Meet Laura Hepburn, the Yorkshire entrepreneur behind Greenology who turned down James Bond to kickstart a green energy revolution

Laura Hepburn’s career has taken her on a journey through film and TV to green energy. She spoke to Mark Casci about her passion to create bigger and better ideas for the region.

Trying to define Laura Hepburn is a challenge in itself.

She is unquestionably an entrepreneur but has a skill set that encompasses everything from set designing, movie and TV production, hospitality and – most notably – sustainable waste management.

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Ms Hepburn is the owner of Greenology, a firm which aims to not only recycle plastics but use it to provide alternative fuel products for all industries,

Laura Hepburn

It has a detailed expansion plan to deliver a full-scale plant on Teesside within the next 12 months which will use world-leading technology to recycle plastic.

The plant will bring at least 50 new jobs for highly skilled engineers, designers and also apprentices.

Her passion, innovation and entrepreneurial skills have already been recognised at a high level when she was named on the Northern Power Women’s Future List.

For Ms Hepburn it has been a hard-earned yet impressive journey that began aged seven when she would charge tourists to park outside her parent’s home in Robin Hood’s Bay on the North Yorkshire coast.

James Bond

Along her career journey she has earned numerous academic qualifications and brought up three children as a single parent, all of whom are now in their teenage years.

It has brought her to the point she is at today as she prepares to spearhead a green energy revolution on the banks of the River Tees.

However, for much of her career, her talents were deployed to an industry which is worlds apart from sustainable energy production.

Progress

A self-described “career chameleon”, she studied design initially, a path that took her into the world of agencies working on advertising campaigns.

As she progressed through the ranks she became involved in the film industry and started on feature films and TV production.

She worked on Phantom Thread, Game of Thrones, Fantastic Beasts and TV shows like Gentleman Jack. A notable highlight came when she worked with Academy award-winner Danny Boyle on the movie Yesterday in which she had to direct 8,000 extras for a scene.

“I would jump in and out,” she said.

“I would work on film for a couple of months to raise money for Greenology to pay for the research.” She was even offered the chance to work on the latest James Bond movie but had to turn it down owing to a heavy workload with Greenology.

She concedes that the opportunities waste management offers are not as glamorous as the movie business but counters that they are every bit as fascinating.

“There is definitely no sexiness in waste,” she laughs.

“It is quite interesting actually where your career takes you. I was a single parent bringing up three kids and the film industry fitted around my son’s autism.

“When I did my Masters I did a lot with plastics. I thought then it was something I would love to come back to.”

Motivation

Her motivation came when she began to become deeply concerned about the vast amount of waste sent to landfill. Greenology’s process involves returning plastics to their original state, mainly in the form of oils.

“If it goes through this process it can be reused,” Ms Hepburn said.

“It is like marine grade oil. We have people working with us who want to create green products so they can say that their boats run on green oil as opposed to fossil fuels.”

The process is already attracting interest from serious players. Talks are underway with JCB to reuse its used tyres to create fuel, something Ms Hepburn describes as “a pure example of sustainability”.

Another project Greenology is looking to develop is dubbed ‘Blade Runner’ and would look at ways of recycling blades from wind turbines which are currently buried when they come to the end of their 20-year lifespan, something which is believed to be the first of its kind in the world.

Ms Hepburn is adamant the project could kickstart an industrial boom for Teesside not seen since its steel-producing heyday.

“We have massive communities of people who have been laid off five or six times,” she says.

“As vital as the steel industry was we cannot keep looking backwards, we have to look to the future. And that means upskilling people and looking for future-proof green projects.

“It is something I am really passionate about. I want to retain the fantastic talent we have here but also look after these people who have been left behind in industry.

“Somebody is going to have to mop up and we just pray it is us that can give these people jobs.”

Empowerment

A big frustration Ms Hepburn has faced during her career concerns the lack of women working in STEM and the attitudes those that do have encountered.

She recalls an incident early in her career when a man walked into her office, took a look at her and told her she was “fresh out of kindergarten” and “would never be able to do this”.

“I had to prove it to people,” she states.

“I like not to be a pigeon-holed person. I am not a woman in a white lab coat or working on a dockyard. I am somebody completely different with amazing ideas.

“I hate to say this but I have worked in many industries but I have never known it to be quite as dated as it is here.

“Whether that is because of mining and steel industry backgrounds which is still quite prominent, there just seems to be a big resistance to there being women in industry. I find it really sad. But there are many passionate people who are encouraging more girls and women into the industry.”

The Covid crisis for Ms Hepburn presents an opportunity to do things better across all of these areas, and one that should not be missed.

“It is the first time the world has ever stopped and it has made people realise that changes need to be made,” she said.

“I don’t like this idea of ‘the new normal’. I don’t like normal. The old normal was broken.

“We have got to do the new future.”