Soko Made — City Government Zero Waste Senior Coordinator, SF Department of the Environment
Soko has worked in the zero waste program of the San Francisco Department of the Environment since 2007. In her Senior Coordinator position she has an integral role in the government sector, increasing awareness and compliance with the city’s environmental laws. Soko is responsible for managing several government zero waste programs, including improving recycling and composting collection programs, promoting reuse of city-owned surplus materials, and developing environmental contract specifications. She also educates city employees on the importance of leading by example when it comes to zero waste principles and green purchasing.
Soko has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Geology from Saint Louis University and a Master of Science in Environmental Management from the University of San Francisco. She joined WEN’s board in October 2019.
How did you become interested in environmental work?
I have always had a connection to the environment. My father is an agriculturalist who always grew a variety of vegetables in our garden. I have wonderful parents who instilled zero waste principles at an early age. We only purchased what we needed. We never carried our groceries in plastic bags, using sturdy boxes instead. Milk was delivered in glass bottles. We were required to finish our food, and all vegetable scraps were placed on the backyard compost heap.
I was fortunate to grow up in Zimbabwe, where I got to see Victoria Falls and wildlife in its natural habitat. Poaching was – and still is – rampant and I wanted to go into resource conservation, primarily to protect rhinos. By the time I got to university, I had become fascinated with geology and majored in it. But as interesting as it was, geology felt too specialized so I got my graduate degree in environmental management. Afterwards I was fortunate to be hired at SF Environment, where I have found my niche.
Discuss any mentors who have helped or inspired you to reach your aspirations.
I have several mentors who inspired and helped me, but there are two in particular who have shaped me to be the environmentalist I am. The first is Wangari Maathai, the Kenyan social, environmental, and political activist. She was the Goldman Prize Winner in 1991 and was the first African woman to win the Nobel Prize. I am inspired by her because through all of her hardship she was true to herself and persevered in helping the environment and people.
The second is my colleague and friend, Julie Bryant, who was also my supervisor for thirteen years at SF Environment. She provided unconditional support and constructive feedback, and taught me to be true to and believe in myself. More than anything, she taught me that in order to move the needle in the work we do it’s important to meet people where they are, and that developing and maintaining long-lasting relationships is key.
What are your suggestions on how WEN members can become more involved in your sector of the environmental movement?
I think human beings are disconnected from the environment, which is troubling because like all species we are part of the environment. Other species don’t create waste. At some point nature’s so-called waste is cycled back into the environment as a resource. Why do humans have an expectation that someone else is going to take care of the waste we generate?
We can all take tangible steps to help, like incorporating zero waste principles into our lives:
- Prevent waste and reduce consumption. We can all be mindful about what we purchase.
- Use items that are durable, rather than single-use. Durable items last longer, and constantly purchasing single-use items adds up!
- Recycle and compost as much as possible, but that should not be the first thing you think about when you hear ‘zero waste.’ If you don’t know where an item is supposed to go at the end of its life, really think about whether you should purchase it in the first place.