Meet Sian Cuffy-Young of Siel Environmental

We caught up with Sian Cuffy-Young, founder and CEO of Siel Environmental — a social enterprise working to transform the way you think about waste. We talked to her about how and why she got started, the Carnicycle initiative, what you can do to safeguard Trinidad & Tobago’s natural environment — and how you can help combat climate change

Caroline Taylor: Tell us a little but about yourself, and how you got involved in this kind of work

Sian Cuffy-Young: I am a wife, mum of three (teenage son age 15; four-year-old daughter; and four-year-old son). I manage other businesses with my husband like our barber salon and barber and beauty battle event — but I have ways been a lover of nature and the environment. My dad who has been a Cub Scout Master for longer than I have been on the earth, and of course me being a Brownie and Girl Guide taught me their conservation law very early in my life. It says: “You always leave a place cleaner than you’ve met it”. And that has stuck with me even to this day. It’s why I chose waste as my area of expertise — that and a loaded pamper hitting me in my face while swimming at the beach at 10 years old! Having worked for SWMCOL (the Solid Waste Management Company Ltd) for a number of years, I honed my skills which worked in tandem with my academic achievements. I am also trained in quarry rehabilitation through my Hubert Humphrey Fellowship at Cornell University. That experience truly prepared me for this journey today.

Sian Cuffy-Young of Siel Environmental with her husband and children

Sian Cuffy-Young of Siel Environmental with her husband and children

Caroline: What are the biggest concerns you see in Trinidad and Tobago as far as environmental conservation and climate change impacts?

Sian: My biggest concern is a lack of individual responsibility we have for our actions, and how it can impact the environment. With many of the initiatives, a shift in mindset is absolutely required. It dovetails into changing the cultural narrative as well.

Also we have signed and in many cases ratified international multilateral environmental agreements where climate change and conservation are concerned. However, I am concerned about loss of life and place as a result of the impacts but also the feelings of desolation (solastalgia) among the people. To build resilience we must pay attention to our vulnerabilities and correct them.

Sian Cuffy-Young of Siel Environmental

Sian Cuffy-Young of Siel Environmental

Caroline: What are the biggest challenges you face when working in this industry?

Sian: Lack of access to finance is a huge challenge as most banks won’t give young entrepreneurs loans as it is risky business, so I have found myself looking outside of the region to get things going. I also am a part of the Cherie Blair Foundation Mentorship programme for women in business. I truly believe in the power of a mentor and things have been going really well. Ensuring my business offerings are streamlined would allow us to be able to do and reach so much more. People can donate to our mission and cause as well.

A challenge I also had was support, but I use the past tense as it has come from the people and places Ieast expected and I am so grateful. My husband continues to be the leader of the cheerleading pack. 🙂

Working in a male-dominated sector also posed a challenge, but I have found a way to use my womanness and be proud to be a woman of waste.

Caroline: For people who get overwhelmed by the complexity of the climate change issue, what are some of the things they can do to bring about positive change? From big things to smaller.

Working with Carnicyle

Working with Carnicyle

Sian:

  1. Firstly, not be confused by all the big words and jargon. Understand what it is, how it affects you and what you can do about it. I remember a quote from a movie: “99 is not 100, just one can make a difference”, and that’s powerful.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions — questions bring clarity and understanding.
  3. Pay attention to your consumption and energy use … turn off the lights, unplug devices when not in use.
  4. Separate your waste at home, use the collections bin
  5. Use a reusable shopping bag and water bottle
  6. Practice “refuse, reduce and reuse” more, and the list goes on. Each day do something that can make a difference.

Caroline: In the same vein, what are the ways that people can help contribute to preserving our natural environment, and keeping our ecosystems healthy?

Sian: Stop littering for starters and use bins, man! It’s my pet peeve. We cannot say we love our country and just throw things on the ground. Littering starts in the mind so once we can change that, we can change anything. Participate in activities/volunteer with organisations that do great work.

Caroline: Tell us about Carnicycle.

Sian: Carnicycle is a social enterprise run by two fantastic young people — Ms Danii Mcletchie and Mr Luke Smith, that recycles carnival costumes and promotes environmentally friendly habits during Carnival and Carnival-related events (fetes, J’ouvert, etc). In doing so, the organisation aims to bridge the gap between sustainability with Caribbean culture.

For us, it was a no-brainer being involved in the project as our missions align. We want to reduce the amount of waste generated through innovative education strategies and in this instance, it’s carnival costume waste. So we are working with them to spread the word and teach about how masqueraders can even be sustainable in the midst of all the revelry. As the team says: “bubble and wine and save the earth same time!”

Working with Carnicyle

Working with Carnicyle

Caroline: Tell us a little bit about what Siel Environmental does, what services they offer, and how people can work with or hire you.

Sian: So Siel Environmental Services Limited is a for-profit social enterprise based in Trinidad & Tobago. We are a waste education, training and consultancy company. In one sentence, we transform the way you think and act towards waste. We work with school-aged children to develop waste heroes; teach (both online and offline) waste-related courses like composting and waste efficiency for businesses; and we do one-on-one consultancies with companies.

We just recently added our corporate composting programme as well, and I wrote a children’s book which is part of our literacy series on waste. Also in 2019, we were recognised as the Best Waste Education Company in the Caribbean by Build Magazine at the Recycling and Waste Management Awards. Woo hoo! 😉 I am extremely passionate about the work we do. I have a simple personal mission — to see my country clean, and we are certainly on the way there.

To work with us, people can connect through social media on our Facebook and Instagram pages (@sieltt), call 381-9937, or send me an email at sian.young@sielenvironmental.com.

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