This Issue
 
A number of organizations are formalizing their efforts to reduce, reuse, and recycle.
WRITTEN BY Calvin Hennick

Opening: Implementing zero waste will eliminate all discharges to land, water, or air that are a threat to planetary, human, animal, or plant health. Above: Stephanie Barger is director of market development at GBCI. Photos: Andri Beauchamp

When the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council (USZWBC) was founded in 2012, lots of businesses were already talking about their zero waste efforts. The problem was, they were all saying something different.

“It was like apples and pineapples,” says USZWBC founder Stephanie Barger, director of market development at the Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI). “It was all over the place. There really weren’t standards and guidelines on what zero waste meant. That was one of the reasons businesses came to us.”

 

The definition of zero waste calls for no waste to go to landfills, incineration facilities, or the environment. The “zero” is, of course, aspirational, and the organization awards different levels of certification to businesses based on their waste diversion rates and practices. Much like the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification system, the Zero Waste certification provides common standards, guidelines, and vocabulary that help companies to see for themselves—and demonstrate to others—the impact of their sustainability efforts.

 

The ideas behind zero waste efforts aren’t new, of course, and the “reduce, reuse, recycle” mantra dates back to the early days of sustainability thinking. But recently, much of the national conversation about sustainability has centered around carbon emissions, and until now there haven’t been many good ways for businesses to show the rest of the world what they’re doing to minimize their trash output.

 

“Most businesses want to do the right thing,” Barger says of zero waste programs. “One, because it saves them millions of dollars. But two, because of all of the benefits around employee engagement, and leadership, and responsibility to the local and global community. The environmental, human rights, and social benefits of going to zero waste are incredible.”

 

This past fall, USZWBC and GBCI, which administers LEED certification, formally joined forces—a move that is expected to increase the capacity of the Zero Waste certification while allowing GBCI to more effectively engage the organizations it works with around zero waste goals. USZWBC has been fully integrated into the global GBCI community that drives sustainability across all sectors.

 

“By reducing and eliminating the volume and toxicity of waste and materials and aligning green rating systems, we are one step further in transforming the market to be more sustainable,” says Mahesh Ramanujam, president and CEO, USGBC and GBCI. “GBCI is uniquely positioned to engage market leaders in accelerating the adoption of zero waste strategies by building upon the work and mission that USZWBC began in 2012.”

 

For organizations that have already made other sustainability-focused investments, zero waste may present an opportunity to achieve some big “wins”—both in terms of the impact to the environment and to the company’s bottom line—relatively quickly. Zero waste initiatives often require a minimal upfront investment, with lightning-fast paybacks (for example, it costs relatively little to reduce packaging or replace disposable dishes with reusable plates). However, because external certification is a somewhat new phenomenon, such steps have sometimes been overlooked. Additionally, businesses’ zero waste efforts are often limited by the availability of trash haulers that pick up recycling and compost, and these features are becoming more and more common.

“I always call zero waste the ‘Cinderella’ of sustainability,” Barger says. “Unlike energy and water programs—where you have to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars—with zero waste it’s as simple as transforming your trash bin to a recycling bin, or just reducing and reusing. You can start saving money immediately.”

 

Through GBCI, Barger says, she hopes to develop a “zero waste economy,” similar to the way that vendors and suppliers have responded to the demand for sustainable materials required for LEED buildings. But already, she says, there are simple steps that virtually all businesses can take to limit the amount of waste they’re putting out into the world. “The easiest step is for businesses to actually track their trash, recycling, and composting,” Barger says. “Most companies just write a check to the hauling company. They don’t know their trash.”

 

“Businesses already deal with zero-based goals,” she adds. “Zero accidents, zero product defects, zero customer complaints. They understand that you might never reach that, but you work every day with your employees toward those goals. It’s very much about a culture change and ongoing engagement.”

 

Brian Balukonis manages solid waste processes for Raytheon’s Integrated Defense Systems. Photo: Fran Brophy

Brian Balukonis manages solid waste processes for Raytheon’s Integrated Defense Systems. Photo: Fran Brophy

The Raytheon Company

Major defense contractor Raytheon had six Massachusetts facilities zero waste certified in 2015—five at the gold level and one platinum—but the company’s commitment to its zero waste efforts goes back a lot further than that.

 

In 2005, Raytheon signed a resource management contract with Massachusetts waste hauler E.L. Harvey & Sons, incentivizing waste reduction, reuse, and recycling, rather than simply paying the hauler by the ton to cart away its trash. Then, in 2008, the company set a goal of reducing the amount of waste it sent to landfills and incinerators by 35 percent by 2015. When 2015 came, the company had easily passed that marker, reducing waste by 56 percent from the 2008 baseline.

 

Next, the company plans to bump up its waste diversion rate by one percentage point per year until 2020, and to have 20 sites certified by that year.

 

“It’s not something you can do overnight,” says Frank Marino, senior manager for environmental health, safety, and sustainability at Raytheon. “It takes a bit of foundation building and culture building and supplier partnerships to make it work.”

 

“We’ve been doing this for years, leading up to the official certification,” says Brian Balukonis, who manages solid waste processes for Raytheon’s Integrated Defense Systems business unit. “Part of the certification process is, you have to have established certain criteria to even apply into the program, and one of the major criteria is achieving at least a 90 percent diversion rate. We had already done that [at the six sites].”

 

Frank Marino is senior manager for environmental health, safety,  and sustainability at Raytheon. Photo: Fran Brophy

Frank Marino is senior manager for environmental health, safety,
and sustainability at Raytheon. Photo: Fran Brophy

While Raytheon worked for years to divert waste from landfills and incinerators before ever pursuing Zero Waste certification, Marino and Balukonis say they see value in the certification process—both because it standardizes language and benchmarks around zero waste initiatives, and because it encourages companies to strive toward metrics-based goals.

 

 

“That’s a key trigger,” says Marino. “We’re really metrics driven, and we’ve been tracking [waste] diversion for around 20 years. At Raytheon, if you put a goal around something and you put visibility on it, you get action, and you get the resources that you need.”

 

“You hear a lot of businesses talk about zero waste, and then when you get into details, their definition is zero waste to landfill,” says Balukonis, noting that many of these companies still send substantial waste to incinerators. “Quite frankly, Raytheon has been zero waste to landfill for 25 years in New England. We didn’t feel like that was something to brag about. This was a higher level of zero waste—really focusing on what trash is going to landfill and incineration, and eliminating that.”

 

Raytheon’s zero waste efforts include donation programs for things like old furniture, the elimination of polystyrene in dining centers, and an electronics recycling program that brings the company about $175,000 a year in revenue.

 

While Raytheon has ambitious goals around zero waste, Balukonis and Marino say they are conscious of the fact that waste reduction programs depend heavily on employee behavior, and the company is careful to design its efforts to be as easy as possible to follow.

 

For example, instead of asking employees to sort their trash from recycling and compost, Raytheon simply doesn’t place trash bins at its zero waste sites. Instead, everything goes into either a recycling bin or a composting bin. If materials that can’t be recycled or composted make their way into the waste stream, they’re removed later by the trash hauler, which tracks the trash and counts it toward the company’s total nondiverted waste.

 

“I call it a super-duper single-stream program,” says Balukonis. “It’s easier for us to get a higher number and diversion rate if we put the onus on our hauler, rather than on our employees here.”

 

“The most effective zero waste programs,” he adds, “are the one that are the easiest.”

Zero Waste Highlights: Raytheon

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In 2015, the company’s solid waste recycling rate was 77 percent.

 

By 2020, Raytheon hopes to increase its company-wide solid waste diversion rate by 82 percent.

 

Raytheon met or exceeded 14 out of its 15 sustainability goals for 2015. These included 100 percent recycled paper use and 100 percent eco-responsible e-waste management.

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Raytheon has decreased its water use by 35 percent, reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 28 percent, and reduced overall energy consumption by 18 percent between 2008 and 2015.

 

By 2020, the company hopes to reduce energy consumption and water use each by a further 10 percent.

SOURCE: “2015 Corporate Responsibility Report,” Raytheon.
www.raytheon.com/responsibility/rtnwcm/groups/public/documents/content/raytheon_crr.pdf

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Lundberg Family Farms has been an early leader in organic farming, energy conservation, and renewable energy, providing safe and fair working conditions among other practices that are environmentally and socially responsible. Photos: Emily Hagopian

Ashley Vega, sustainability specialist with Lundberg Family Farms. Photo: Emily Hagopian

Ashley Vega, sustainability specialist with Lundberg Family Farms. Photo: Emily Hagopian

Lundberg Family Farms

Lundberg Family Farms, a producer of eco-friendly rice products in Richvale, California, traces its emphasis on sustainability and waste reduction back to its very beginnings.

 

In 1937, Albert and Frances Lundberg moved to California from Nebraska, having seen the disastrous results of shortsighted farming techniques and poor soil management during the Dust Bowl. Albert Lundberg impressed upon his sons the need to care for the soil in which the family grew its crops, and during the early days of the company, the family was derided by neighbors as “those crazy Lundbergs” for plowing rice straw back into the fields instead of burning it.

 

Fast-forward 80 years, and the company is still finding new ways to reuse materials, reduce waste, and minimize its impact on the environment.

 

“It’s something that’s ingrained,” says Ashley Vega, a sustainability specialist with Lundberg Family Farms.

 

In May, the company’s Richvale facility received platinum Zero Waste certification. The company diverted 99.6 percent of waste from landfills and incinerators during the 2015 fiscal year.

 

Lundberg Family Farms has been an early leader in organic farming, energy conservation, and renewable energy, providing safe and fair working conditions among other practices that are environmentally and socially responsible. Photos: Emily Hagopian

Lundberg Family Farms has been an early leader in organic farming, energy conservation, and renewable energy, providing safe and fair working conditions among other practices that are environmentally and socially responsible. Photos: Emily Hagopian


In FY 2015, Lundberg Family Farms’ comprehensive waste diversion rate was 99.6 percent. This percentage includes facility waste as well as rice byproducts—hulls, bran, and feed materials. Photo: Emily Hagopian

In FY 2015, Lundberg Family Farms’ comprehensive waste diversion rate was 99.6 percent. This percentage includes facility waste as well as rice byproducts—hulls, bran, and feed materials. Photo: Emily Hagopian

“It’s just making sure that what we’re sending to the landfill is going down year after year,” says Vega. “We do an annual waste audit. Each year we assign different projects to continue to reduce that [waste]. We have a really good recycling program and reuse program.”

 

A large portion of the company’s waste is byproduct from the crops that it processes, including rice hulls and bran, as well as broken grains of rice that aren’t fit to be sold commercially. The company primarily sends off its bran (the material that’s rubbed off when brown rice is processed into white rice) to be used in animal feed, and broken rice grains are used as a food additive for dairy cows. The company sends its hulls (the hard protective coverings of grains of rice) to be used as animal bedding and as an organic juice pressing aid.

 

All told, the company’s waste reduction efforts save Lundberg Family Farms more than $1 million a year in disposal fees.

 

The company instituted a garment recycling program to keep items like gloves and beard nets out of landfills, it reuses and repairs shipping pallets, and it donates old computers and monitors. Waste reduction is an important part of the company’s employee training, featuring in orientation for new employees and in twice-monthly, company-wide staff meetings. Once a month, employees bring office supplies that they’re not using to a central exchange where other workers can claim them.

 

“If I have a stapler on my desk that I don’t need, and someone else does need one, then we don’t need to order a new one,” says Vega. “We’re just able to reuse the one we have on site.”

 

Looking ahead, the company hopes to further reduce waste within its supply chain—in particular, by cutting down on materials like cling wrap and cardboard that are often used to package materials coming into the facility. “We’re going to look at, do we need all of that packaging?” says Vega. “Instead of things being in a box, and then inside another box, can they just be inside one box? Can we get materials sent to us in a way that’s a little more efficient and a little less wasteful?”

 

Vega says that the ongoing effort is a continuation of the company founder’s legacy. “It’s what the company was founded on,” Vega says, “and it’s how it’s been run ever since.”

Zero Waste Highlights: Lundberg Family Farms

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In 2015, Lundberg Family Farms diverted nearly 785 tons of waste,, sending roughly 50 tons of waste (less than 6 percent of its total) to landfills.

 

Reuse accounted for 36 percent of Lundberg’s total diverted waste in 2015, making it the largest factor in the company’s waste diversion program. Food donations were next, accounting for 28 percent of the company’s diverted waste.

 

One example of how the company reuses materials: The outer corrugated boxes for products sold in the company store are used to create gift “baskets” for customers.

 

The company also works with outside groups to donate lightly used nylon rice sacks for use in recycling programs.

 

The company installed e-boards in break areas in 2015, eliminating the need for paper flyers on message boards.

 

Lundberg Family Farms plans to switch to electronic kiosks for its payroll system, eliminating biweekly paper paystubs.

SOURCE: “Sustainability Report FY 15,” Lundberg Family Farms
www.lundberg.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/SFTA-Report.pdf

The Agricultural Science Facility at the Land Pavilion in Epcot, Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, has diverted over 98 percent of its waste by implementing an advanced source separation system, waste prevention, and engaging employees and interns.

The Agricultural Science Facility at the Land Pavilion in Epcot, Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, has diverted over 98 percent of its waste by implementing an advanced source separation system, waste prevention, and engaging employees and interns.

Jason Tschanz is the environmental integration project manager for Walt Disney Parks & Resorts.

Jason Tschanz is the environmental integration project manager for Walt Disney Parks & Resorts.

The Walt Disney Company

For a company as big as Disney—which owns diverse brands and more than a dozen world-famous theme parks—making even an incremental organization-wide change can be challenging.

 

Disney has been pursuing waste minimization and recycling programs around the globe since the early 1990s. In 2008, Disney adopted an aspirational zero waste goal. Waste reduction is one of three pillars of Disney’s overall sustainability strategy, along with water conservation and zero net greenhouse gas emissions. The company defines its long-term zero waste goal, consistent with environmental organizations and Zero Waste certification bodies, as diverting 90 percent or more of waste from landfills and incinerators. As a medium-term target, Disney has set a goal of diverting 60 percent of its waste from landfills and incinerators by 2020. While this is obviously a more modest goal than 90 percent, it would still represent a substantial jump from the 49 percent of waste diverted company-wide in 2015. While the idea of pushing an entire global company toward zero waste may be daunting, that larger change will ultimately be the result of many dedicated teams taking responsibility for their waste reduction efforts in each of their respective areas of operation. Within the last two years, the first of these areas have begun to seek and obtain Zero Waste certification.

 

First, the Circle D Corral at Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California, received certification in 2014. Then, two facilities at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando followed: first, the Agricultural Science Facility at Epcot, which received platinum certification in July 2015; and next, the Animal Nutrition Center at Animal Kingdom, which received platinum certification in October 2016.

 

“These are only two of our operations, but we’ve been able to use these to help hit our targets,” says Jason Tschanz, environmental integration project manager for Walt Disney Parks & Resorts. “Having these two operations that are achieving zero waste is really inspirational to other operations across the properties.”

 

Marialyce Pedersen, senior representative for Disney Corporate Citizenship. Photo: Andri Beauchamp

Marialyce Pedersen, senior representative for Disney Corporate Citizenship. Photo: Andri Beauchamp

“One of the most difficult things about an aggressive environmental target is culture change,” Tschanz adds. “Achieving certifications is useful, because we’re able to show that it can be done. We knew on our own that we were meeting zero waste, but third-party certification helped inspire [other people by] saying we’re at zero waste by our own measurement.”

 

Marialyce Pedersen, a senior representative for Disney Corporate Citizenship, says that “some areas are more challenging than others” when it comes to reducing waste across the organization’s properties. “We’ve made a lot of progress around using reusables and installing dishwashers where we can,” she says. “We did a life-cycle analysis of disposable products and nondisposable, and reusables are best. Even when you account for the impact of the water and the heat and the soap and the breakage, washable dishware and utensils are better for the environment, and also in terms of cost savings.”

 

At the agricultural and animal facilities in Orlando, Tschanz says, much of the waste is food waste. The parks use an anaerobic digestion system to convert that food waste into fertilizer pellets and energy, keeping the food scraps out of the trash stream and producing clean electricity in the process.

 

Tschanz says that the certified facilities are like “pilot locations” that show people around the company what’s possible. It’s “definitely not easy,” he says, to spark the sort of culture change necessary to alter behaviors across even a single large property (Walt Disney World alone takes up around 40 square miles—making it roughly the same size as San Francisco).

 

“It can seem overwhelming,” he says. “That’s why we’re trying to use these two operations as an inspiration and see what best practices people can implement as stepping stones to get [to zero waste] eventually.”

 

“It takes a lot of organizations working together, but also us sharing best practices within the company, and inspiring people to see what’s possible,” says Pedersen. “It takes a lot of collaboration across a lot of different areas to do this.”

Zero Waste Highlights: Disney

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The 2014 annual ESPY Awards, hosted in Los Angeles by Disney brand ESPN, were virtually waste free, through the implementation of stringent recycling and composting measures.

 

Disney Stores in 2014 conducted 40 assessments in 15 North American stores, examining waste and recycling, and identifying future improvement opportunities for supply chain optimization, distribution, and internal education to support the company’s long-term zero waste goals.

 

Food scraps are collected at approximately 60 food and beverage locations within Disneyland Resort, and are then sent to a local facility for processing into feed nutrients for farm animals.

 

Hong Kong Disneyland collaborates with a local nonprofit organization in a food donation program that turns surplus ingredients into meals for people in need.

 

Walt Disney World Resort is the first business customer of Harvest Power Orlando, whose Central Florida facility has the potential to convert organic waste into 5.4 megawatts of combined heat and power.

SOURCE: “Disney Citizenship 2014 Performance Study,” Disney.
https://ditm-twdc-us.storage.googleapis.com/FY14-Performance-Summary.pdf

Businesses, organizations, and communities that divert more than 90 percent of waste from landfills, incinerators, and the environment are considered to be successful in achieving zero waste. Photo: Emily Hagopian

Businesses, organizations, and communities that divert more than 90 percent of waste from landfills, incinerators, and the environment are considered to be successful in achieving zero waste. Photo: Emily Hagopian

Stefan Gerlicz is senior program manager of sustainability for Tesla. Photos: Emily Hagopian

Stefan Gerlicz is senior program manager of sustainability for Tesla. Photos: Emily Hagopian

Tesla Motors

Tesla’s entire mission is to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy. So it’s little surprise that, in addition to manufacturing some of the world’s first commercially viable electric cars, the company turns its innovative eye inward in an attempt to make its business practices as sustainable as possible.

 

“Our mission doesn’t end with the products we manufacture,” says Stefan Gerlicz, sustainability program manager for Tesla. “There is a big emphasis on reducing our own footprint, and a lot of that has to do with zero waste efforts.”

 

While waste reduction has always been important to the company, which was founded in 2003, Tesla’s sustainability team thought it was necessary to formalize the company’s zero waste goals as production at the Fremont, California, plant began to spike. Tesla manufactured over 80,000 cars in 2016, up from 50,000 in 2015 and 35,000 in 2014.

 

“With a [near] doubling of production each year, obviously there’s an increase in the amount of material coming into the factory,” Gerlicz says.

 

“Given the increase in material, we felt it was important to solidify our commitment to Zero Waste certification. As we’ve grown and matured as a company, we’ve gotten to the point where it makes sense to put a defined structure around programs that have always existed.”

 

The Tesla Factory—a 5.3-million-sq-ft manufacturing and office facility—received gold-level certification this past fall. The facility diverts around 99 percent of its waste from landfills, with about 2 percent going to waste-to-energy facilities.

 

Sending some materials to waste-to-energy is necessary, Gerlicz explains, to ensure that certain discarded materials don’t end up on the secondary market.

 

Tesla’s packaging team works with suppliers to make sure that they are minimizing packing materials, or, when feasible, shipping items in reusable packages. “A big part of any waste minimization strategy should be focused on what happens before [the material] ever enters your facility,” Gerlicz says.

 

Zero Waste businesses save money, are more efficient, manage risk, reduce litter and pollution, cut greenhouse gases,  reinvest resources locally, create jobs, and add more value for their business and the community.

Zero Waste businesses save money, are more efficient, manage risk, reduce litter and pollution, cut greenhouse gases, reinvest resources locally, create jobs, and add more value for their business and the community.

Some fragile parts are shipped using foam packaging, but in late 2015 the facility installed a Styrofoam densifier, which presses the foam into compact, recyclable bricks. “We’re able to keep all of that Styrofoam out of the landfill, thus reducing our waste hauling costs, and then generate additional revenue back through the recycling,” says Gerlicz.

 

Through the company’s robust recycling program, materials like cardboard, clear films, plastics, and metals are sorted on site and processed for sale to recyclers—minimizing waste and bringing additional revenue to the company. Additionally, Tesla has an onsite marketplace for unused items that are still in good condition, which employees can claim to use at the workplace free of charge. In 2014, the company began a composting program, with all to-go food packaging and utensils made from compostable bio-plastic. In 2016, the company sent 1.9 million pounds of compostable materials to a commercial composting facility down the road from the Tesla factory.

 

The composting program is a prime example of how organizations’ zero waste programs can be limited—or elevated—by the context in which companies operate. Although Tesla is globally famous for its efforts around electric vehicles and sustainable energy, it is not a composting company, and Tesla didn’t have access to compost service from local waste haulers until Alameda County adopted a composting ordinance several years ago. Today, Gerlicz says, the company is charged less for its compost hauling than for landfill-bound trash.

 

Such changes in the broader landscape help to create a financial incentive for waste reduction—an important motivator even for organizations already dedicated to sustainability.

 

“That’s something that every sustainability program struggles with,” Gerlicz says. “It’s not enough to say, ‘This is the right thing to do.’ [Zero waste] is reducing the amount that we’re paying to get rid of waste, and then we’re generating a significant amount of revenue through the recycling. That’s one of the reasons that we’ve focused a lot on waste reduction and recycling. It’s a slam dunk.”