The Environmental Industry Associations named Sharon Kneiss as its new president and CEO April 12. She will replace longtime chief Bruce Parker beginning on June 1. In her first in-depth interview as the incoming executive, Kneiss talked with Waste Age about her plans for waste and recycling industry’s largest association.

Waste Age (WA): What most excited you about the opportunity to lead the Environmental Industry Associations? What convinced you to seek the position?

Kneiss: When I looked at what this industry represented and the benefits it offered in this country, I was very excited about it. Because they have such a good news message about what they do. They maintain clean communities, they help the public health, they promote recycling, they extract renewable fuels. It’s just a great message about what this industry is doing. It’s a real opportunity to promote and expand that message.

WA: How do you feel your background has prepared you for the challenge of leading EIA?

Kneiss: When I first contacted the recruiter about this position, the first thing I said to her was, “This is in my wheelhouse.” I have a lot of experience in environmental policy and advocacy; I have done a lot of waste management work. The most exciting part of what I’ve done recently that directly impacts my work with EIA is working with the American Chemistry Council on the plastics side, where we developed a very exciting program to address concerns with plastics. We partnered with Keep California Beautiful and the California Department of Parks and Recreation and developed a recycling program. We called it, “Plastics. Too Valuable To Waste. Recycle.” We coupled that with a major education and PR [public relations] program, and we provided recycling bins on the beaches and [in the] parks of Southern California. Then I also worked with Keep America Beautiful to look for opportunities to promote anti-litter, of the wise use of resources.

In addition to that I have more than 15 years of experience in executive management with associations. I see a lot of opportunities to look at the strategic direction for this organization. One thing I’m very excited about is the board – and I’ve met most of the members – they’re a very forward-thinking board. They’re looking to the future of the association. And they’re thinking strategically about where to take this organization, and that’s very exciting.

WA: You are coming in as somewhat of an outsider to the waste and recycling industry. What opportunities and challenges does that present?

Kneiss: I can step back and look at the opportunities, and I’m going to take that opportunity. One of the first things I’m going to do, and this is in my transition plan, is do a listening tour. This is very diverse industry. I want to go to members, potential members, former members, allied partners, perhaps even legislators, members of Congress and members of the media, and first of all listen but also probe and learn about how those constituencies view the organization, what the opportunities are, what the strengths are, what the challenges are, and what they see as the appropriate path going forward.  There’s a real opportunity to listen and learn and get a broad view of this industry.

And then use that to address: What are the strategic strengths of this association, where do we need to strengthen our goals and objectives, and where do we need to redirect. One of the best messages for this organization is its work on recycling. I think recycling is such an important area. The greater visibility we can give to the industry, I think that will serve them very well. And the opportunity to partner with other constituencies.