“Eco-friendly golf” used to be an oxymoron. But when Waste Management decided to take on the Phoenix Open just two months ago, it considered every green option possible to change this perception.
“In our industry we’re in a very big transformation from waste management to material management,” explains Duane Woods, vice president of Waste Management’s west division.
“As we have been doing a lot of initiatives around that idea, the question really is, ‘How do you drive a much larger scale change?’ So, you have to choose events like the Phoenix Open. This is a big chance to showcase green initiatives and leverage and scale those ideas across the country.”
While Waste Management has been a partner of the Phoenix Open for more than 10 years, this was the company’s first year as the primary sponsor. So, with only 60 days notice, how did Waste Management even begin to plan for an event with an expected attendance of more than 426,000?
“It was a huge undertaking,” Woods says. “But there is a lot of opportunity, so we really wanted to partner with TPC Scottsdale to create a successful diversion program. TPC already does a great job with composting its grass locally. We like to take the food waste here and incorporate that into an organics program. With more planning time next year, we want to look into compostable materials such as plates and silverware. However, this year, we did move away from single cups so we could use the original PET containers [such as plastic water bottles] that we can then recycle.”
Last year’s event produced about 270 tons of waste, and only 28 percent was recovered. This year, however, Waste Management is predicting an impressive 50 percent diversion rate – the result of testing new technology that significantly reduces both waste and the company’s emissions. For example, its solar trash compactors hold five times the capacity of material than a standard waste bin, cutting its carbon footprint by about 80 percent.
But Woods stresses that the most important way to increase an event-wide effort is education.
“We have put some helpers out that instruct people not throw away recyclables,” Woods says. “I think having providing that resource is a way for people to know how to throw things away. It’s a lot more education and helping people by simply saying, ‘No that goes over here; that is compostable, etc.’”
But what may be even more successful in the long-run is consumer rewards for recycling. Waste Management placed reverse vending machines throughout the venue that allowed attendants to return their plastic bottles in exchange for a small kickback.
“You can take your bottle, put it back into the machine, identify the manufacturer, get a reward on the spot, or accumulate rewards on Greenopolis.com, where you can build up rewards to redeem,” Woods explains. “It’s great data on materials that we can then track. And if you step back and think about it, the cleaner we can get products at the front end, the less processing cost there will be to reuse those, which will drive recycling.”
Waste Management’s consumer-facing side has often been synonymous with trash collectors and images of bedraggled landfills. But Woods says it’s now much more than that. After the company’s genius PR move with Undercover Boss, which premiered on CBS after the Super Bowl, Waste Management’s image is now one of sustainability as whole – both inside and outside of the workplace.
“It’s all about employee engagement, you have to have change inside the company,” Woods says. “Doing good things around the environment is a great thing for employees. It makes for a very attractive workplace.”