South African-born Lea September grew up in France and quickly got hooked on Europe’s early efforts to protect the environment.
“When I was nine or 10, the area I lived in was piloting a recycling project,” she remembers. Separate bins were introduced for collecting glass, paper, plastic and tins, and schools ran campaigns to educate their pupils about how it worked.
“That day I went home and insisted we start separating our waste. It was a bit of an inconvenience at first, but it very quickly became a habit,” she says.
“It’s a small change but it really made me feel empowered to make a difference. The project was so successful that it was swiftly rolled out nationally, and separating waste is now standard practice for virtually all French people,” she says.
Evidence that ordinary people can take concrete actions to reduce their impact on the environment inspired her career, and September now works for ILISO Consulting, a firm of engineers and environmental consultants.
Its core aim is to provide innovative, cost effective and sustainable engineering solutions that balance the needs of clients with the needs of local communities. September’s role is to conduct environmental impact assessments on engineering projects.
“I really believe the work I do adds value and contributes to bringing about more sustainable development. I am passionate about the environment and want to make a positive contribution,” she says.
“I became acutely aware of environmental issues while in France, and wanted to make a difference in this area in South Africa, where much of our environment is still untouched and we still have a chance to learn from other countries’ mistakes.”
The challenge here is that the massive socio-economic issues we face mean the environment almost always takes a back seat.
“We still have an opportunity in South Africa to tackle these challenges proactively,” she says.
September studied political science and would love to use her skills to help the government to shape its environmental policies to ensure that South Africa doesn’t destroy what it has, she says. — Lesley Stones