Purpose turns into a career: This game changer is accomplishing her lifelong ambition of protecting the environment
Way too often, we think we are going to change the world when we are kids. But before we realize, it’s the world that changes us as we become adults. However, some people find their purpose early in life, and that purpose consistently drives their lives and careers. That’s the case of Katelyn Huber, LM Wind Power Sustainability Leader and a true game changer.
When she was a 10-year-old girl from Minnesota, she saw a wind turbine for the first time during a family road trip and learned more about them by reading a brochure on the visitors center: “It was interesting. It told how people got powered by these windmills. It said that the windmills were 187ft tall! That’s as big as a ten-story building. The blades are 80ft long,” she wrote in a journal entry back in 2001.
Flashforward 22 years and Katelyn is today an accomplished leader in the wind industry, but she still recalls how she felt back then: “I knew I wanted to protect the environment even before that trip, but seeing those wind turbines really made an impression on me. A few years later I went to college in Oregon and studied Politics with a minor in Environmental Science because I wanted to go on to become an environmental lawyer,” she explains.
But before she started down that path, she received a scholarship to do a Master’s in Human Security at Aarhus University in Denmark, the birthplace of the wind industry. In the second year of the program, she had the opportunity to join a founding member of the industry, LM Wind Power. “I remember reading the job advertisement. The first line was not ‘join the Communications team of LM Wind Power.’ It was something like ‘help tell the story of a company powering a cleaner world’. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that?” she adds.
Finding answers to sustainability challenges
Once in the Communications Department, she wrote articles and fielded press queries on carbon neutrality and sustainability. And one theme kept coming at her: what do you do with blades at the end of their life? She felt she didn’t have good answers to the journalists asking that question, and started investigating internally. Eventually, she asked the Engineering team dealing with this topic to involve her in all their meetings.
“One of those meetings was to prepare the application for the DecomBlades project, aimed at developing a viable and sustainable value chain for composite recycling. I got so involved that all of a sudden I found myself writing the application for funds, something I had never done before. And when the project was approved, the team asked me to stay and lead it,” she recalls.
Just like moving to Denmark, joining the Engineering team to work on blade recycling was not part of 10-year-old Katelyn’s plan. But the common thread, the one making sense of all these events, was her purpose to protect the environment.
Having been part of the team driving the program to make LM Wind Power the first carbon neutral business in the wind industry, and after successfully launching a program to increase the number of blades that are actually recycled, she was ready for her next challenge: reducing waste. “My master’s thesis was about waste variation performance. In particular, how different plants producing the same blade types could differ in how much waste they generated, and how much of that waste was recycled.” She analyzed the correlation between different variables and waste performance, and found that the one with the strongest influence was the passion of the plant manager to tackle this issue.
If something should be clear by now, it is that Katelyn does not lack passion to tackle sustainability challenges. One day she found herself writing an email to the LM Wind Power executive team with her recommendation: the company should commit to producing zero waste blades by 2030.
“Our leaders were very supportive once I presented the facts, what we would be committing to, and what was needed to succeed. At LM Wind Power we say that green business is good business, and our pledge to produce blades without wasting materials is a clear example,” Katelyn explains. Already in the first year, LM Wind Power increased the percentage of manufacturing waste that gets recycled from 27% to 41%, and it expects to see another increase when the 2022 Sustainability Report is published.
The only constant in Katelyn’s career has been her desire to protect the environment, and she is clear about one of her take aways now that she has become a company leader: “Don’t make a 5 year plan; just know what you want to do next and be open to new opportunities that you didn’t expect,” and she adds: “I feel like a woman in STEM, working in an engineering department and managing technology projects, even though I didn’t study a STEM related career. You ask your questions, be ready to learn, have the interest and build your own understanding of things,” she concludes.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day, Katelyn is an inspiration for all of us at LM Wind Power. A true leader that made her way up in the company driven by her desire of changing the world without letting the world change her.