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Mary Mazzoni headshot

3p Weekend: 10 Companies Going Zero Waste to Landfill

By Mary Mazzoni

With a busy week behind you and the weekend within reach, there’s no shame in taking things a bit easy on Friday afternoon. With this in mind, every Friday TriplePundit will give you a fun, easy read on a topic you care about. So, take a break from those endless email threads, and spend five minutes catching up on the latest trends in sustainability and business.

With the start of the new year, business leaders around the world are contemplating how to take their companies to the next level when it comes to sustainability. And despite what's happening in Washington, American businesses are rising the occasion -- cutting carbon emissions, conserving water and energy, and engaging employees around their goals.

If you're looking for a bit more inspiration for the new year, consider this: Has your company ever thought about going zero waste? These 10 firms working toward zero waste to landfill prove it's possible. And no, it won't kill jobs or hurt profits.

1. Subaru


Subaru of Indiana Automotive (SIA), the automaker’s only U.S. manufacturing plant, hasn't sent waste to local landfills in over 12 years. The same goes for two of Subaru's manufacturing plants in Japan.

Thanks to suggestions from employees, Subaru reuses everything from auto part packaging to staff food scraps. On a net basis, its Indiana plant saves $1 to $2 million per year due to reduction and reuse -- and Subaru has the best profit margin in the automotive industry.

And the reuse and recycling doesn’t stop at the factory: About 96 percent of the components in a Subaru vehicle can also be recycled or reused.

Organizations across the world noticed Subaru's moves and asked the company how the heck they did it. Subaru agreed to benchmark with several of these organizations, including the National Park Service, to help them accomplish zero waste in their own operations.

2. Sierra Nevada

Back in 2013, Sierra Nevada said it saved more than $5 million by diverting nearly 100 percent of its waste from landfills. The U.S. Zero Waste Business Council certified its Chico, California, brewery as a platinum-level Zero Waste Facility the same year. And the company kept those numbers up, diverting 99.8 percent of its solid waste in 2014.

To accomplish this feat, the company sends its spent brewing ingredients -- at least 150,000 pounds of malted barley and 4,000 pounds of hops a day -- to local cattle and dairy farms for use as feed.

Its Chico brewery is also home to the first HotRot composting system in the U.S. Since it was installed in 2010, the system has transformed more than 5,000 tons of the company's organic waste into rich compost which is then used in its Estate hop field, barley field and garden. The company has a similar partnership with a local composting company near its brewery in Mills River, North Carolina.

3. Toyota

Subaru isn't the only automaker making waves in zero waste. In fact, the automotive sector is one of the widest adopters of such policies -- and Toyota is a prime example.

The company's North American facilities reduced, reused or recycled 96 percent of their non-regulated waste in 2015 -- totaling over 900 million pounds.

The automaker became a founding member of the U.S. Zero Waste Building Council two years earlier. It now has 27 North American facilities that meet the council's definition of a zero-waste site, including 10 manufacturing plants. And the U.S. EPA recognized Toyota Motor North America with a WasteWise Partner of the Year Award last year.

4. Unilever

Two years ago this month, Unilever announced that over 240 of its factories achieved the company’s goal of sending zero non-hazardous waste to landfill. By replicating its zero-waste model in other parts of the business, nearly 400 additional sites eliminated waste-to-landfill as of February of last year.

Unilever says its journey to zero waste saved the company over $225 million and "created hundreds of jobs." To help others achieve similar results, Unilever teamed up with value-chain platform 2degrees last year to help bring organizations together around the zero-waste model.

“While I am proud of what our employees and partners have achieved across our manufacturing operations and the wider business, there is a lot more to be done to inspire a wide-scale movement," Pier Luigi Sigismondi, chief supply chain officer for Unilever, said in a statement last year.

"It is time to accelerate efforts to move towards a zero-waste world and our new collaboration with 2degrees will allow us to share lessons and experiences, and to encourage other businesses and industries to take up the zero-waste challenge. By building a network of partners and working together, we can eliminate waste on an unprecedented scale across the globe.”

5. Ford

Another leader from the automotive sector, Ford Motor Co. is making serious gains toward zero waste. The automaker aimed to reduce waste-to-landfill by 40 percent per vehicle between 2011 and 2016. It blew past this target, achieving a 54 percent reduction by 2015.

The company now operates 63 zero-waste-to-landfill facilities around the world, including all of its Mexican and Canadian plants. In 2015 alone, six Ford manufacturing plants and 29 non-manufacturing plants achieved zero-waste-to-landfill status.

6. Fetzer Vineyards

Fetzer Vineyards, one of Mendocino County, California's largest wineries, has been sustainable from the start. It's the largest wine company in the world to receive B Corp certification and the first winery in California to operate on 100 percent renewable energy.

Fetzer, which was purchased by Chilean wine company Viña Concha y Toro in 2014, was also the first winery to publicly report its greenhouse gas emissions with the climate registry, but even that is not enough: The company hopes to be net carbon positive by 2030.

Fetzer's bold sustainability goals include eliminating waste from its supply chain. It was the first wine company in the world to receive zero-waste certification from the U.S. Zero Waste Building Council -- and it achieved the council's highest honor, platinum certification.

"This achievement reinforces that companies can work to create a closed loop system that is both profitable and sustainable,” Josh Prigge, sustainability manager at Fetzer Vineyards, said of the milestone in a 2014 statement. And we're inclined to agree.

7. Procter & Gamble

Consumer packaged goods giant Procter & Gamble has a bold goal for 2020: for each of its plants to send zero manufacturing waste to landfill. Reaching this target would divert 95 percent of the waste the company produces -- and it's already well on its way.

Today, more than 55 percent of P&G sites are send zero manufacturing waste to landfill. Other waste produced, such as office paper and food scraps, is diverted through employee-led programs. And the company says such staff-led initiatives allowed its Costa Rica plant to go entirely zero-waste-to-landfill.

In the future, P&G also hopes to completely eliminate consumer waste stemming from its products through the use of recycling education campaigns and moves to increase the recyclability of its packaging.

8. New Belgium Brewing

Is there something about alcohol that makes business leaders want to stop waste in its tracks? If so, pour us another glass.

Another leader in the brewing space, New Belgium now diverts 99.9 percent of its waste from landfills. It also achieved platinum certification from the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council.

To achieve this feat, the company carried out an exhaustive waste audit of more than 500 waste collection points across its Fort Collins, Colorado, facility. By identifying best management practices and end-of-life scenarios for each material, staffers were able to find a useful application for nearly every bit of waste they produce.

"However, there is still more to do!" the company says on its website. "We are constantly looking at ways to close loops and eliminate waste generated in the first place."

9. Google

As part of its portfolio of sustainability targets, Google is looking to cut the waste produced by its data centers down to size.

Although Google didn't set a deadline for when it expects to go fully zero-waste, six of its 14 data centers sent nothing to landfill last year. And 86 percent of the tech giant's waste is reused or recycled globally.

Google's 'moonshot' campaign to cut waste at data centers includes aggressive reuse campaigns to create a second life for data servers. Googlers are also looking for ways to recycle old office furniture and introduce more composting to further reduce waste.

10. Microsoft

In November of last year, Microsoft became the first technology company to have a facility awarded zero-waste certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

The company's headquarters in Redmond, Washington -- where more than 44,000 employees work in 125 buildings across 500 acres -- now diverts 90 percent of its waste from landfills.

Image credits: 1) Subaru (press use only); 2) Fetzer Vineyards (press use only) 

Mary Mazzoni headshot

Mary has reported on sustainability and social impact for over a decade and now serves as executive editor of TriplePundit. She is also the general manager of TriplePundit's Brand Studio, which has worked with dozens of organizations on sustainability storytelling, and VP of content for TriplePundit's parent company 3BL. 

Read more stories by Mary Mazzoni