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We Rise Q&A: Ayla Olvera on the Circular Economy and Rethinking Waste

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As part of our 2030 goals, we are raising the bar for ourselves and evolving our corporate responsibility strategy to increase the scale of our work with others to create a more responsible, inclusive, and sustainable world, enabled by technology and our collective actions. We sat down with Ayla Olvera, supply chain analyst, to discuss the circular economy, approaching waste from a global perspective and how sustainable practices help both the environment and the bottom line.



Tell us a little about yourself and what you do.
I work as a Supply Chain Analyst at Intel, within Global Reverse Logistics. I’ve been with Intel full-time since May 2020, and my role is to work with our business units and customers to find ways for us to come together on driving the circular economy. I have an MBA in supply chain from Michigan State, so this role is a perfect combination of my passion for business and my desire to create a more sustainable world.

We hear the term “circular economy” more and more these days. Can you explain what that means for those who might not be familiar? Why is it important?
In a traditional economy, we take, make, and dispose in a straight line. But the circular economy is all about how we can change that process into something more continuous, finding ways to be more intentional and keep resources within the cycle. It’s all about reducing waste, whether through packaging design or using more eco-friendly materials in general. Another huge element is asset recovery, finding ways to repair, refurbish, or reuse old products for our spare parts inventory. The circular economy is not only good for the environment, but it is good for the bottom line. There can be a lot of cost savings, because we don't have to extract new natural resources each time. Instead we leverage existing resources in new and innovative ways.

In terms of the circularity program you’re working on at Intel, you and the reverse logistics team have been busy! What have you accomplished so far that you’re proud of (as of year-end 2020)?
It has definitely been a great year for us, and we’ve hit a lot of our goals. One of the major objectives within my team is communicating our work externally and relating our initiatives to people outside Intel. This year, pre-COVID, my manager Greg actually did a presentation for the Supply Chain Council at my alma mater. One of our program managers, Bernard, did a reverse logistics panel in Ireland, where he was able to answer questions and talked a little about how Intel has been working toward contributing to the circular economy, and how we're driving initiatives.

What is the biggest challenge going forward, and what do you hope to achieve with the program by the end of 2021?
Beyond presentations, one of our major goals is not just keeping the circular economy within reverse logistics, but really expanding it in the entire supply chain.  In a company as vast as Intel, it can feel like a huge challenge to reach every business unit and product, but I like to look at it as an incredible opportunity. It’s not something that happens overnight. It’s really cool to see how we are changing the company with these practices. There’s so much research and intention that goes into every Intel product, so it’s exciting to think about how we can start integrating the circular economy from the start. I’m actually working on publishing a white paper that can hopefully serve as a call to action within the tech industry, as it breaks down some of our major goals going forward.

You’re making a big impact at Intel, and you’ve only been there less than a year. What advice do you have for someone who wants to make a positive impact on the world when starting a new job?
We all have to make decisions at work, from writing on a sheet of paper to making a decision about a supplier. I think we can all at least see if there are opportunities to make those small differences or small changes. With that mindset, it helps to start conversations with your team and you can find others who share your passion for sustainability. So once you make those known, you can help create change on a larger scale with a network of support.

What do you want people to know about the world’s supply chains and about waste?
I think it’s really important to look at things from the global perspective. I first became interested in the supply chain when I served in the Peace Corps in Peru. There’s this saying, “NIMBY,” which means “not in my backyard,” and it’s the idea that when you throw something away, you don't care where it goes, you just want it gone. One issue that comes to mind is plastic. Everything in Peru is wrapped in plastic, and we could often smell it burning from a waste disposal plant. The US is very privileged in that many of us don't have to think about where our waste goes, but this isn't the case for other communities around the world. By shifting this mindset to thinking about how it’s going into someone's yard, we can feel more accountable in how our personal choices can affect others on a global scale.

What is one thing readers can do to reduce waste and support the circular economy?
I think it can feel really overwhelming at first, even to think about how we can make small changes in our communities. But my best advice is to look at some of your personal choices, and encourage others in your community to join you. For example, starting a community compost bin. You are all contributing a small part of our waste into creating something that gives back to the community. But also, it brings everyone closer together and gives sustainability to that waste. If we reframe our thoughts and we think more about small incremental changes that we can individually make, it becomes less scary. The majority of us are able to make small changes that, added up, can be really impactful.


Learn more about our RISE strategy and Intel’s 2030 goals here.


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