GM is generating $1 billion annually through recycling and repurposing their waste stream. They are literally turning trash into cash! This is not an isolated example. Sustainable waste management is now a competitive advantage for businesses ranging from Walmart to Dupont to small businesses like JJH Auto Body and Paint in Salt Lake City.
These companies and entrepreneurs are using waste management to cut their costs. They are using it to win contracts from corporate America by greening their supply chain. And they are using sustainability as a values-based path for engaging and motivating work associates.
GM best practices you can use in your business
GM is just one of a growing number of companies that are proving that there is a sustainable triple bottom line where measuring and managing to achieve environmental and social results will also grow profits. These companies have developed proven best practices that apply across industries. These best practices are low hanging fruit available to every business. Often these best practices will grow profits within the first 90 days of implementation.
First, explore for already proven best practices. One place to find waste management best practices is Earth 911. Their website logo is “more ideas, less waste.” Another path for finding best practices is to web search for waste management services in your local community. Companies like Waste Management now offer professional assistance in greening your waste stream.
Finally, many industries have sustainability consortiums where companies like GM post their lessons learned. Explore joining a sustainability consortium to get access to these best practices and the tools for measuring/managing waste streams.
More GM best practices that every business can use to make money going green
Measure and report. The process for turning trash into cash begins with knowing what you are throwing away. John Bradburn, GM’s manager over waste reduction efforts suggests doing a web search for “manufacturing recycling facilities” in your city. These businesses will pick up your trash and provide reports on the amount/components of your company’s waste stream. A best practice is to share this data with your work associates and suppliers. Many suppliers have their own proven best practices for reducing waste that they could be suggesting if they only knew your data.
Senior leadership engagement. Companies do what the boss is focused upon. That applies to managing waste. I was stunned when Walmart’s CFO presented the company’s waste management results at one of their management milestone meetings. How many CFOs have waste cans and garbage bins in their span of responsibility? The reason for this focus by Walmart’s CFO, is that Walmart earns $230 million annually through their waste management efforts. This opportunity applies to small business, too. Tulsa restaurant owner Libby Auld implemented a farm-to-fork-to-farm recycling system for her food waste. Her program has reduced her pest control costs to almost zero.
Financial links. Best practices make the link between reducing environmental and social impacts and increasing profits. No financial link means reduced management interest. So the key business question for running a successful waste management program is what action items can turn a waste stream into cash? Answers should be tied to reducing a cost like packaging, or selling waste like metals and cardboard or designing a product so it generates a zero waste stream (zero cost!).
Green your supply chain. For most companies, it is their supply chain that generates the majority of waste. Ask your suppliers to present their sustainability plan and action items. This will surface best practices that in many cases your suppliers have wanted to bring to your attention. A second step is to add sustainability criteria into your company’s bid specifications. This can, and should be, as simple as adding bid weighting for suppliers that can demonstrate their ability to reduce your company’s waste stream. As your company’s experience grows, this bid section can include quantified performance expectations. But a first step is to craft your RFQ so that a bidding company that is price-competitive on a quality product, delivers on time, but is also greener – will win the bid.
Associates’ Green Teams. GM has some really outside-the-box examples of what a company can do with their waste stream generated from engaging their work associates. GM associates have taken Volt battery case covers and turned them into duck homes working with local area kids and conservation groups. GM associates are working to advance composting! They work with a company called Detroit Dirt to set up urban farms using composted dirt housed in former GM crates. John Bradburn notes, “Our employees think about waste differently than most…they view it as a challenge to keep items in their use phase.” This type of work associate engagement is a best practice generated through work-associate green teams. By using gamification best practices, these teams can be fun for work associates. The bottom line is that work associate engagement through green teams will produce costs saving and customer winning projects that make money.
Creating a cultural norm. GM’s “Generate Zero Revenues”
GM is moving to the ultimate stage of sustainability in their waste management efforts. They are seeking to instill sustainability as a cultural norm. Their waste management goal is to generate zero revenues from their waste stream. Achieving this goal will mean that GM has succeeded in achieving Bill McDonough’s vision of Cradle to Cradle management of their waste stream.
Bill Roth is an economist and the Founder of Earth 2017. He coaches business owners and leaders on proven best practices in pricing, marketing and operations that make money and create a positive difference. His book, The Secret Green Sauce, profiles business case studies of pioneering best practices that are proven to win customers and grow product revenues. Follow him on Twitter: @earth2017