By Jennifer Hermes
The role of energy in the sustainability field is a critical one. But for small- and medium-sized businesses, the prospect of heading up a sustainability strategy with improvements in energy management can be daunting.
For those companies, it sometimes makes more sense to focus on waste management problems as the first step in a comprehensive sustainability strategy, suggested Graham Russell, founder and principal of Trupoint Advisors, at the Environmental Leader 2016 Conference in Denver last month.
“So many solutions to waste problems are quick and don’t require an enormous outlay of money,” Russell said. “But many companies don’t see the reduction of waste as something that can enhance their financial performance.” In truth, with a good waste management program, companies can often earn payback in a short amount of time and begin achieving savings, he continued.
But how can a company begin with a waste management strategy if it’s something that it has never looked at before?
“The waste part of sustainability is very tangible,” said Ryan McMullen, environmental and safety manager for Toyota. “You hold the can in your hand, throw it in the correct bin, and you feel good. Other things, like energy management, are intangible. So waste is the ‘gateway drug’ for engagement in sustainability.”
A company might begin with basic questions and move up the hierarchy. For example:
- How can we avoid sending waste to landfill?
- How can we increase recycling?
- How can we create our product while creating less waste?
- What waste can be sold?
- What can we do with the waste that can’t be sold?
- How can we turn waste to energy?
- How can we reuse our waste?
With each of these questions, companies should consider not only whether they are engaging in these activities, but also whether they are doing them in the most effective ways, McMullen advised. For example, at one time Toyota reused its wooden pallets by turning them into mulch. “That’s reusing, but it’s not the best use,” he explained. The automaker has since revised its strategy to further lengthen the usability of pallets.
Also important is to learn to measure these activities accurately in order to understand your progress. Don’t just measure the things you’re not doing (sending as much waste to landfill). Measure the things you are doing as well (saving money on bills).
Look at your core business, and then analyze the waste that it creates, added Scott Chizanskos, environmental safety manager for Dish Network. “Our byproducts include excess cabling, set-top boxes, reflector mast and mount, vehicles, tools and installation supplies, offices, and more.” All of those categories of waste must be handled in different ways, Chizanskos explained. Also consider how you handle waste after the customer is finished with the product. “For example, we take back old set-top boxes and remotes, which we treat as electronic waste. And we refurbish 6 million receivers and recycle 12,000 tons of electronics a year.”
Chizanskos suggested auditing your waste streams for compliance. “We do daily visual checks, weekly written checks and yearly independent audits at our installation sites.”
“It’s not rocket science,” McMullen concluded. Do one of two things: engage in some “dumpster-diving” and make observations about your waste, or reach out to a consultancy. “Just look at your waste stream and get started.”