Op-Ed: A Case for Corporate Sustainability

The following is an op-ed piece by Wes Muir, director of communications for Waste Management. It does not describe the views or opinions of Earth911.

According to its recent Sustainability Report, Waste Management hopes to increase waste-based energy production from the equivalent of powering more than 1 million homes each year to 2 million homes. Photo: Jennifer Berry, Earth911

Every day in the United States, each person produces about four-and-a-half pounds of garbage. That adds up to 1 ton of waste per person each year, more than half of which goes to landfills. Historically, particularly in the U.S., products were simply discarded at the end of their use.

But demand for scarce resources and rising energy costs have started to change the way the world works. Companies are seeking to satisfy customer demands for environmentally friendly products, meet changing governmental regulations and achieve cost savings through manufacturing processes that efficiently use energy and materials. Increasingly, garbage is seen as too valuable to just throw away.

The business of managing waste used to be straightforward. A generation ago, we were a company that that picked up trash and disposed of it. Now our business mix is evolving from traditional waste collection and disposal to various forms of resource recovery. Increasingly, our customers are turning to us not only to mange their waste, but to help them create less of it.

We are happy to oblige, as we see this as an important part of the future of our company. In fact, we have transformed our business model to become a more dynamic and integral part of our customers’ business models. Building on our history of recycling and waste-to-energy technologies, we are actively working with our customers and their suppliers to find innovative way to reduce waste generation and turn waste into energy or back into raw materials suitable for reuse.

How we govern and manage our own business and footprint are issues that are vital to the communities in which we operate, the people we employ and the customers we serve. They’re also vital for demonstrating the sincerity of our commitment to sustainability. While many companies work hard to protect the environment from their activities, for Waste Management, protecting the environment is our business.

Like many companies, we have developed a sustainability reports and recently released our 2010 Sustainability Report to illustrate how our sustainability strategy is fully integrated into our governance and management systems and reflected in set of four ambitious sustainability goals we established in 2007.

By 2020, Waste Management has committed to:

  • Increase waste-based energy production from the equivalent of powering more than 1 million homes each year to 2 million homes.
  • Increase the volume of recyclable materials processed from more than 8 million tons of recyclables per year to nearly tripling that amount to more than 20 million tons.
  • Invest in cleaner technologies to increase the fuel efficiency of our fleet by 15 percent and reduce our emissions by 15 percent. We also expect to invest in technologies to enhance our waste business.
  • Preserve and restore more wildlife habitat across North America certified by the Wildlife Habitat Council, and increase the number of sites and acres set aside for conservation and wildlife habitat to 100 and 25,000 respectively, which we have recently accomplished 10 years ahead of schedule!

The path to a more sustainable future is about everyone – consumers, businesses and governments –doing their part. For companies like Waste Management, we continuously strive to find new and better ways to provide customers with valued environmental solutions and extract more value from the materials we manage.

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