Adaptive Behavior

from Recycling Today – March 2011

by barry farber

Organizations detail the challenges and successes of their recycling initiatives and the changes they made along the way.

There is nothing more constant than change. It’s happening around us, everyday, all of the time. Yet, many of us fear it. A trainer of Navy Seals once told me the secret to success is being comfortable being uncomfortable. And Winston Churchill once said, “A pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.”

Something valuable often can be derived from difficulty, adversity or change. We just have to look for it with open minds.

How are companies, sports venues and universities confronting the challenges of creating a productive recycling program and a focus on green initiatives? They are moving forward with positive results in many ways. The following examples of the successes seen by Maverik Inc., the New Meadowlands Stadium, Duke University, Sacred Heart University and the New York Jets training facility illustrate their evolving sustainability programs.

 

MAVERIK MOVES

John Carpenter, procurement manager for Utah-based convenience and gas retailer Maverik Inc., says he believes in listening to his customers, which also include the company’s employees.

“I’m in an organization where we have 221 convenience stores located in eight Western states,” Carpenter says. Changes need to be communicated to the company’s clerks, or “adventure guides,” in order to be fully implemented.

In 2010, the company moved away from using 100 percent virgin paper towels at its stores, Carpenter says, instead opting for a recycled towel that Georgia Pacific offers, saving money and natural resources.

“Now was there a cost of change? Yes-re-educating everyone down to the store level on the importance of why we’re doing this: to help the environment, to make a better world for all of us,” he says. “It’s very important to get buy-in from the store, from the grass roots up. We also had champions at the executive level saying, ‘Yes this is important.’ But then the key is selling it at the grass roots level,” Carpenter says.

He says Maverik also wants its customers to know that the company is trying to make a difference when it comes to the environment.

A study conducted by Rockefeller Institute found that 68 percent of individuals stop patronizing a company because they feel the business doesn’t care about keeping them as customers. Many companies have bottom-up marketing programs that allow their customers to provide detailed feedback on what could be done differently to improve their experiences with the business. Maverik is one such company.

“We’ve found that, in the course of time, our customers were looking for more of what we are doing to save the environment,” Carpenter says.

 

PITCHING IN AT THE STADIUM

Customer input also is an important factor with Dave Duernberger, vice president of facilities operations for the New Meadowlands Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J. The facility is home to the New York Giants and Jets.

“We are in a brand new stadium and this is our first season. A lot of people think a brand new $1.6 billion stadium is going to be perfection, and obviously it’s not from what the 82,500 fans see,” he says. “There were lots and lots of people who were happy. But then there were also people who felt for one reason or another the stadium wasn’t up to their standards,” Duernberger says.

Both the Jets and the Giants conduct their own surveys of patrons, using either a third party or their own marketing teams, he says. The New Meadowlands Stadium Co. also has a third party come in to conduct game-day surveys. The surveys include questions on cleanliness, the parking and traffic situations, concessions lines and wait times. Reports of the survey results are compiled and reviewed after every game, Duernberger says.

“You have to make it simple and easy for people to want to recycle, and it all starts with your basic program,” he says. “I thought the easiest and best way was to color code things.”

He says that in the stadium’s program, all commingled materials go into blue bags, which are disposed of in a blue Dumpster, which also is labeled.

“Prior to taking the job here at the Meadowlands Stadium, I worked for the Philadelphia Eagles at Financial Field,” Duernberger says. “The experience I had in Philadelphia.. .is that we were doing the right things out in the field, but when it came down to the trash dock and the Dumpsters, we were getting too much contamination.”

When the material was hauled to the recycling center, he says, the stadium was getting penalized because of the high level of contamination.

Duerenberger says he introduced the color-coding system in Philadelphia to address the problem and took that approach from the start at the New Meadowlands Stadium.

“Blue is commingled, brown is cardboard, green is compost and gray is regular trash,” he says of the system the stadium has in place.

Containers are also labeled to assist with identification.

The facility collects wood pallets, cement blocks, metals, other plastics and construction materials for recycling as well, he says. “We make sure that none of that goes into the landfill.” Duerenberger adds that whenever renovation work is done at the stadium, the material that results is diverted from the trash Dumpster and sent to a recycler. “The more we can separate out of the trash stream the less it’s going to cost us.”

The New Meadowlands Stadium installed two cardboard balers, training its cleaning contractor, Unico, to pull cardboard from the waste stream and bale it with these machines. “This really worked out well,” Duernberger says. “Each bale is roughly three-quarters of a ton, or 1,500 pounds.” The Meadowlands Stadium baled nearly 100 tons of cardboard in the last year, he adds.

“The biggest key to a strong recycling program is educating the staff. We developed a written plan that we distributed to our organization and to some of the service partners,” Duernberger says. “You’ve got to take the time to educate people [and] hold them accountable. That means you can’t just roll it out and forget about it. It’s a constant effort,” he adds.

The stadium shares the results of its recycling program with its service partners, Delaware North and Unico, as part of its education process.

 

A HIGHER EDUCATION

Joe Gonzalez, associate dean of residential life at North Carolina’s Duke University, says he feels that listening to the students and being open to change contributes to the university’s overall success in the area of environmental sustainability.

“Society is so fluid these days,” says Gonzalez, “that if you don’t change, it’s going to be difficult for you to succeed.”

Duke welcomes input from its students in a more formal fashion. “We have a student committee that’s in charge with identifying improvement ideas for our facilities and finding ways to improve recycling habits,” Gonzalez says. “Our students have a big commitment to sustainability efforts.”

The students discovered a reverse vending machine (a vending machine that accepts returned beverage containers) from Tomra, with North American headquarters in Stamford, Conn. “We looked into it to make sure we were comfortable with the equipment…and decided it was an idea worth supporting,” Gonzalez says.

Being a residential campus, Gonzalez says the student committee has particular insights. “They live in our communities every day, so they see things we may not see as the administrators of the program,” he says. “I feel like, if we don’t incorporate their voice into what we do, we’re missing out on important information.”

Sacred Heart University, Fairfield, Conn., also relies on its students’ input to help improve its recycling program.

Ed Dobransky, head of campus operations, says, “Our students are very involved with the process.” They even visit a material recovery facility to get a better understanding of the recycling process, he adds.

 

IN TRAINING

Mike Lebet is director of building operations for the New York Jets and runs the team’s training facility. “When we first moved in, we initiated single-stream recycling here at the facility, so all of our paper, cardboard, bottles, cans and anything recyclable was in one container,” Lebet says.

Each individual’s desk, every conference room and all the common areas include containers for recyclables, he says. The building’s janitorial crew maintains the segregation of trash and recyclables separation when it collects the materials each night. “If they see anything recyclable in the regular trash, they will pull it out and put it into the recycling.”

The commingled recyclables are put into a compactor, he says. “When it’s full, we call Waste Management, and they take it to a Newark recycling plant.”

 

A QUESTION OF ACCOUNTING

Many companies are translating how their recycling efforts affect the environment in the form of the number of trees saved and other similar metrics.

In Carpenter’s case, he took to the Internet to research the savings Maverik realized through its environmental sustainability efforts. “It’s really dramatic,” he says. “It sets the whole tone for why we’re making these changes-the method to the madness.”

The other factor to consider, says Carpenter, is the savings the company can realize by avoiding the landfill. In Maveriks case, he figures old corrugated containers (OCC) comprise about 40 percent of the company’s trash. That’s valuable material to a recycler.

Carpenter says the company is considering adding balers to it stores to more efficiently handle the generated cardboard. He says the company’s Jackson, Wyo., location is going to test drive a small baler. “We are really excited about that!”

Carpenter says, “You have to try new ideas. You have to embrace change and not be complacent. That’s been the mantra and the process here at Maverik.” He adds, “We want to be out front.”

When it comes to dealing with change and turning obstacles into successes, these organizations embraced three key factors: keeping an open mind, simplifying the process and listening and learning from the audiences they serve.

Barry Farber consults with various industries to help them grow their businesses. He is the best-selling author of 11 books on sales, management and customer service and can be contacted through www.BarryFarber.com or via e-mail at barry@barryfarber.com.