When Ross Fields first joined the insurance industry nearly 10 years ago, he discovered a need for risk management programs and products for the e-waste recycling industry. And while many companies didn’t understand his point of view, Fields followed his passion and eventually landed a risk management professional role at The Leavitt Group, where he now helps develop effective risk management programs and products specifically for the e-waste recycling industry.
Nearly two years ago, insurance carrier Tokio Marine Group, now one of Field’s clients, reached out to Fields for help developing an insurance product specifically for the e-waste industry. And since then, the duo has been analyzing data and coming up with the best possible product that’s not only comprised of insurance pieces but of closure and post-closure pieces as well.
Fields was honored with a Waste360 40 Under 40 award in June at WasteExpo and recently spoke with us about what made him take the recycling route of risk management, his successes thus far and some of the responsibilities that come along with his role as risk management professional.
Waste360: What made you take the recycling route of risk management?
Ross Fields: I was recruited into the insurance industry about 10 years ago, and when I first joined the industry, I quickly realized that I didn’t want to sell insurance products to the mainstream businesses. I really wanted to do something a little more challenging and complex and geared toward true risk management and risk control.
At that time, I was active with a sustainability group at a local chamber of commerce, and I ended up getting to know some folks in the recycling industry. They needed some help with risk management and risk control so I started helping them develop effective approaches and products. After doing that for a short time, I realized two things: the recycling industry needed a lot of help and a lot of people who were in the same industry as me didn’t have the recycling industry on their radar.
I really wanted to help the recycling industry understand risk management and risk control so I decided that that industry would be my specialty. For the better part of the last 10 years, I have been building out a practice for risk management and risk control programs for the recycling industry, specifically for e-waste companies. It has been going really well so far, and I am continuing to come up with new ideas for programs and products to further benefit and support the industry.
Waste360: What are some of the responsibilities that come along with your role as risk management professional?
Ross Fields: Where I bring the most value is in terms of environmental liability and environmental risk strategies. A lot of employees in the e-waste recycling industry are very entrepreneurial and spend a lot of time working both in and on their business so they don’t have much time to think about risk strategies. My role is to educate them about the importance of risk management, identify what their exposures to risks are and develop programs and products for them to manage those risks.
In addition to that, I focus on improving safety, which is very important to the recycling industry. There are a lot of different pieces of heavy equipment and large trucks that are utilized in the industry that can cause injuries and incidents, and it’s part of my job to make sure that the recycling companies have effective loss control and safety strategies in place.
Waste360: In addition to your role as risk management professional, you sit on the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) for the R2 Standard and you work in an advisory role with Sustainable Electronics Recycling International (SERI). Tell us about both of those roles.
Ross Fields: SERI is the organization that oversees the R2 Standard, an international voluntary standard for electronics recycling that’s intended to cover a wide array of topics, such as insurance, closure, safety and materials handling.
TAC is where all the discussions about improving the R2 Standard and meetings of the minds take place. A few years ago, I was asked to join TAC specifically to provide some insight through the lens of risk management. During that time, the standard basically stated that companies had to have insurance and that the insurance had to be reasonable to cover the exposures to the companies. The idea was really that the playing field should be equal and that one recycler shouldn’t be perpetuating bad habits in order to save money or undercut bids while another recycler is trying to do the right thing, but the standard sort of tipped toward the recyclers with the bad habits.
There were a lot of questions and concerns raised by recyclers about if they were complying with the standard so the members of TAC worked together to update the standard to include what companies needed to do to be properly insured and why.
Over the years, TAC has worked to show businesses the exposures that they could face from an environmental standpoint because those exposures could cross into federal and state Environmental Protection Agency regulations, presenting further problems.
Ultimately, we want to make sure that recyclers are taking steps in the right direction and not spending money on risk transfer and insurance products that don’t do them any favors in the long run. By doing that, we are making the industry more stable because insurance can be crucial if something goes wrong.
Waste360: Can you highlight a moment in your career that you’re the most proud of?
Ross Fields: I am pretty much living in that moment right now. I fell into this niche a few years ago, and since then, I have been trying to find existing risk management products and strategies for the e-waste industry to make use of. It has been a difficult task, especially since clients often ask me for very specialized and specific programs and products to accomplish their goals.
For a long time, I tried to talk to insurance companies about developing specific risk management programs and products for the e-waste recycling industry, but no one really took me seriously. Then, pretty much out of nowhere, Tokio Marine Group contacted me and told me that they had been tasked with developing an insurance product specifically for the e-waste industry. They asked for my help, and they understood the fact that the e-waste industry is a young industry that needs and wants help with risk management.
Since they reached out to me almost two years ago, we have worked together to aggregate data and figure out what recyclers need from us insurance wise. The experience is both exciting and terrifying at the same time, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Waste360: You have a very unique role in the industry. What advice would you give to someone who is interested in pursuing the insurance side of the industry?
Ross Fields: Don’t be afraid to do the homework and the heavy lifting because that’s exactly what it has taken for me to get into a position to set myself apart from others.
When I first joined the industry, I told established insurance professionals that I was interested in environmental and recycling, and every single one of those people told me that it wasn’t a good idea and it’s too complicated. While others saw the recycling industry as a complication, I saw it as an opportunity.
It may have taken years to pay off, but the persistence of wanting to do the work and homework and wanting to understand what the industry needs from a recycler’s standpoint and not just an insurance professional’s standpoint has helped me become successful in developing effective risk management solutions for the recycling industry.