Commercial brokers must be knowledgeable about many different disciplines: law, construction, engineering, finance, negotiation, and more. This week, we continue our “Going Green” series, with a blog about recycling. Stay tuned for information from HVAC and commercial cleaning experts.
The following is a guest column by Steve Deasy, Sustainable Project Manager for Gannett Fleming.
The percentage of businesses that do not recycle, or more accurately do not recycle effectively in 2012 is a little shocking. The list of reasons goes on and on, but the justifications made by business owners for not recycling are often unfounded. So what is the truth about business recycling? Let’s answer two questions: Why should a business recycle? How is a successful business recycling program structured?
Why recycle in the first place? From a life-cycle perspective recycling/reusing materials usually requires less total energy, creates fewer environmental impacts and costs less money than extracting and processing raw materials into new products. Although the size of a company and the quantity of waste generated are influential factors (i.e. economies of scale), most companies save money when they recycle effectively. For many companies, over 80 percent of their entire waste stream is potentially reusable or recyclable – an important fact that should drive a rethinking process for waste management. Recyclables have become “hot property” – demanded worldwide for an infinite list of uses and products. So valued in fact, landfills are now being mined for recyclable materials. In Pennsylvania, landfill disposal costs $50 to $80 per ton. Recyclables generate $15 per ton (e.g plastics and mixed recyclables) to $100 per ton (office paper) – do the math! So recycling makes business sense for our “triple-bottom line”: environmentally, economically and socially.
What components make up a successful business recycling program?
When a business realizes the truth about the costs and benefits of recycling, action has to start from the top. Having real (not pretend) commitment from upper management is key. Today, no company should operate without an environmental policy. This policy confirms the company’s specific commitments and guidelines for recycling and sustainable initiatives. But policy is only a policy without the proper tools in place. The best tools in the company toolkit are its employees. A successful recycling program taps in to the energy of passionate volunteers and assigns individuals with specific skillsets (e.g. legal person to review contracts); together these folks form a Sustainability Team. This Team will guide and implement recycling and sustainability initiatives, and continuously challenge the company to do better. The Team will develop specific policies, educate employees, set goals (e.g. recyclables diversion targets), and will identify new materials to reuse and recycle to expand the program. Particularly for larger companies (over 50 people in an office setting) the most critical component of a successful waste management program will be contracts with vendors for trash collection, recycling, and office supply purchasing. Reviewing these contracts closely so the business can make an informed decision on service is a must.
A substantial portion of businesses pay their waste hauler to haul away AIR? That’s right – air. Air hauling occurs because the level of trash service a business pays for (e.g. two trash pick-ups per week for 8 cubic yard containers) exceeds the actual level of service the company needs. So when the hauler arrives Tuesday and the dumpster is 25 percent full, the company paid full price to haul a near-empty container. This adds up because trash dumpster collections cost about 3 times more than recycling the same volume. This situation is magnified when the company recycles more and does not adjust trash service. Finally, keeping records or ‘metrics’ for the recycling program allows the company to review and share its success.
The Bottom Line
A smart business implements an intelligent waste management program that lowers costs and minimizes environmental impacts in a way that benefits its employees, tenants and the surrounding communities.
Steve Deasy, SCRP, LEED® AP is Gannett Fleming’s Regional Sustainability Director for 11 PA offices and the Corporate Solid Waste Director. Steve investigates, coordinates and implements “green” initiatives including green procurement, environmental policy development, recycling program implementation, education, water and energy efficiency. Steve coordinates the tracking of sustainability metrics and costs for all utilities and solid wastes for 47 offices. Steve is also USGBC Central PA Chapter’s Co-chair for the Program and Education Committee.