspired me to become a scientist, but a few that made me make the choices that I did. The factory my father worked at in Austria ran through the night. Quite frequently, my father would get up after dinner and go do his rounds at the factory, watching over the employees and making sure everything was running properly. Until I was about 13, he’d take me with him. It was so impressive to witness — to see the authority he had over the entire operation that processed paper through the night. To me, pulp was inspiring! The processes were concrete, they made sense, and I liked that.

I also had a chemistry teacher around age 13/14 who inspired myself and many fellow students to study chemistry. With him, I was inspired to take lab classes in the afternoon, which allowed me to explore the subject more in depth.

As for being an “environmental leader”, I wouldn’t actually label myself as such. I’d define myself more as a sustainability leader — someone that wants his or her legacy to be environmentally, socially and economically positive. To be honest, sustainability wasn’t even a central part of my career until 2012 when I was exposed to it through a particular project: the stadium wrap for the Olympic Games London 2012.

The organizing committee was committed to creating a sustainable legacy for 2012 and wanted to use the most sustainable materials possible. This included a completely recyclable wrap for the main Olympic stadium that would be repurposed post-Games. At this point in time, there wasn’t even a market developed for these types of products yet but we delivered.

Two years later, during preparations for the Olympic Games in Sochi, carbon became a key area of focus for me. The Head of Sustainability for the Games effectively told me: you have a lot of great materials but what we need help with is our carbon footprint. They wanted Dow to help them deliver on the carbon commitment that was made in their bid. I was way out of my depth! But, through the combined passion and expertise of our teams at Dow, we supported Sochi to reach their goal, helping them with our carbon projects across Russia to balance their operational emission as well as spectator and media travel before the events even began.

Since then, we’ve been working with customers and value chain partners alike to help catalyze the adoption of low-carbon technologies at the Games, in host cities and beyond.

Is there a lesson you can take out of your own story that can exemplify what can inspire a young person to become an environmental leader?

There are three things I think young people today can take to heart in terms of becoming environmental leaders.

  1. Capture the opportunities life presents to you. We could have easily found a work around from the challenges that were presented to me in London 2012 and Sochi 2014, but instead my team and I leaned into it, and saw it as an opportunity to grow, defy expectations, and break new ground.
  2. Trust your own ability to create and be that change. It’s easy to say I shouldn’t or cannot do this or that, to find reasons that you’re not the right person for the job. Solutions always begin with individuals tackling issues one at a time. It is scary and you may need to take some risks but any change requires risks. Trust your ability to engage with uncomfortability. If it were easy, everyone would do it.

ExampleI had two leaders that encouraged me to trust in my ability. My PhD professor and a Dow mentor. Both gave me an understanding that I was capable, that they trusted me to carry out difficult assignments. Feeling you have someone’s trust is incredibly empowering.

Look for others to partner with on the journey. I could not have done any of the things I’ve accomplished without a team of smart and loyal people around me, ready to take risks and even put their jobs on the line in some cases. Collaboration is key.

Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?

Believe it or not, materials science is all around us. From the packaging your pour your milk from in the morning to the bridge you drive across on your way home from work, Dow’s solutions are at work, enhancing our health, our productivity, our activities, our infrastructure, and our sustainability.

For us at Dow, sustainability comes in the context of materials — and from that perspective, we’re never finished working. We’ll never arrive at “sustainable”. It’s a journey, and one we’ve been on for quite some time. Dow is on its third decade of sustainability goals, but we will always be improving, benchmarking and fighting to understand our impacts and how we can reduce it and how we can solve new challenges.

We get to apply our science to some really thrilling low-carbon projects and talk about them in a much broader and more accessible way through our sports partnerships. In our work with the Olympic Movement, we’ve been able to collaborate alongside organizing committees, host cities, customers and value chain partners to elevate the role of science in solving some of the world’s greatest problems, from reducing carbon emissions to conserving resources and beyond. By partnering with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and various Olympic Games, we’ve been able to collectively harness the positive impact of the Olympic Movement to bring more people to the table and accelerate solutions for reducing carbon impacts.

For example, through the Official Carbon Partnership with the IOC, Dow has created projects with customers and partners to address sustainability needs across the infrastructure, reforestation, industrial, and packaging sectors. Since the program’s inception, 5 million tonnes of Co2 greenhouse gas emission reductions have been third-party verified. That’s equivalent to switching close to 200 million incandescent lightbulbs to LED.

Over the years, our partnership with the IOC and the Olympic Movement has a whole has evolved dramatically. At first designed to be a partnership based around solutions for venue infrastructure, it has grown to become a powerful, collaborative effort to create a positive, global climate legacy — empowering businesses and organizations in host cities and beyond to take action by reducing emissions and contribute towards fighting climate change.

Can you share 3 lifestyle things that the general public can do to be more sustainable or help address the climate change challenge?

Because I currently live in Switzerland, I feel particularly empowered and connected to making sustainable choices in my daily routine. One such area is in transportation — as an individual, there are multiple ways you can take action to lower your footprint; for example by biking, walking and taking public transport are possibilities. Another mechanism of sustainability is through your buying decisions, including the energy to source from your energy provider. In Switzerland, we can choose to utilize more renewable energy in utilities contracts. Last year we actually put solar panels on our roof and are producing renewable energy at home. Clothing is another huge decision-making opportunity. Stores have started offering clothing/textile recycling programs and second-hand stores are becoming more accessible and trendy. These are great ways to reduce your footprint and shop more consciously. It’s also important to consider your waste. In Switzerland, we’re lucky in that we’ve got impressive recycling infrastructure with distinctive waste streams.

All in all, I think we must consider the balance of consequences. When we talk about climate change, most decisions are a tradeoff. Making intentional, science-based choices where possible is the best path forward.

Ok, thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview: The youth led climate strikes of September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change. This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion what are 5 things parents should do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement? Please give a story or an example for each.

As a parent myself, I think we should be encouraging the next generation to engage in the dialogue. We need to help them get to the table, and make it clear that we are with them to try and work together to solve this global issue. As best we can, we need to help those younger generations get access to science-based information. We can help them ask the right questions. For example: What would replacing plastic with cardboard only do to water and wood production? Is that the right path forward? What other solutions could there be?

We also need to provide opportunities for youth to get exposure. At Dow, we have the Pulling Our Weight initiative which gives employees and their families’ exposure to waste and the environment. We take them out to collect local waste and see what they can recycle while helping them to understand why this alone is not a solution for a true circular economy.

In our home, I’ve tried to find support our daughters in exploring sustainability aspects relevant to my children’s’ lives. One of my daughters compared the footprint of her school with that of a school we are supporting in Mekele Ethiopia. My other daughter did her thesis on sustainability in the fashion industry, diving deep into brands she aspires to buy. They both enjoyed these projects and are far more conscious now. Real life examples are extremely powerful.

Another strategy I’ve used is using something kids are interested in to share the message of sustainability through sports! Just like what we’re doing with Dow, putting sustainable choices in the context of soccer, basketball, cricket, luge, whatever it is, helps bring the issue to life. Sport brands attract the eyes of youth with well-known athletes. Leverage that same marketing style for sharing the message of sustainability and you’ve got a powerful generation with a peaked interest in making smart choices for the environment, not just a loyal sneaker-obsessed teenager.

Finally, share your love of nature with your kids! Spend time in the mountains or seas. Being close to nature is one of the best strategies to inspire sustainability ambassadors. And, as a bonus, nature has powerful effect on both our mental and physical health.

How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?

Articulate your vision and ambitions. Putting these things into words from the very beginning will help you promote organization-wide understanding, create benchmarks, and give you a compass from which to make decisions.

Last year at Dow, we created a new ambition: to become the most innovative, customer-centric, inclusive and sustainable materials science company in the world. Our goal is to deliver value growth and best-in-class performance.

As a company, we believe wholeheartedly that materials have a role to play in advancing society. How can we become the materials science company that the world needs?

Even with goals to guide you, however, it’s important to remember that hitting them isn’t enough. Going beyond business as usual means being open to increasing your ambitions.

It’s also important to note that this cannot be achieved without customers. In any sustainability journey, bringing value chains and customers along with you is key. You may have a product that is sustainable, but if you cannot convince customers it’s worthwhile, your cause is hindered.

For us, a great way of motivating and inspiring customers to join in on the sustainability journey was via the Olympic brand. We’ve been able to engage in 10+ projects with our customers, delivering third-party verified Co2 reductions. It’s a mutually beneficial project, not self-serving. The customers are able to become more economically and environmentally viable along with us.

Lastly, leadership is crucial here. Without buy-in from a company’s leaders, causes will fail; there must be internal champions to rally around. At Dow, our leaders are vital in walking out Dow’s ambition, helping to set standards and create a culture that is flexible, collaborative, risk-taking and innovative in pursuit of a better world.

You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Recently, I was exposed to some of the folks from the Paris 2024 committee. One of their initiatives is inspiring people to “get moving” in everyday life. They want to work with companies and schools to help adults and children alike spend 30 minutes a day (at least!) moving.

Physical activity is so important, especially within nature. For me, getting this connection back to nature in a society that is increasingly disconnected and digital could have so many benefits. You become more aware and more appreciative of what’s around you. I think this could help us adjust our behaviors too, inspiring us to make them more environmentally responsible.

Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?

“We must change to stay the same.” This is actually a sticky note I have on my computer at home. I look at it every day. For me, this articulates how our organizations must continue to push the envelope in order fight climate change — we cannot just keep doing the same thing and expect a different result. We must do things in a different way with our emissions, with our waste, etc. Otherwise, the next generations will not be able to enjoy what we are enjoying today. This is crucial to understand.

What is the best way for people to follow you on social media?

You can follow me on Twitter at @NPiccolrovazzi and LinkedIn — Nicoletta Piccolrovazzi.

This was so inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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