The future is sometimes just the past repeated, or as some guy once said, “the past is prologue.”
This is good to keep in mind, particularly when we think about what might be possible in the evolution of sustainability and resource renewal. It may be easy to get discouraged, particularly if we feel change isn’t happening fast enough. Uncertainty can be an obstacle, too, as what we are aiming at may be difficult to see in the fog of change and occasional setbacks.
In any case, the past gives us a roadmap to the future of resource renewal. As new technologies and innovations appear and create new expectations, it’s important to note that in many respects we are at the beginning again. In fact, whether it’s organics or other material in the resource stream, where we are looks a lot like where we were four decades ago with recycling.
Much like forty years ago, the economics, the technologies, and the possibilities of today’s resource renewal have to catch up with the vision of resource renewal and its opportunities.
In much the same way that we had to build and mature recycling as an indispensable part of a holistic approach to waste management, we now must apply the lessons of the past – along with the wisdom – to build and execute a resource renewal vision for the future.
That’s our job
We envision a resource renewal future in which nothing would be wasted, resource extraction would be all but eliminated, and human society could come into alignment with natural systems.
Like the work done to grow recycling, achieving resource renewal will not be easy. Roughly 50 percent of the waste from U.S. homes and businesses consists of materials that could be recycled or composted using technology available today. We need to get those materials into the right bins; but that will get us only halfway to our goal. The rest of the journey will require tougher steps: stop buying stuff that isn’t recyclable, engage suppliers to redesign for recyclability, purchase products made from recovered materials, and invest in the next wave of resource recovery infrastructure. All with a commitment to building economic sustainability of this vision along with its environmental sustainability.
To advance resource renewal, we have focused on not only reducing our own company-wide carbon footprint but also helping our customers set and achieve smart goals while providing them with a growing suite of Resource Solutions. Since 2005, we have cut our own carbon footprint in half. In recent years, despite continued growth in our business, our emissions have remained flat.
Still, we know that success will require much more. Our progress will be helped or hindered by the lessons of the past, and by systemic factors such as markets, policy, technology, culture, and infrastructure. Only by aligning all of these stakeholders and forces will society achieve resource renewal.
It begins with smart resource renewal goals
We have thousands of customers, including manufacturers, colleges, schools, hospitals, small businesses, municipalities, and households, who are actively working to reduce their waste. The most dedicated among them are working with us to set smart resource renewal goals that are data-driven and achievable. We provide these customers with resource renewal plans that go far beyond improved sorting to also include source reduction, procurement policies, supply chain engagement, and more.
As one of the leading resource management companies in the country, we are extremely proud of our high-quality environmental services, which we call resource solutions: recycling, organics, collection, energy, and landfills. With over 2,000 employees, 100+ facilities, 800+ front-line vehicles, and over 40 years of experience, we collect, aggregate, sort, process, market, and manage our customers’ discards every day.
A growing number of customers value us not only as providers of tangible services but also as providers of the knowledge and data that help them achieve their goals. Thus, we are rapidly enhancing our professional services such as data reporting, on-site management, waste reduction, life cycle assessment, strategic sourcing and logistics, supply chain analysis, and more. These skills will be fundamental to achieving our customers’ goals as well as the broader resource renewal vision.
Our vision: guided by the past, but creating the future
With the strong partnerships, smart goals, and resource renewal expertise described above, we will continue to drive progress toward the vision of resource renewal. However, we know that even the best programs eventually come up against the law of diminishing returns: early projects save money, then some projects break even, but eventually, we come up against waste streams that are too costly to prevent or recover. In those cases, safe and secure disposal provide the best alternative. At this point, bigger change is required.
Only deep systemic change will drive solutions for the hardest-to-recycle materials or prevent them from being generated in the first place. Markets and culture need to reward waste reduction and diversion. New technology and infrastructure need to enable diversion of more materials. Smart policy will sometimes need to nudge things along.
In so many ways, we’ve been here before. And, we’re eager to lead into the future. Let’s join together in this journey.
To read more about our progress to bring creative, innovative resource solutions into the mainstream, read our Sustainability Report.
- John W. Casella, Chairman & CEO