The dates for the ISWA World Congress from 28 to 30 September can be found red cirkled in many diaries. In addition to a multifaceted content programme, the 30th edition will have a special chairman. Peter Woodward is a much sought moderator of conferences on sustainability and circularity. “A conference should inspire and bring about change and impact. Let’s make it a historic moment in Rotterdam.”

Peter Woodward’s career is steeped in sustainability. Trained and working as an urban planner, his focus was on the quality of people’s living environment, with lots of greenery and nature as a fixed ingredient. This is how he ended up as a campaigner at Friends of the Earth environmental club in the early eighties. His talent stood out and through a headhunter he ended up at Shell, where he was in charge of the Enviromental Shell Better Britain Campaign at the British branch for twelve years. In this way Woodward not only gained valuable insight into the ins and outs of a multinational, but he also got to know the oil company’s dilemmas in the social debate, from environmental emissions to the production and use of fossil fuels.

At Shell, Woodward organised discussion meetings with civil society organisations as well as employee debates on what the company’s sustainability agenda should look like. “I noticed that people with different points of view listened badly to each other, shouted rather loudly at each other, while everyone is doing well with the world ahead. I learned that it’s important to solve social puzzles together. The common interest is great, only people’s perspectives are different. My own part in this was that I succeeded in creating conversations that led to more mutual understanding, both inside and outside the company. I then followed training courses to facilitate that kind of process, because I wanted to make it my work”.

In 1995 Woodward founded its company Quest Associates and became a much sought moderator of workshops and conferences on a wide range of environmental topics, from the sustainable city to the circular economy. Woodward’s clients include the European Commission as well as large waste-to-energy companies. “I’m not an expert on content myself, but I’m an excellent listener. So I’m not the consultant who comes up with the answer, but I help to create a platform on which people enter into new conversations and seize the opportunity to listen to each other in order to find a solution together. We have to be modest, because we still don’t have the answers to a lot of questions. We have to learn from each other. If you have a thousand participants at a conference, you have a thousand valuable experiences from specialists in the room. The important thing is to unlock this knowledge. I prepare myself for such a meeting months in advance, together with my clients. A conference should inspire and bring about change and impact. Of course, that also includes a good atmosphere. I expect to contribute to that with my British sense of humour”.


Woodward is well versed in circular themes. For example, he has been moderator of the annual World Circular Economy Forum, held in Helsinki and previously in Yokohama, for three years in a row. Last year he chaired a major conference in Vienna of the European Commission on closing the textile chain. When he was asked to serve as chairman and moderator at the ISWA World Congress in September, Woodward didn’t have to think long. “The waste sector is strongly orienting itself towards its future. It wants to move towards increasingly high-value applications of waste and is brimming with innovation. The ultimate goal is to eliminate waste. There is an inspiring transition task ahead. I find this process of change extraordinarily interesting and is at the heart of this congress. The circular economy is embraced worldwide as the direction in which the sector should go. If you don’t participate, you’ll be on the wrong side of history as a company.

Closing chains and achieving a circular economy has everything to do with cooperation between politicians, policymakers, companies and researchers. In Rotterdam I also hope to make a difference, because I have the opportunity to further inspire and facilitate a broad audience of waste professionals.

Rotterdam is a clever place for the congress, Woodward thinks. ISWA, NVRD and the City of Rotterdam will present the first results of the Circular And Low Carbon Initiative during the congress. This research project aims to map out the state of the circular economy in the Maasstad, from the cobbler on the corner to the international industry in the port of Rotterdam. “Your country is one of the frontrunners. Worldwide, 9 percent of the economy is circular, in the Netherlands the share of recycled material is 29 percent, the highest in the EU. In the Netherlands, the pace is set to put the circular economy into practice. Rotterdam is illustrative of this and a wonderful example of a city that is reinventing itself. The city is constantly thinking about the well-being and enjoyment of its inhabitants. It looks at clean energy and the far-reaching reuse of raw materials. It is a hotbed of ideas and innovation. Rotterdam is a city in the midst of a transformation process towards a sustainable society and a high-quality future.

In 2050 it wants to be a city without waste. The city government, companies and residents work closely together to achieve this. You couldn’t have wished for a nicer location for the ISWA congress”.


The momentum for change has come, says Woodward. “This is 2020. We are at an important turning point in history. The awareness that we humans are part of an extraordinary ecosystem is greater than ever. The urgency is high to reverse the effects of climate change and the increasing scarcity of resources and to protect and preserve our planet for future generations. Everyone has to do their part, no one can stay in their cocoon anymore. We must not stop challenging each other to seize these opportunities for sustainability and circularity. The ISWA congress offers an excellent opportunity to do so. What’s more, the 30th edition is a special event. Let’s make it a historic moment in Rotterdam. I hope that the energy and enthusiasm that we are going to generate there together will later will reverberate for a long time.”