Meet our WTP8 Talent Maria Lucia Portocarrero, Global Climate & Circular Economy Programme Manager at Tarkett. She speaks to us about what motivates her, the challenges of sustainable growth, and the importance of being in touch with your core values.
Interviewed by Meike Schneiders
To get started and to get to know you, could you please give us a little background on how you came to your current position at Tarkett?
I was born and raised in Nicaragua and went to university there to study industrial engineering. From there I worked in a brewery as a project planner for five years, which was a super exciting environment as it was very fast paced. During my time there, however, I started to ask myself what I really wanted to do and wanted to find more purpose in my career. So, I decided to go back to university while I was still working, and I chose a hybrid programme with a focus on public policy, renewable energy and the environment. This really motivated me to change my career and I decided to do a full-time Masters in Management of Eco-Innovation in France. It was a very intuitive decision and 4 months later I was living and studying in France. While I was there, I met a woman who had come to speak at an event about sustainability and cradle to cradle. I approached her and told her that what she said really inspired and resonated with me and that I would love to learn more. This conversation led to an internship opportunity with her. Although not planned, this was the beginning of my stay in Europe, and I have not returned to Nicaragua to this day.
Tarkett is a world leader in innovative and sustainable flooring, and you are helping to shape the company as Programme Manager for the Global Climate & Circular Economy Programme. What excites you most about your work at Tarkett and your current position?
For me it is about two things. One is impact. Tarkett is a very large company. It produces about 1.3 million square metres of flooring a day, so that's a lot of surface area. With that in mind, I can actually improve the sustainability of the flooring in all those instances. When you put that into perspective, it becomes really rewarding. It is pretty cool to take a step back from my day-to-day work and see how impactful it is.
Secondly, it is the changes that have taken place over the 10 years that I have been working at Tarkett. My colleagues are becoming more and more aware of sustainability issues and their commitment to it is becoming much more than just a job. Their sincere belief in it is now really becoming an internal driving force within the company. To see this change and motivation all around me is really rewarding and inspiring.
It is pretty cool to take a step back from my day-to-day work and see how impactful it is.
What did you learn from working abroad in Brussels? And what qualities or attitudes did you bring with you from Nicaragua that help you in your daily work?
I really feel at home in Europe now and I have integrated into the culture of Europe and Brussels. In my first years here, however, the fact that I was from Nicaragua was more present. Nevertheless, what has always stayed with me is my optimism, enthusiasm, and thirst for learning. When I started working here, I really wanted to learn, and for about 4 years I was in a very intense ‘study-mode.’ Also, I think my background helped me to integrate and understand cultural differences. It really encouraged me to work and learn with different people from different cultures. As I work with partners from all over the world, this regularly comes in handy and is a useful asset.
What has always stayed with me is my optimism, enthusiasm, and thirst for learning
You have a very holistic understanding of sustainability, including the well-being and health of people and the environment. What aspect of sustainability do you think more people need to be aware of?
This is a difficult question, but I will be very direct and address something that is not very popular in mainstream sustainability - the fact that we can't talk about sustainability if we don't question growth. But challenging that paradigm is a super important step, as is critically analysing current measures of human well-being and prosperity. For me, this is something that is at the heart of sustainability and needs so much more attention.
The cradle-to-cradle framework mentioned earlier can be a good way to challenge current structures and beliefs and try to move towards a circular economy. However, for me there is a blind spot in these theories: the positive impact we can have. Moving towards a more sustainable system is not just about reducing harm, it is about recognising that the small actions we take can actually shape the future of this planet and its people in the most positive way.
Have you had role models and what was the most valuable piece of advice you received from another woman?
I never really had role models, but I have met some very inspiring women and what I have learned from them is to live my own truth, to be transparent about your core values and to speak and act in accordance with them.
If I could recommend one inspiring woman, I would say listen to Vandana Shiva. She seems to me to be completely in line with her core values and she expresses them through her body language, her speech, and her actions. She has really made me believe that we as women need to speak from our own truth and be coherent about it.
I have met some very inspiring women and what I have learned from them is to live my own truth, to be transparent about your core values and to speak and act in accordance with them
You have been a talent in the Women in Talent Pool programme since March 2023. It's probably been a whirlwind since then, but would you be so kind as to share with us one of your most memorable moments from the programme?
Yes, I think there is definitely one specific moment when I felt extremely inspired and even emotional, and that was at the Annual Gathering in Rome during a meeting with Cristiana Falcone. A scheduled guest speaker could not arrive in time, so instead we, about eight WIL Talents, spent about two hours with her. It was a completely informal exchange about our deepest wishes and dreams, without any restrictions. It was amazing to see all these different dream worlds and rich things that came out of this discussion. Somehow, there was a very intense energy among all these women sharing this safe space and I am so glad that I was one of them.
Somehow, there was a very intense energy among all these women sharing this safe space and I am so glad that I was one of them.
And last but not least, if you do have a bit of free time: Which book would you recommend to everyone, or who is your favourite writer?
Oh, it is so hard to choose just one! A book that really changed me was "Women Who Run with the Wolves" by Clarissa Pinkola. It was one of those books that really broadened my thinking, but also opened my heart in so many ways. It just reaffirmed my need to live my own truth and be in alignment with myself and my deepest values. Otherwise, you just burn out over time and start to die little by little. But it also taught me that it is okay if that happens. The important thing is to pick yourself up and bring yourself back home and recharge.
I would also like to mention the book I am currently reading, which so far is really incredible. It is called "The Myth of Normal" and it is written by Gabor Mate. It has just blown me away. It really made me think a lot about what we as a society think is normal, and what is not. Reading this book is really challenging but also so enriching. Finally, I also have to mention "The Power of Now" by Eckhart Tolle. It was just incredible!
Video edited by Claudia Heard