Historically, the waste industry has worked to change the negative images and stereotypes that have plagued it. One way companies and associations have managed to change misconceptions is by giving to the community; in Waste Management Inc.'s (WM) case, by providing funding for education.
In Pennsylvania, the Houston-based company has donated more than $75,000 in grants, scholarships and in-kind donations since 1995, when Waste Management initiated its Business and Education Partnership with the Pennsbury school district. The company also offers educational opportunities for teachers and students statewide. For example, Waste Management of Pennsylvania has funded recycling education in schools and helped to develop a greenhouse program at a high school.
In Bucks and Eastern Montgomery counties, WM has joined with local newspapers to offer a free teacher's workshop once a year, in which 100 to 150 teachers attend. At the workshop, teachers spend two hours visiting a landfill site or facility to learn about different technologies, such as water monitoring.
The company also gives away several $500 scholarships annually to graduating seniors in the state that can be put toward any college major.
Funding education is simply good community relations, says Judy Archibald, director of community relations, Waste Management in Pennsylvania. “[In] our industry in particular, we have the opportunity to showcase the technology of our operations,” she says. “When people do learn about what we do, they are much more supportive and accepting of the facilities in their communities.”
But beyond that, “Every business should be a good corporate citizen,” Archibald says, noting that Waste Management carries this philosophy to the corporate level.
“We really know that even though we're a corporation, we really are a local business serving individual communities,” says Marilyn Brown, director of community relations for Waste Management corporate. “We reach people from both sides [corporate and regional].”
To encourage young people to advance their education in any area, Waste Management has offered two types of scholarships for more than five years. Each year, the company provides 10, $10,000 scholarships during a four-year period to high school seniors entering college or junior college. Plus, the company offers National Merit Scholarship finalists a $10,000 scholarship over a four-year period. The number of scholarships awarded changes each year based on the number of students who qualify.
Waste Management also works with national organizations, such as the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), Fairfax, Va., and the Environmental Careers Organization, Boston, to fund and sponsor education-related projects. Forming alliances with a group that has educational expertise is vital, Brown says, because it allows WM to show young people the jobs available in the waste industry.
“Oftentimes, these jobs don't get brought up at career days,” Brown says.
Waste Management is not alone in providing educational funding. “Education is vital,” says Michael Cagney, president of the Environmental Research and Education Foundation (EREF), Washington, D.C., which strives to develop environmental solutions for the future by providing scholarships to doctorate and post-doctorate students majoring in environmental science. “To advance the future of promising young people is not only a noble cause, it's one that makes sense. You're not only advancing their future, you're advancing your own.”
Currently, EREF awards four students at Cambridge University, Cambridge, England; Yale University, New Haven, Conn.; the University of Arizona, Tucson; and the Colorado School of Mines, Golden, with $1,000 each month for up to three years for their education.
Another organization doing its part is the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), Silver Spring, Md. SWANA provides professional achievement and excellence awards for students in the areas of public education, school curriculum, landfill gas (LFG) utilization and waste reduction. SWANA also provides $12,000 in scholarships each year to its members' sons, daughters, grandsons or granddaughters who pursue a college degree in waste management.
SWANA, as well as the other two organizations hope their examples will encourage other businesses in the waste industry to become involved in education in their respective communities. The more people involved, the faster the industry's image will improve, says John Skinner, SWANA CEO and executive director.
“Negative stereotypes need to be countered,” he says. “Today's waste industry is a well-managed, high-tech industry. It's very different from what people see in the popular media.”
For more information about the Environmental Research and Education Foundation, visit www.erefdn.org. To learn more about SWANA, visit www.swana.org. For more information about Waste Management, visit www.wm.com.