By Scot Case
The race to make defensible zero waste claims is well underway.
Lots of organizations, from city governments and universities to sporting venues and events to manufacturers and retailers, are pledging to drastically reduce or even eliminate any waste going to landfill.
- City governments: According to a survey of government officials, 14 percent of governments have a zero waste plan, including San Francisco; Seattle; and Austin, Texas.
- Universities: The American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), an association of college presidents addressing climate change issues, identifies waste reduction as an important part of any effort to reduce global warming pollution. Several universities are prioritizing zero waste initiatives, including Arizona State University, American University and the entire University of North Carolina system.
- Sporting events: The Green Sports Alliance promotes sustainability initiatives among sports teams, venues and leagues. Several of its members have aggressive waste reduction initiatives, including the Philadelphia Eagles, Ohio State football and the Waste Management Phoenix Open PGA golf tournament.
- Manufacturers: Lots of manufacturers, including Dell, Kimberly Clark, Honda, Procter & Gamble, Ford and others, have zero waste goals.
- Retailers: Walmart, Crate & Barrel, REI and other retailers have pledged to drastically reduce or even eliminate any waste going to landfill.
Companies like GAF, Bridgestone, Mayer Bros. and the Waste Management Phoenix Open are getting claims validated to prove the accuracy of their claims and to gain a competitive advantage among consumers, business partners and investors who value waste diversion and the efficiencies it requires.
Interestingly, other companies are choosing not to have their claims publicly validated, but are opting to go through the same process and having their programs audited. Companies are finding value in the audit itself beyond the well-recognized public relations benefits.
Some of the additional value of a waste diversion audit, as reported to UL Environment auditors, includes:
Waste diversion is not just a “good for the planet” activity. It can also turn waste streams into profit streams because there is “cash in the trash.” A formal audit can identify potentially profitable waste streams that are not being captured or identify instances in which the company is not receiving full value for the materials it is recycling. Some companies capture only partial value from three or four waste streams, while others in the same industry earn maximum revenues from as many as 50 waste streams.
During an audit at GAF, the UL auditor discovered the company was being inadvertently double-billed for some waste-hauling services. The mistake was discovered by reconciling waste volumes with billing invoices during the audit. Others have discovered savings by using audit results to demonstrate that the size or number of trash compactors or bailers can be reduced as a result of declining waste volumes.
Reinvigorating recycling and waste diversion programs
Many companies launch a zero waste or waste minimization effort with great fanfare, but over time management and employee focus shifts to other issues. Announcing that waste diversion claims will be audited is a way for a company to emphasize the importance of the effort, and turbo-charge the money-making and cost-saving opportunities associated with a zero waste or waste diversion initiative. Managers and employees always focus on whatever is being tracked and carefully scrutinized.
Ensuring consistent internal measurement
Large manufacturing companies collecting waste diversion information have discovered that different facilities are collecting, managing and reporting information differently. Some include cafeteria, break room and office waste when reporting waste diversion numbers; others only focus on manufacturing waste. An external, third-party audit of waste diversion numbers is one way to ensure companies are measuring things consistently so that the numbers reported by each facility are comparable. It is also a way of properly validating internal company processes and controls.
Creating a level playing field
Lots of organizations are announcing zero waste goals or high waste diversion targets, but they are frequently not comparable. Some organizations, for example, define zero waste as diverting at least 90 percent of their waste from landfills. While a 90 percent diversion rate is incredibly impressive, 10 percent can still be going to landfill; it is clearly not zero waste to landfill. When UL was developing its UL2799 waste diversion claim validation protocol, it discovered more than a dozen definitions of the word ‘zero.’ Auditing waste diversion claims against a clear, consistent, publicly-available protocol like UL2799 makes it possible to compare a company’s performance with others. Companies would not permit competitors to define their own independent financial reporting and auditing procedures; they should not permit competitors to do so with their waste diversion reporting or auditing.
Avoiding making exaggerated claims
Public zero waste and waste diversion claims invite public scrutiny. More than one facility manager has confessed something along the lines of: “We’ve been telling management our waste diversion rate is xx percent, but we’ve just been ‘eyeballing it.’ We’re not sure what will happen to our numbers after an actual audit.” An independent, third-party audit can help prevent public relations or legal headaches by ensuring public claims are accurate.
Earning Wall Street respect
Investors recognize that greener companies outperform traditional companies if for no other reason than that a company with strong environmental performance is an indicator of a well-managed company. Tracking, managing and auditing waste diversion metrics is an important environmental performance metric. Companies that carefully track an environmental metric like waste diversion rates clearly have a close eye on both environmental and financial performance.
While some companies are seeking third-party UL validation in order to earn a UL Environment validation badge and make public claims about their waste diversion and zero waste successes, other companies see significant value in the audit itself.
They might not be interested in making or ready to make public waste diversion claims, but they are applying the old business adage that “what gets measured gets done.”
They are also taking it one step further with the recognition that “what gets measured and audited gets done even better.”
Image credit: Kristian Bjornard via Flickr
Scot Case has been researching and promoting effective green marketing and responsible purchasing since 1993 and was co-author of the original “Sins of Greenwashing” study and advisor to subsequent editions. He is the Market Development Director for UL Environment. Contact him via Twitter: @scotcase, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or in Reading, PA, at 610-781-1684. This article represents the views of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the views of UL Environment or its affiliates or subsidiaries. This article is for general information purposes only and is not meant to convey legal or other professional advice.