Founding Member Spotlight
Daniel Lawson is a public servant in every sense of the word. As Philadelphia Parks and Recreation’s Sustainability Manager, he was a tireless champion for increasing sustainability deep into the department’s operations. And through his work with PowerCorpsPHL, he’s passing on everything he gained from his previous AmeriCorps service to a whole new generation of young people throughout the Northeast.
Why did you join Circular Philadelphia?
There are so many complex challenges facing our world, and our City has a few unique ones of its own. It’s easy to feel defeated in the fist of daily doom scrolling and complaints about how “this leader needs to do better” or “that department’s good for nothing.” But volunteerism has always been a big part of my life and when looking for somewhere to give my time I thought — here’s something that I have experience in, I have passion for, and that I think is doable. When I first heard about Circular Philadelphia all I could see was a sea of opportunities to do something new and better, and a ton of good people behind it. I love that intersection between creativity and innovation, and put logistics and mechanics to work to make something happen. I think the right folks have come together to meet in that intersection at Circular.
What kind of work do you do and/or interests do you have?
Working with PowerCorpsPHL, I like to think I’m bringing true sustainable solutions to communities. PCPHL operates as an AmeriCorps-funded workforce development program for opportunity youth preparing them for next steps into a career with a particular focus on green jobs. It’s a perfect model for what the reimagined idea of a Civilian Climate Corps looks like, and I have the pleasure of working with other communities who are interested in replicating the program locally. There’s a lot of energy towards this type of work right now and I think it’s because people are seeing the logic of a program that addresses issues of environment, equity and economy all at once. I’ve always had passion about protecting and restoring the environment, but doing it through helping people grow is something that really lights me up.
What does a circular economy mean to you?
To me, a circular economy means empowering a community to support itself in that sustainable way — making impacts on environment, equity and economy. When “waste” is recycled or reused locally, it saves on materials, fuel, pollution and efficiency. It supports people by creating more opportunities for entrepreneurship and job opportunities that follow. It keeps dollars and assets within a community instead of leaking them out to places the residents will never see. And all of these things add up to make for a more resilient community — in our case, a more resilient Philadelphia.
What advice would you give to someone to help move the circular economy forward?
I spent an afternoon with three of my nieces the other day. I’ve watched them grow from infants to 9 and 11 year-olds in the blink of an eye and have lots of love in my heart for them. But one of them looked at the PowerPoint on my screen and said “what’s your job? You never told us what your job was” and I realized I just don’t talk about work with them, maybe because I always thought it was over these young ladies’ heads. Later in the afternoon on a walk, one of them said how she didn’t want to open a plastic water bottle she had because she didn’t see a recycling bin. I told her “you could always just take it home and fill it up again, basically recycling it…actually I guess that’d be reusing it. She said “or maybe we could find a way to upcycle it” and I looked at her and thought “where the hell did she learn that….” So my advice would be to trust that these incoming generations are more than capable of figuring this out and that people want to be part of this movement, even when the current structures and systems hide that. That, and talk with your kids more!