Waste management, according to Toyota’s Ryan McMullan, is the “gateway drug” to employee engagement on environmental sustainability initiatives.
At Environmental Leader’s conference, McMullan, who is Toyota Motor Sale’s environmental and safety manager, and Dish Network environmental safety manager Scott Chizanskos discussed commercial and industrial waste management strategies. Unlike supply chain or even energy initiatives, waste and recycling is one of the more tangible areas of sustainability, they said.
“The issue of waste is a better place for many companies to start in a sustainability journey,” said session moderator Graham Russell, Trupoint Advisors founder and principal. “So many solutions to waste problems are cheap, the payback is quick, and they don’t require an enormous amount of capital investment up front.”
The first step, according to Chizanskos, is to know your business — the products and/or services from which your company generates revenue — and know what wastes this creates. “And not just the EHS team,” he said. “Everyone in the company should know your business.”
For Dish, this waste stream includes cables, sealant waste, reflectors, set-top boxes, remotes, about 3 tons of alkaline batteries per week and packaging, among other materials. Much of this is designated by state and federal laws as hazardous waste, which means the company must follow strict regulations about safe disposal and recycling.
Dish also reuses some products. “We refurbish 6 million receivers a year and recycle 12,000 tons of electronics a year,” Chizanskos said, adding that the company audits all of its waste streams for compliance and he, personally, dumpster dives to ensure no e-waste or sealant ends up in the trash. “You have to make sure you hold people accountable.”
At Toyota, “in terms of employee engagement we like waste as the gateway drug,” McMullan said, adding that the company makes waste management results relatable and visualizable to employees. “We never use tons because people don’t go to the grocery store and buy a ton of flour. So we always translate it to pounds.”
Additionally, the EPA’s WasteWise program for businesses and organizations allows companies to plug in waste reduction numbers and it computes water and energy saved, among other metrics.
Toyota’s North American facilities reduced, reused, recycled or composted over 96 percent of non-regulated waste during calendar year 2014, according to the automaker’s most recent sustainability report. Twenty-eight of the company’s North American facilities meet the US Zero Waste Business Council’s definition of a zero waste business — one with a 90 percent or greater diversion of all waste from landfill, incineration and the environment. The company has a goal to generate no waste by 2050.
Toyota North America is also a founding member of the US Zero Waste Business Council.
Companies need to shift their thinking about waste management, McMullan told the panel on Thursday. This means moving beyond how can we avoid waste to landfill and even how can we increase recycling rates to how can we reduce and reuse materials.
For example, some Toyota vendors were taking “perfectly good pallets” and grinding them into mulch. That’s recycling — but it’s not the highest, best use. So now Toyota works with a company that repairs the pallets for reuse.
How can small- and medium-sized companies apply these solutions to their business?
“We did this with our dealerships, which are all franchises and small- to medium-sized business,” McMullan said. “There are two ways to go about this: you can get dirty, dumpster dive, and make observations about what is in your trash. Or you can reach out to a consultancy. We partnered with Waste Management to work with some of our franchises.”
And, added Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Terence Lee Foecke, money is a good employee incentive to reduce waste. “When the commodities markets started collapsing, we were paying three times as much to recycle,” he said. “So we said we will fund projects for you [employees] to figure out to avert waste. The program has grown to the point where not only does it pay for itself — the average return on investment is 2:1 — we also have a standing list of people doing true-source reduction.”
Environment, health and safety managers like to talk about low-hanging fruit. With its low-cost to implement and high rate of return, commercial and industrial waste management should be a top priority.
Image Credit: Toyota