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CSR for Dummies” is an Earth911.com series highlighting the different pledges and commitments made by companies in regards to product stewardship and recycling. Companies and services featured do not pay for placement and are not endorsed by Earth911.com.

Most people think of Waste Management as simply a garbage company. But inside the organization itself, its employees see themselves as an environmental services company that “provides the sustainability platform for families, businesses and municipalities.” When it comes to waste, they know what’s going on. In fact, according to Waste Management, the U.S. population generated more than 250 million tons of garbage in 2007, and that in the most recently reported year, business and industry also generated 38 million tons of hazardous waste.

Waste Management’s stated goal is “to help ensure that we pass on the planet to the next generation in better shape than we inherited it.” This year, they’ve decided to “Think Green®” and to increase the amount of power they produce from waste.

According to the President’s letter, “2007 was the year Waste Management elevated Think Green® from a company theme to a strategic plan for sustainability. We see sustainability as our fundamental service — providing environmental solutions and protection for our customers and communities, while maintaining a successful and growing business.”

Waste Management hopes to turn more landfills into natural preserves. Photo: Forcechange.com

Waste Management hopes to turn more landfills into natural preserves. Photo: Forcechange.com

Get Trashed

Most of us don’t think of it this way, but garbage is a renewable energy source from which Waste Management creates enough energy to power over a million homes each year. It uses plants that convert methane, a powerful greenhouse gas (whose odor is quite recognizable), into a power source. By 2020, the company expects to double that output – the equivalent of 18 million barrels of oil. Last year, they added 22 megawatts of production and are in the process of constructing 10 new plants that will produce another 50 megawatts of power, from your garbage and mine.

But Waste Management also likes to think of a world where everyone reduces, reuses and recycles. That’s another business opportunity for them. They know a lot about minimizing waste, and as the nation’s leading recycler, the environmental movement is a boon to them; by 2020, they expect to triple the amount of recyclable material they will manage to almost 20 million tons, partly by convincing Americans to recycle more through their single-stream technology. They would love everyone to set a zero-waste goal and achieve it.

Although a majority of its revenues still come from managing discards (ie: dumping stuff), 49 percent of the company’s revenues came from “green” services:

  • 14 percent from recycling
  • 13 percent from green energy-producing landfills
  • 21 percent from collection for recycling and green energy production

Get Busy

But first, the company has to lower its own carbon footprint. With 26,000 vehicles in its fleet, it’s no wonder they are asking their suppliers to develop trucks that improve fuel efficiency and reduce fleet emissions by 15 percent. And because Waste Management expects to spend more than $450 million per year on new trucks, they can create significant demand for manufacturers to create a breakthrough technology for a new hybrid engine. They are already working with four suppliers on different technologies for hybrid trucks and heavy equipment, each in a different stage of testing but all showing promise.

And what about all those landfills they’ve been filling all these years? As of November 2008, they received certifications from the Wildlife Habitat Council for 49 landfills and protected a total of 21,000 acres. And by 2020, they hope to certify four times as many landfills as wildlife habitats. Right now, about two dozen of their landfills have acreage set aside for conservation. By 2020, they want 100 landfills to have more than 25,000 acres set aside for wildlife.

Waste Management started as a company that collected garbage and dumped it in a landfill far away. There, you wouldn’t have to look at it and remember all the stuff you wasted, used and threw away. Now, the company has found a business opportunity in helping the country re-tool its lifestyle for a new generation of sustainability.

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