Ayodeji Oluwalana is an M.Sc. graduate of Western State Colorado University. He studied Environmental Management and Toxicology at Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, after which he worked at Covenant University, Otta, where he worked there for 6 years, rising to the position of Assistant Registrar. While there, he teamed up with some Faculty members to create an initiative called “Waste to Wealth.” He later gained admission into Western State Colorado University where, as the campus sustainability coordinator, he initiated the concept of “zero waste” and built a Greenhouse for farmers in a town in Colorado using 950 clear, two-litre bottles, amongst other projects.
“Helping humanity as much as I can has been my biggest motivation and passion and I exhibit this in all leadership positions I have found myself”, he says.
In this enlightening interview with TweakMyContent.com, Ayodeji tells us more about himself, his journey so far in environmental management and sustainability, and also offers advice to other young Nigerians.
Please tell us about yourself – growing up, education, career, etc.
My name is Ayodeji Oluwalana; a Christian, married to my beautiful wife, Olawunmi and blessed with two wonderful sons. I’m from Kwara State (Ifelodun Local Govt.) in and I’m the third of four children of my parents. I attended Saint Isabel Nursery and Primary School, Ibadan and I proceeded to Government College Ibadan (GCI). Thereafter, I gained admission through “Direct Entry” into the University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (UNAAB) – now known as FUNAAB (Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta) to study Environmental Management and Toxicology. I graduated with a hard-earned Second Class Lower, but beyond the degree, I knew I had been well prepared and groomed to face the labour market.
I was posted to Obafemi Awolowo University-OAU (Faculty of Pharmacy) for my national youth service (NYSC) where I met with scholars who challenged me to follow my passion for the environment after presenting at one of the departmental seminar series. Shortly after NYSC, I got a job at Covenant University, Otta where I worked for six years and rose to the position of an Assistant Registrar. Covenant University provided me several platforms to discover myself and pursue my passion for the environment even more.
How did the journey into environmental management and sustainability start?
My journey into environmental management and sustainability started when I gained admissions to FUNAAB to study Environmental Management and Toxicology. While I was in school, I was involved in a lot of environmental advocacy gatherings where we advocated for companies to stop polluting the environment with their wastes/effluents unless such had been treated before being discharged. I continued my involvement in environmental sustainability at Covenant University in 2009 where I developed a blueprint on how the University could start recycling paper and making revenue from it, since most of the University’s solid waste was paper. In 2015, I teamed up with some Faculty members to create an initiative called “Waste to Wealth,” which involved waste prevention/reduction, carbon reduction, cost savings and resource efficiency. In addition, it helped in changing behaviour towards recycling by the campus community and kept the campus environment clean; it even grew Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) for the University.
Tell us about the most notable projects and initiatives you have executed and how each one impacted your local community at the time.
Prior to Fall 2015, Western State Colorado University recycled waste materials, but had no data to show for it. However, in Fall 2015, I took up that challenge and generated baseline data for the Facilities Department in charge of waste management on campus by conducting comprehensive waste audits of recyclable materials each month which is now being used for sustainability planning on campus.
As a campus sustainability coordinator, I initiated the concept of “zero waste,” which is a way of life of minimizing waste to the barest minimum from source, reusing them and preventing them for going to the landfill. As such, I championed the first ever zero waste event at a football game at Western where approximately 62% of waste materials that usually ended up in the landfill at such games were diverted and recycled at the city’s recycling center. Today, the President of the University has institutionalized it into all campus operations with a target of 85% waste diversion rate by year 2020.
Another notable project I took up was the one I did with the university’s host community – Gunnison. Gunnison is a small town in south-west Colorado, about 4 hours away from Denver (capital of Colorado). It has limited waste management/recycling facilities. Plastics – numbers 1 & 2 – are only recycled in the community while others that cannot be recycled are tossed into the landfill, increasing the community’s carbon footprint. The town is also one of the third coldest cities in the US and gets huge amounts of snow every winter season. This makes it difficult for local farmers to grow produce. So, I came up with the idea of reusing plastic bottles tossed to the landfill to build greenhouses for local farmers to grow more food within the community. Most of the food consumed are being imported from other communities and neighboring states. This was the research area for my Master’s degree project and served as the first of such projects in the history of the town. The plastic bottle greenhouse built is now being used by a local farmer for growing food, expanding their capacity to grow more food this coming season. This helps to address the environmental problems, provide solutions to the food insecurity issues currently being faced by the community, and empower farmers to grow more food locally. Apart from the construction of the plastic bottle greenhouse, I also developed a “how to” manual of the processes involved in building such structures in communities facing similar infrastructural and climatic constraints to increase their community resiliency and do it on their own.
This project was a difficult one at first because the community never believed it was going to work out, but, through perseverance and a “can do” mentality, I succeeded and the community is so grateful for the innovation. Some people into farming in Nigeria have contacted me to build theirs. Talks are still ongoing.
Was there a positive response from your community, please tell us about it?
Like I said earlier, it was difficult at first, having to go through a lot to convince the community members and local building authorities here in Gunnison. Community engagement of key stakeholders was key to the success of the project and the fund for the project was sourced within the community, which showed signs of acceptance of the project.
What would you say were your high points while studying at Western State Colorado University? What would you describe as your low moment?
Studying at Western State Colorado University has enabled me to discover myself and given my calling a great sense of purpose. I learnt a lot not, just in class, but also through application of lessons learn and knowledge gained outside the four walls of the classroom (hands-on) which was something I cherished so much while studying at Western. My low was the missed opportunity to travel to Spain with my classmates in 2016 to conduct a research on life cycle assessment of the supply food chain mechanism of a small community in that country. This was for a publication, but I could not travel due to lack of funds. However, I still participated in the research in a way, but it would have been awesome if I had been able to travel, too.
At Western State Colorado University, you were the campus sustainability coordinator, tell us about that role?
At Western, I mentored a team of five undergraduate students by assisting them implement and manage environmental initiatives throughout the campus community, including Freecycle (thrift store on campus for reusable items), composting, and recycling. I also worked with different stakeholders on campus to increase sustainability awareness and inspire behavior change through peer-to-peer leadership and education. In Fall 2015, I generated baseline data for Facilities Department by conducting comprehensive waste audits of recyclable materials quarterly which was used for sustainability planning on campus.
In Fall 2016, I was privileged to champion Western’s first zero waste campus campaign by collaborating with undergraduates, Facilities Department, Student Government Association, Environment and Sustainability Department along with many other campus entities, resulting in 60% waste diversion rate. In addition, I managed the campus industrial composting facility (earth tub) which generated high quality compost materials of up to 300lbs weekly for local farmers.
Another task I took was to help with the process of interviewing, hiring and managing student interns working on sustainability projects with well-defined objectives.
What has been your motivation so far as a leader and influencer?
Helping humanity as much as I can has been my biggest motivation and passion. I exhibit this in all leadership positions I take on. My greatest fulfillment lies in discovering an opportunity to enhance human lives and going all out for it to make our environment a better plac.
As a Nigerian, what would be your advice to our leaders in tackling climate change?
I think there should be a high level public enlightenment across the country on what this means in the country’s fight against climate change, so that citizens can understand and know their roles as well.
As a young Nigerian, what advice would you generally give to youths out there?
Youths should begin to take charge of their own destinies. We cannot continue to wait for the government to do everything for us; we need to think outside the box and pursue our passion in order to secure our own future. They should also live a life of self-determination, honesty, integrity, and diligence in all they do, and the sky will be their starting point!
Tell us about your most important short-term and long-term goals, and how you hope to achieve them?
My immediate short-term goal is to begin my PhD program in Sustainability. In the long term, I hope to bring back all that I have learnt outside the country to lead the long-awaited change Africa and, indeed, Nigeria need in the area of environmental sustainability.