In Shelley Porter's role at Eastman Chemical Co. in Kingsport, Tenn., she oversees corporate sustainability and corporate circularity. She has oversight in how the materials supplier operates sustainably as a company, including how it uses natural resources, what climate action it takes, how it cares for its employees and the regions in which it operates.
Circularity is a priority for Eastman's sustainability strategy, and it has launched multiple chemical recycling technologies to address plastic waste in the environment.
"It's a broad role and challenging," Porter said. "And it's probably the most fun job at Eastman because of the problems we're working on and the level of talent we have. It's so gratifying to see a team of people come together to solve some of society's biggest challenges. I want everyone to know that it's possible to have a meaningful job you truly enjoy."
Porter earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in chemistry from Virginia Tech. After finishing her undergraduate degree, she interned at materials and specialty chemicals manufacturer Solutia and learned about nylon fiber processing and technologies for textiles and other applications.
She started at Eastman in 1999 and has held several different positions across the organization. She spent her first eight years performing analytical chemistry and product testing before moving into leadership.
Her current challenges are perpetual: resource prioritization and balancing as well as championing a long-term vision.
"Any given day, we've got a million problems to deal with. You need to help teams see past immediate issues to what the future can be to create energy to persevere through the issues," she said. "It's an exciting challenge because I can see where we're going and want everyone on board."
Q: What about the plastics industry surprises you?
Porter: The industry is constantly reinventing itself. That can surprise people.
Q: What is your personal "mold" that you are breaking?
Porter: What has been different for me is coming from that and learning how much I love the people aspect of leadership roles, and how much I enjoy helping others develop their careers.
When I entered 25-30 years ago, we talked about sustainability. We wanted to do things on that front. But now, we have a vision and market drivers to make progress.
There have been times when it's me and 40 men in a meeting, but that's changing, and it's great to see our leadership ranks becoming more diverse and inclusive.
Q: What advice would you give to a person considering a career in the plastics industry?
Porter: I'd say come on in, the water's fine. Unless you don't like challenges. The industry is at the cusp of huge transformation. The products produced by this industry are necessary for modern society, and it is up to us to make them in the most sustainable way possible.