Managing a Year of Change

Meeting the challenges that result from major changes has been the responsibility of Bruce Parker, president and CEO of the Environmental Industry Associations (EIA). For the past year, he, along with a handful of association leaders, have been reshaping this Washington, D.C.-based organization, which includes the National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA) and the Waste Equipment Technology Association (WASTEC).

In an interview with Waste Age's editorial director, Bill Wolpin, Parker reflects on the events of the past year, the challenges he and his members continue to face, and his vision for his association's future.

WA: Trade associations across the country are adapting to changing marketplaces and members needs. How is your association's role changing in the solid waste industry?

An effective trade association is a barometer for its industry, and it must change as the issues, needs and overall direction of the industry changes. Consolidation has largely defined the waste services industry during the past few years, although it essentially has peaked. Changes in management and facility ownership have made the Association's presence and programs even more critical to our members.

Our role as a source of timely and dependable information and core services is more essential than ever. In particular, we have a strong state program with more than 30 chapters providing infrastructure for our members to develop and articulate legislative and regulatory goals at the state and local levels.

WA: How do you see the evolution of the EIA continuing, especially between your two core groups?

One of EIA's most significant, long-term developments has been the deliberate and improved integration between these two core groups - the service providers, NSWMA, and the providers of equipment and technical services, WASTEC. First, our current president, Ted Flood of International Baler Corp., is a manufacturer and leader in WASTEC. Second, NSWMA and WASTEC are working closer than ever on issues of common concern, such as ergonomics, various safety and technical issues.

Third, both groups publish newsletters, cross-referencing each other on appropriate information. Last, we have begun to plan co-sponsored and shared events, such as holding concurrent Board meetings with plenty of social interaction and common programs featuring outstanding business speakers.

WA: How has the decision to sell WasteExpo and Waste Age to Primedia/Intertec in 1999 affected your association?

The sale allowed EIA to gain more focus on member programs and services instead of enterprise activities. The sale also has contributed to our financial stability during a time of consolidation in the industry. The sale was a bold but wise decision, and with the benefit of hindsight, it is working out extremely well. While there always is some anxiety in any new relationship, particularly one of this dimension, our working relationship has been absolutely smooth and focused. It has been a partnership of equals in which both groups are receiving value. WasteExpo Atlanta will showcase the excitement and improvements that the sale has brought.

WA:. What are the most pressing internal issues at the EIA?

Personally, my most compelling issue is how to become a "Cyber CEO" and compete in a digital environment with new sets of challenges. Indeed, this seems to be the most pressing internal issue of most association executives with whom I network. Technology is profoundly changing the world - it takes your breath away.

Our challenges are to quickly identify and take advantage of the opportunities in this new technology-driven context in a more efficient and cost-effective service for our members. For example, one goal is to have all of our members online, allowing digital communication to increase response times and lower costs of information distribution. Most importantly, we are close to completing the development of a new website that will act as a portal for timely information and services that we will provide to our members.

From a management point of view, the challenge is not moving too quickly and making costly mistakes, while at the same time not moving too slowly that we are left in the dust, enabling others to emerge as information and service providers. Hype and information overload currently overload many websites and industry portals. Through the Internet, EIA will share our wealth of information and industry-specific data with our members and the public.

WA: What are the most pressing external issues affecting your membership?

Putting aside recent developments impacting general business, such as rising fuel costs, difficulties in finding qualified drivers and other workers due to low unemployment rates, the driving external issue affecting the solid waste industry has not changed. It's still managing our country's wastes, day after day, in a safe and environmental manner, for profit, and doing this all within a framework of extensive state, county and local regulation. And if it's not self-evident, this speaks to why NSWMA generally has a strong and effective state chapter organization where members can address how to effectively operate in this regulatory climate.

WA: With many of your members selling their operations, where are today's EIA leaders coming from?

As I mentioned earlier, the late '90s consolidation is essentially over, as companies move from acquisitions to focusing on integrating their existing operations and making them run more efficiently. EIA's current and future leaders come from those members and individuals who care about the industry's well-being and future, both at small private companies and larger publicly traded members.

However, leadership doesn't just happen, it needs to be developed. My regional and governmental affairs staff constantly are looking for members who show leadership promise, and we recently have created new working committees and expanded others where leadership is more easily identified and developed.

WA: What are your goals for the next 12 months and how will you achieve them?

In no particular order - the EIA wants to prevent Congress from authorizing states to restrict or prohibit the free movement of municipal solid waste and interstate commerce; secure an exemption from U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA), Washington, D.C., recently published ergonomics regulation; continue strong advocacy for reforms in federal truck weights and hours of service requirements; grow our membership - we already have 70 new NSWMA /WASTEC members this year - and continue our long-standing effort to ensure that local governments compete fairly by including the full costs in a Request for Proposal ( RFP) bid for collection and disposal services. How will we achieve this? As always at the EIA, through a lot of hard work, motivation and a belief in the correctness of our positions.