Luz Pardo Longueira | Gestán Group CEO: “Research and innovation are necessary if we want to grow and not just survive”
Gestán’s activity goes beyond comprehensive waste management. Through research in environmental innovation, they provide an essential added value for their industrial activity. It is your strategic tool to bet on the circular economy in a key activity with great growth potential, such as industrial waste treatment. Currently, they collaborate with CETIM in the BIOCHARMB and VALORIX project, the latter focusing on the treatment of landfill leachate through the recovery of salts.
Since its origins more than two decades ago, Gestán Group has established itself as a leading industrial waste manager. How has the waste management sector changed over the years?
The waste sector has nothing to do with the one in our origins twenty years ago. We started from a very deficient situation in terms of legislation, resources and environmental awareness in the general public. Today, we have specific regulations, both national and regional, which cover the different waste management activities and ensure traceability and good practices throughout the chain.
In terms of resources, we currently have facilities, such as those of the Gestán Group, where we apply the best available techniques, as well as the latest technologies and exhaustive environmental monitoring plans.
In addition, and not least, social awareness in terms of proper waste management and sustainability has been advancing, partly due to the environmental education also carried out by us, the operators.
Which are the key steps to boost circular economy and achieve sustainability?
Firstly, it is essential that the organisation carries out an analysis of the risks and opportunities associated with the circular economy and sustainability. From there, and once the commitment has been made to move towards a sustainable and circular model, an action plan must be established for everything that is significant.
During this process it is important to identify all the interested stakeholders, from customers, suppliers, administrations, associations, the organisation’s own staff, etc. so that, together with them, the actions to be developed can be planned.
Finally, we must monitor the implemented actions, which allows us to have a vision of the progress and deviations.
In our experience, quality, environmental management and social responsibility systems are tools that facilitate the achievement of objectives and the communication of the commitments acquired by the organisation.
In short, in order to achieve sustainability in general and circular economy in particular, it is key to evaluate, plan, monitor, maintain a 360º vision with the whole society and communicate our actions.
As far as innovation is concerned, in collaboration with CETIM you are working on the use of biochar from biomass for water and air treatment. What results does your company expect to obtain?
We are participating in this project with two companies of the group, specifically with Gestan Medioambiental and Intacta. Our objective is to validate a new model for the use of forest resources aimed towards obtaining raw materials and products with high added value, developing an alternative to the current use of forest resources for energy purposes.
Furthermore, the application of biochar to the gases generated in the urban solid waste treatment plant (USW) in Sobrado will allow us to validate a treatment system with a wide range of applications, helping to reduce the presence of pollutants in the atmosphere and thus increasing the quality of the Galician environment.
This is not your sole research into environmental innovation. In the VALORIX project you are researching the treatment of landfill leachate through salts recovery. What impact does Gestán expect from this technology development?
The purpose of this project is to achieve the valorisation of a complex waste in the final stage of the project. For us it is probably one of the most relevant and interesting projects we have started, as it perfectly represents our business vision: There is no good outcome without principles.
It is a challenge at both an environmental and operational level, as it will have an impact on our daily lives, and if we manage to validate this technology we will be providing a solution to a problem common to all waste facilities.
On one hand, the objective is to recover value in order to incorporate it back into the market in the form of new by-products and, on the other hand, to reduce the environmental impact by minimising this liquid waste.
Going back to the beginning of the interview and the changes in the sector in recent years, what role do you think technology plays in this evolution?
Technology allows us to automate and to be more rigorous in the monitoring and traceability of all processes, thus focusing our time on activities in which we can add value to society as a company. Our sector has undergone important changes at this level, proof of which is the integration of the entire chain from the producer, through the manager, and ending with the administration, of all the details of waste management, through computerised systems in real time.
Technology is a key enabler in all its forms, and research and innovation are necessary if we want not only to survive, but to grow in an increasingly immediate and demanding environment. In our case in particular, the company’s strategic objectives are to add value at all stages of our chain, generating new products and services with high added value for our customers and society in general.
What about business associations? Do you think they are a driving force in the sectors in which Gestán operates?
Without a doubt. The companies that form part of the Gestán Group and their executives have historically participated in various sectorial associations, among them we should mention that we are founding partners and currently hold the presidency of ARCODEGA (Association of Construction Waste Recyclers of Galicia), we have also presided over APROPELLETS (Spanish Association of Pellet Producers) for the last 5 years, we belong to Galician Wood Cluster and APROEMA (Professional Association of Environmental Companies).
We believe in and practice associationism as a factor of social dynamism. It is key as a tool for the professionalization of any sector and also for the unification in the same message about the needs of the sector, which is essential to interact and communicate with the administration.
It is nothing new, strength comes in numbers.
Where are you currently directing your business efforts?
At a time of great uncertainty like the current one, practically all our efforts are aimed at consolidating our business project.
This involves establishing strategic alliances with other operational agents to grow and geographically expand our activity, promoting R&D projects to become a leader and a reference in Galicia as an environmental services company, maintaining the highest quality in our products and services and ensuring compliance with our CSR plan to mitigate possible risks for the company, both on an environmental and social level and in terms of good governance.
To conclude this interview, as a woman and entrepreneur for more than 30 years, how do you see the evolution of the role and the importance of women in the business world?
Well, I would like to say the opposite, but unfortunately it has not evolved as it should in all sectors, in some the role and importance of women is still insufficient; although if I focus on the environmental sector, I believe that we are not in the worst position and that the importance of women has increased in recent decades, but there is still a long way to go.
We must value that the presence of women in the environmental labour sector and especially in decision-making areas has been increasing for years and this is undoubtedly good news for everyone.
Various studies show that women are highly concerned about environmental sustainability and good consumer habits, mobility, etc.; perhaps this explains the good gender quota in this business sector.
At Gestán Group we are proud to have a good quota of female representation leading departments and in decision making.
Grupo Gestán, founded in 2002, is a Galician business group that offers solutions to the demand for environmental services in the integral activity of waste management in Galicia. It has business lines in the areas of waste, water treatment and bioenergy production, specifically biofuels for thermal use.
It covers engineering and design projects, construction and start-up, facilities management and outsourcing services. It also provides consultancy, control and technical and environmental monitoring.