Sian Cuffy-Young, Founder of Siel Environmental Services, Ltd. Trinidad & Tobago
Mrs. Sian Cuffy-Young has been involved in the environmental field for over twelve (12) years. She is no stranger to challenge as her experience stems from the waste and mining sectors – two fields many shy away from. She also has a wealth of experience in environmental management systems and education and has received training in behaviour change through the method of community-based social marketing with the University of Tennessee. She is a Colorado Certified Environmental Educator, Speaker and Principal Consultant of Siel Environmental Services Limited. One of our honoured accomplishments was when she was selected to be a Fulbright Hubert Humphrey Fellow placed at Cornell University, one of the United States’ top academic institutions.
There she specialised in the areas of quarry land reclamation, community relations, policy development and environmental planning; a first for any fellow from the Caribbean. Her academic qualifications include a B Sc (Hons) degree Double major in Physics and Masters in Environmental Engineering from the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Campus. She is driven by her passion and truly takes her journey of social entrepreneurship to heart. A sentence which truly puts her work in perspective is “Remember it is not always about doing things better but sometimes we simply need to do better things”. She now works with organisations to put environmental programmes and campaigns together focused on behaviour change and works with land developers as the bridge to acquiring the necessary environmental applications they would need from the Environmental Authority. She is from Trinidad and Tobago.
SB-C: What's the story behind Siel Environmental? SC-Y: Siel Environmental started simply out of a desire to be heard, to do something outside of what was considered the norm by simply presenting information. Of course being in control over my time and not feeling like I was being box-ed in, played a major role as well.
SB-C: Explain what it is like to shift from employee to employer in your industry? SC-Y: The transition for me was difficult as I got used to working in a particular way and living in a particular way as well. I realised that I needed a mindset shift so when I transitioned, I had to take some time to understand this new journey (not that I do fully now..lol) so I took 1 year after I registered my company in 2015 to do just that - I read, I researched, I joined business groups, watched videos - whatever it took for me to get a grasp of what I was now getting into.
SB-C: Discuss your academic background in Science and how it led to where you are today? SC-Y: With regard to my academic background - I hold a Bachelors (Honours) degree Double Major in Physics and a Masters in Environmental Engineering. My background in science nurtured my analytical mind. I thought strategically and it enhanced my technical capabilities, trouble shooting and problem solving skills. How I ended up where I am now was very unplanned. I actually got accepted to the University of Leeds in the UK to study Structural Geology and Geophysics as my goal was to enter the oil sector. However, although I got a partial scholarship, I was unable to raise the rest of my fees so I had a decision to make. After prayer and deep thought, my love of environmental always came forward so that's how I choose to remain in Trinidad and Tobago and study Environmental Engineering.
SB-C: You spent a year studying at Cornell University, how did that impact your career as an entrepreneur? SC-Y: Yes, I got accepted to be in the Fulbright Hubert Humphrey Fellowship programme at Cornell University in 2011. One of my most treasured experiences. Since the programme is for mid-career professionals (although I never felt like I was in the middle of my career..lol) it forced us to plan our own path, to manage our challenges, to find our own way and that experience truly impacted me as an entrepreneur as I am now driven by my own goals and following my own path. I made my programme what I wanted it to be then and now I do the same for my business.
SB-C: What are some of the major environmental challenges facing the Caribbean region? SC-Y: Wow - we have a number of challenges but some of the major ones are littering, a lack of enforcement of our laws and the creation of new ones, illegal dumping and quarrying, flooding which is worsened because of poor waste management and no national recycling programmes to name a few. But our challenges truly stem from a cultural mindset. We believe that cleaning up after ourselves isn't necessary because that's someone else's job. Until we change our thinking, our behaviour won't change since it has been proven that an increase in knowledge does not cause a change in behaviour.
SB-C: Do you believe the Caribbean region has taken a proactive approach to solving the regions environmental problems? SC-Y: No, I think as a Caribbean we are still very much a reactive people. We wait until something happens then to make the decisions or changes. I do see, however there is a small level of proactivity on an individual level. I believe that as a Caribbean, as CARICOM we truly need to make decisions that would affect us all so if we all think for e.g. that Styrofoam is bad for our countries, then we come together as a unit and phase out Styrofoam as we ALL are plagued by what it can do to us. CARICOM can be so powerful with unity at its core.
SB-C: What services do you offer your clients and how is it contributing to solving environmental problems? SC-Y: My services include but are not limited to, working with organisations such as NGO's, companies to create environmental campaigns focused on changing a specific behaviour; we provide environmental consultancy services to land developers and serve as the bridge between themselves and the Environmental Authority when it comes to acquiring the necessary applications, promote environmentally friendly products and are about to embark on our Sustainable School programme - a whole-school approach to environmental issues. We need to start changing the way to interact with our environment and become a more environmentally literate society and my work allows this to happen smoothly.
SB-C: What words of encouragement do you have for female environmental leaders in the region who may be considering entrepreneurship? SC-Y: For my female boss ladies, this field is not for the faint of heart as we have to deal with the snail pace of government and the culture of our people. You truly have to believe in your work and what it can do for the country. As a social entrepreneur, our passion for purpose drives us more than the money but we have to remember that we are also running viable businesses. So keep pushing and remember as the motto of my alma mater says - through perserverance comes success!