Women in Green Industry – Africa Zanella

The Green Industry Platform is featuring success stories of female entrepreneurs and business women in the framework of its Women in Green Industry Chapter, in collaboration with the Knowledge Gateway for Women’s Economic Empowerment. The stories are expected to support other women entrepreneurs in their decision-making processes to overcome challenges and grow their businesses.

Africa Zanella

Africa Zanella
Director, Green Rubber Pty Ltd
Location of business: Palm Beach, Australia
Number of staff: 1-10
Founded in: 2007
Description of business: Recycling-Waste Industry

The Story behind Her Business Plan

I graduated from New South Wales (NSW) University with a master degree in commerce when the gender ratio of men to women was overwhelmingly in favour of males. I have continued to break the barriers of cultural expectations and gender roles at work and became more involved with work and organisations, to enhance my knowledge and continue to contribute the best I can.

My most recent involvement in environmental policy development was as a member of the C20 Expert Review panel on sustainability for the G20 summit held in Australia in November 2014. Significant contributions were made to the climate change debate by this group and the role of gender in sustainable development.

In the 2012-2013 I undertook the leadership of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), where I worked closely with corporate and government to oversee sustainability reporting.

I am currently on the Advisory Board on the Centre for Gender Economics, looking closely at the relationship between Women participation in the labour force and economic growth.

Online courses at the Earth Institute Colombia University on Development with Prof. Jeffrey Sach for example helped me to better understand populations and the need to look closely at the global picture for inclusive growth.

I joined the waste industry as Director on the Board of Waste Service NSW (Australia) in the year 2000, developing a waste to resource strategy and advocating the better use of landfills and the necessity of recycling as a way to avoid burial and extend the life of waste by converting to useful green measures, i.e. energy production as well as compost for agriculture after processing. Here I worked in a highly technical and male oriented field of commercial private sector collectors and contractors. My responsibility was to manage and oversee the safety of the state assets and holdings owned by the government as well as economic and social political policies to bring about the required changes to legislation and practices. This experience served me well to understand triple bottom management and to govern accordingly the waste operations in companies and society in a sustainable manner.

On a personal level however it was very challenging as the waste industry players are unaccustomed to having women in leadership positions, the unconscious bias that women face as a result of cultural perceptions makes it hard to express opinions and gain respect even when the appointment is made by parliament and under merit. I was bringing into the role my experience as a senior public servant and head of International Trade for a State government as well as entrepreneurial skills and corporate expertise in the finance industry. Never the less as Confucius once said “perseverance furthers”.

l was appointed Australian Representative of the Region of Piedmont, Italy, as government advisor to companies which wanted to export or invest in joint ventures and start-ups. When I travelled on missions to Italy I developed a specific interest in the transfer of technologies, environmental innovation and manufacturing capabilities, which the Torino environmental and industrial park was developing.

I was introduced to SIMPRO SpA of Turin, Italy, and subsequently became its Australian Agent for waste tyre recycling equipment. I needed a partner with an engineering background and succeeded in attracting Phillip Isaacs to join me in a new business to be called AZPI. This was the birth of our private venture recycling tyres out of landfills and manufacturing rubber. Through our work, we create jobs and local green products. We also work with local communities and legislators at the federal level. I subsequently also worked on the Australian Waste Policy, providing recommendations for a more sustainable development of this industry and greener options of disposal.

It was a journey which was wrought with impediments and required both capital and technical expertise in government waste and recycling policies. My partner and I worked hard to learn about our new engineering project and cooperated with partners from transport and logistics to conduct a feasibility study for the project to go ahead.

A request came from the mining industry to solve its critical problem of dealing with its waste off the road tyres – approximately $1.2 billion worth of new tyres are buried every year in landfills. My making a successful presentation to the July 2007 Off the Road Waste Tyre Conference lead to my engagement as a consultant to National Power where I undertook a detailed study of access to the waste tyre resources, recovery logistics, recycling plants and downstream products manufacturing from the existing major mining companies. I created the Green Rubber brand and economic model for the sustainable disposal of mining tyres in remote locations. This way, I could ensure that an industry was born out of the Off the Road waste that was profitable and green and had a positive social impact by providing new jobs to locals and training for the innovative recycling plants. The Green Rubber Project is therefore promoted towards the mining companies as a basis for obtaining both environmental and financial benefits.

I was drawing attention of the mining companies and the Minerals Council of Australia to the benefits accruing from annual reporting under the Global Reporting Initiative. I then joined the executive team of the Waste Management Association of Australia and contributed to its absent strategies for waste tyres. Today, I continue to promote the importance of sustainability measures in mining companies.

While building working relationships with the key mining companies for their support of the Green Rubber Project, I noted the important role of women as leaders in the mining companies and in global environmental management strategies. In 2007, I was elected to the NSW Premiers Council for Women by the then Premier, the Honourable Bob Carr, where I was able to see that more women were appointed to government boards and the voice of diversity was being heard, as part of governance. This role was part time and allowed me to continue to explore opportunities in the private sector aligned with waste and innovation.

Has it been a worthwhile experience over the last 8 years? Yes, because the Green Rubber project and model for sustainable disposal has been acknowledged and the learning process has been completed, ready for a final burst of energy to achieve success in its implementation globally. We have found the formula and systems as well as the economic model to turn waste from tyres into a resource. We want to continue to advocate its usage in many industries, replacing wood and creating jobs as well as finding a sustainable and reportable disposal in a sustainable manner by stopping tyres from being buried into landfills anywhere.

New products are being fed in conjunction with the an Australian  University which will see the substitution of railway sleepers, mining posts from recycled rubber and plastics and the story continues , overseeing that sustainable manufacturing , sustainable commercially viable products and gender parity are all considered in the process.


1. Education matters and my advice to everybody is to continue life-long learning and pursuing energetically a productive role in civil society irrespective of gender barriers .

2. Accept that equality of rights and participation in the labour force, is a human right which should be available to all.

3. Encourage and mentor younger women to fulfil their potential as members of society with a strong and powerful role as mothers and procreators and also as major contributors to prosperity and economic growth.

Read about more Women in Green Industry: Namita Banka, Chunhong Chen

For feedback, additional information or to nominate women who have an interest in being profiled, contact us here.

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