Speaking Trash to Power

Helping waste professionals interact with local, state and federal governments.

On Oct. 22, the Environmental Industry Associations (EIA) held the third of its quarterly training webinars for its "Environmentalists. Every Day." (EED) grassroots educational communications program. This hour-long webinar attracted nearly 40 National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA) and Waste Equipment Technology Association (WASTEC) participants and shared best practices for communicating with elected government officials and regulators.

At the beginning of the webinar, EIA President and CEO Bruce J. Parker cited longtime Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Tip O'Neill, who famously declared, “All politics is local.” Parker added, “Nothing is more local than collecting garbage. Regular outreach to local government is essential to the solid waste industry, because we are a locally regulated industry. That's where the rubber hits the road, where we make or lose our bottom line, or make our margins. When policymakers don't understand the industry or have opinions based on outdated stereotypes, their decisions can really work against us.”

NSWMA oversees relations between the solid waste industry and the government by calling upon a network of active state chapters, well-respected state lobbyists and a growing federal presence. In the webinar, Mike Huff, manager of the NSWMA's Sunbelt region, described some of the issues for which NSWMA is advocating at the federal, state and local levels. “The most critical function that we perform is advocating for our industry throughout the country,” Huff stated. He described how NSWMA's federal advocacy program operates and provided the audience an overview of NSWMA's 31 state chapters.

The highlight of the session was a discussion between Keyna Cory of Public Affairs Consultants in Tallahassee, Fla.; Dan Jameson of Republic Services; and Mike Paine of Paine's in Connecticut. The group discussed how their companies reach out to government officials.

The speakers seemingly represent different interests. Republic is one of the largest waste management firms in the country, with operations in 40 states. Paine's is a family owned company that serves 26 cities and towns in greater Hartford and northwestern Connecticut. Cory — a lobbyist for NSWMA's Florida chapter — represents a variety of companies throughout the state. Still, the webinar made it clear that their goals for government relations aren't dissimilar.

Addressing the benefits of government outreach, Jameson stated, “We made a decision that we wanted public officials to know who we were before we had a problem, as opposed to just knowing us when we have a problem or issue. We got our employees in the field involved and set out a campaign for them to meet their public officials … so they can educate them about what our company is all about, what we impact in the communities, because we really are stewards of the communities that we serve.”

Paine added, “I got involved at the state level, explaining to people the ramifications of passing laws … I can go in and explain to them and educate them, not just say, ‘You should do this.’ I can explain issues to them, and I've found this to be very successful…In my opinion, there is almost a moral obligation to do this … You've got to stand up. If you won't stand up, they only hear one side of the story.”

The speakers praised the materials developed for NSWMA and WASTEC members through the EED program. “We have found the [EED] toolkit to be a very useful tool,” said Jameson. “And we've encouraged our people in the field to use that. You have to give your employees the right tools and messages, so they're prepared.”

NSWMA and WASTEC members who could not attend this webinar are invited to download a recording of the session by visiting www.environmentalistseveryday.org/spreadtheword. A recording of the earlier sessions on media relations and community relations also are available for download.

The next webinar, held Jan. 21, 2010, will cover best practices for solid waste professionals engaging in social media.

In addition to these quarterly training sessions, EIA continues to offer its member companies direct media relations and public affairs assistance, helping members arrange presentations in their community, reach out to local media representatives or use other campaign tools. For help using EED program resources, contact Thom Metzger at tmetzger@envasns.org.

Thomas Metzger is director of communications and public affairs for the National Solid Wastes Management Association. Reach him at (202) 364-3751.

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