A Banner Year for Brodzik
image of Emma Brodzik in master's garb with recycling truck
This has been a banner year for Emma Brodzik, Georgia Tech employee and soon-to-be recipient of a master’s in sustainable energy and environmental management.
Brodzik has long had an interest in sustainability. As a young girl, she asked her parents to drive her to the nearby recycling center so she could deliver the neighborhood recycling. There was no formal pickup service in her neighborhood, so she did it herself. Her passion for recycling stems from her “belief in the intrinsic value of the resources that make up our waste and finding the best use for those resources to be used again and again.”
Brodzik joined Georgia Tech in 2019 as a recycling coordinator for Infrastructure and Sustainability (then Facilities Management) and, now as a campus sustainability manager, she oversees the solid waste and recycling efforts on campus. Working with a team of nine, the department is responsible for collecting 400 tons of landfill waste and more than 150 tons of recycling each month.
A 2017 graduate of Georgia College and State University with a B.S. in economics, Brodzik worked in the college’s Office of Sustainability and spearheaded the campus move-in recycling program through her involvement in the Student Government Association. After graduation and a stint with the environmental sustainability team at Delta Air Lines, she landed her dream job at Georgia Tech. Her long-term goals are to continue to expand campus waste diversion programs and grow in a leadership capacity.
To reach these goals, Brodzik realized she needed more academic training in sustainability. She used the Georgia Tech Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), and is celebrating receiving her master’s degree this weekend.
Asked what she is proudest of during her employment at Georgia Tech, Brodzik said it was the expansion of the AWARE program (Actively Working to Achieve Resource Efficiency) and the continued support it has received from the Office of the President.
AWARE has grown under her guidance from a 2009 pilot program in the Carnegie Building to one that encompasses the entire campus. It allows building occupants, primarily staff, to get a personal understanding of their waste footprint by emptying their own deskside bins into central waste and recycling stations within each building.
The pandemic was the perfect opportunity to expand the program across campus, as implementation alleviated some of the burden on a stretched-thin custodial staff. Custodians only had to pick up waste from one area within a work environment, as opposed to picking up from each desk. This labor-saving initiative increases sustainability awareness among employees as well.
Such innovation has been recognized by many of her peers. Brodzik recently received the Georgia Tech Staff Award for Leading by Example in Sustainability. This honor is given to an employee who leads by example through inspiration, action, and achievement of sustainability goals.
“Sustainability is at the forefront of my mind with every choice I make, but I always keep the saying ‘We don’t need a few people doing zero waste perfectly, we need everyone doing it imperfectly’ in mind. I try to bring my coffee and my lunch in reusable containers, buy secondhand clothing, purchase items that have no packaging or recyclable packaging, sort my recycling, and save things for hard-to-recycle drop off.”
Brodzik encourages others to make the same Earth-friendly choices and has been able to share that message as a co-chair for Georgia Tech’s Earth Week celebration for the past three years. Encouraging and collaborating with students is especially important to her, and she hopes one day there will be sustainability programming required for all first-year students.
“Undergraduates are becoming more and more aware of their environmental impact,” she said. “Each semester there are more students reaching out to learn about what happens to campus waste and how the recycling process works. It excites me to see their interest and know they want the expansion of compost and hard-to-recycle material collection.”
Brodzik often partners with students to conduct waste audits, aids in their research about the waste industry, and provides guidance via social media and campus events about what is and what isn’t recyclable. After one presentation to the Students Organizing for Sustainability group, a student reached out to her about what he observed about campus waste during the pandemic. As space use on campus changed and more people opted to study and eat outdoors, he realized there could be better placement of campus waste and recycling containers — moving those containers that did not get used as much to areas with higher traffic. With Brodzik’s support and encouragement, the student shared his ideas with leadership in Infrastructure and Sustainability. His suggestions are currently under consideration within the unit.
If chairing a successful campus event, receiving a staff award, and earning your master's doesn’t make for a good year, Brodzik is also recently engaged. No doubt, sustainability will be high on the list of wedding priorities.