Ever since she graduated college, Brianne Haven, now vice president of operations for Resource Recycling Systems, Inc. (RRS), has always had a passion for working in waste management and helping her clients with their resource recovery challenges.
Haven has been working with RRS for the past 15 years or so. She started off as a consultant, and she ended up climbing the ranks to her current role as vice president of operations.
“Brianne brings a tireless work ethic and an open mind to each new challenge—she is a champion of operational improvements and good communications to make sure that our organization is continually evolving to better meet client needs in achieving their recovery/sustainability goals,” says Anna Lynott, who works with Haven at RRS. “She has provided leadership in business development that leverages and coordinates the strengths and experiences of the whole team.”
“Brianne exudes positivity, and her attitude is contagious. At most any time she has a smile on her face, and she possesses a can-do approach to any sized task,” adds Lynott.
Earlier this year, Haven received a Waste360 40 Under 40 award. She recently spoke with us about some noteworthy projects at RRS, the importance of data analytics for business operations and what she finds most appealing about this industry.
Waste360: You’ve climbed the ranks at RRS. Tell us about how you got your start with the company as well as your current role as vice president of operations.
Brianne Haven: I started my career working for the University of Michigan in the waste management office. After a couple years of improving program material recovery, I decided to leave the university to explore the potential of developing a consulting firm focused on material recovery in the institutional (university and healthcare) space. My boss at the university actually knew the CEO and founder of RRS, Jim Frey, and we decided to talk with him as he had numerous connections in the field. In our discussion with him around developing our own consulting firm, Jim said, “I’ve got a better idea. How about you work here?” I agreed and took the opportunity.
That’s how I started at RRS, and I’ve been here about 15 years now. I began my work as a consultant and focused on public sector, healthcare and university clients conducting solid waste planning, material recovery feasibility studies and data analysis for recovery program improvement.
Then, there was a stint where I actually left the company for a year while I was having my first child and moving to South Carolina. I became one of our first remote, distributed workforce employees. I worked in South Carolina assisting Hilton Head Island with a waste/recycling collection program procurement and the University of South Carolina in a waste/recycling program assessment and waste audit. In addition, I began to get my feet wet in some of the company’s marketing/business development work and proposal development for our clients.
After working for a couple years in South Carolina, I moved back to Michigan and moved fulltime into the company’s business development manager role. I assisted in website development, marketing materials, trade show/conference engagement, as well as proposal development. I next moved into a managing director role, which put me more squarely in the operational side of our company where I focused on building a stronger internal company backbone, allowing our consultants to focus more on our mission-based work with clients.
In 2017, I moved into the role of vice president of operations, where I now focus on building sustainable and scalable operations for our growing, distributed workforce and clientele who are geographically diverse throughout the United States with global reaches into Canada and Europe. I facilitate and oversee our financial accounting and contracts, execution of client work, sales pipeline and business development efforts and administrative services. I am dedicated to fulfilling our company mission in association with our board of directors and building improved approaches to assist our clients with their resource management and recovery needs.
It’s been an interesting transition for me through the years. I’ve always been passionate for the work in the waste management field ever since I graduated college. I am grounded in my direct, hands-on operational work from the University of Michigan, which I transitioned to assisting clients with their operational and resource recovery challenges to now providing internal operational support to our staff so that they can assist our clients with their resource management challenges of today.
Waste360: What is it about the industry that is most appealing to you?
Brianne Haven: There is a piece of really wanting to figure out a way to manage our footprint on this planet and live sustainably. In our country, we have many approaches and systems that are very wasteful in practice, so it’s nice to go to a job where you actually focus on reducing the waste in those approaches/systems and doing good in the world. It is the biggest thing that drives me in my work every day. To actually feel like you are making a difference is invaluable—especially when you have many friends who are in careers and jobs where they think, “Yeah, it’s just a job.”
I feel that we are at the forefront of developing solutions and approaches to material management and recovery challenges. In the public sector, we look to build infrastructure to collect and process recoverable materials. In the private sector, we can look at how to design products for recyclability and improve mechanisms around how products and packaging are produced. I enjoy being able to drive and propel all of that forward. I feel that the mission of my job at this time is to make things efficient and easy for our staff, so that their energy is focused on solving material management and recovery challenges.
Waste360: How important is analyzing data when it comes to business operations, and what are some of the ways you are leveraging data at RRS?
Brianne Haven: Data analysis in our business operations is significantly important and a large part of my job. In our project execution, there is a key focus on managing time with our clients, our internal project teams and production of our client deliverables. Key questions that arise are: What is a smart balance of how our staff spends their time? How do we best maintain a level of engagement with our staff and our clientele? How do we distribute staffing hours to ensure proper execution of our project work, business development efforts and administrative tasks? Decisions on how to use our time result in profound impacts to our clients’ satisfaction, staff engagement and retention and overall company profitability.
Numbers are critically important on the financial side of our organization. The flow of cash in and out of our organization is fundamental in properly managing the overall sustainability of our business. Creating and managing a solid business model that allows us to conduct our mission-based work for clients at the right price point and ensuring we have funds to hire and retain the right talent and resources to conduct that work is a true balancing act.
Forecasting sales opportunities and understanding return on investments are focal areas in our business development area. Structuring our business development and marketing efforts for success allow us to hone in on our company’s growth and associated scaling to support the growth. Understanding our sales and revenue targets provides the framework for our marketing tactics and funds needed to fulfill our goals. Our sales process helps us look at how we convert leads to solid opportunities to client projects. Also, evaluating our return on investment in our marketing efforts and conference attendance helps us determine where we need to budget and spend additional funds to maximize current and future opportunities with clients.
Waste360: What are some noteworthy projects you are working on or have worked on that really stand out to you?
Brianne Haven: Probably one of our most noteworthy projects that we had for several years is with the Carton Council of North America (CCNA). We work with a group of carton manufacturers to improve access of carton recycling and recovery nationwide. In 2009, when CCNA was formed, only 18 percent of U.S. households were able to recycle cartons in their communities. RRS started working with them in 2010 to assist with the following: (1) develop market demand for high-quality carton material, (2) sort cartons into their own market grade, (3) increase carton recycling access and (4) create awareness around the recyclability of cartons. CCNA has seen steady progress in carton recycling access, with more than 60 percent of U.S. households now having access.
We have been working with the Foundation for Chemistry Research and Initiatives on the Materials Recovery for the Future (MRFF) research program to find the most efficient and economical ways to recycle flexible plastic packaging. RRS completed a comprehensive multiyear testing program to launch a proof of concept pilot. The project is piloting automated materials recovery facility (MRF) system components to improve sorting to produce a supply of flexible packaging feedstock. Our work with the Foodservice Packaging Institute’s Paper Recovery Alliance and Plastic Recovery Group is working with MRFs, composters and end markets to reduce barriers to successfully recover paper and plastic foodservice packaging.
Waste360: What are some challenges you’ve faced throughout your career, and how were you able to overcome those obstacles?
Brianne Haven: Keeping up to speed on trends, technology and market drivers in the material recovery field is probably one of my biggest challenges. Understanding this dynamic marketplace is key to our business. Changes and challenges within this marketplace affect the services we provide to our clients. It takes some time to digest and understand all of the facets and how they could affect our business model.
Internally, the dynamics surrounding employment has and continues to change. Approximately five years ago, we started a transition from an organization where the majority of our staff worked in our Ann Arbor, Mich., office to an organization where a large portion of our staff is distributed throughout the United States and western Europe. Defining and implementing best management practices to engage and support a distributed workforce has been a priority but has caused some challenges. How do you create employee touch points, connection and engagement in a digital setting? What technology and systems do you need to have in place to support this type of workforce, especially on a spectrum of technology aptitude? How do you bring attention to critical information and data to keep staff up to speed and all moving in a similar direction?
Waste360: What motivates you—at work and personally?
Brianne Haven: I am internally driven. I set an incredibly high bar for myself, professionally and personally—sometimes too high. I am driven to find solutions to challenges and push past achieving the status quo. There is a little bit of an adage for me that if you don’t make some mistakes and learn some lessons, then you’re probably not pushing yourself and striving for improvement.
I thoroughly enjoy seeing results when you can get people excited, engaged and headed in the right direction—it motivates me. It is a huge benefit in working at RRS. We are a mission-based company, so everyone who works here has that internal passion and drive; it’s already there, so you don’t have to convince somebody to do a project or write a proposal because they are already in it and want to do it. I feel very fortunate to work with the staff that we have at RRS; it is great to work with people who are passionate and driven.
It’s also complementary, as we’re all focused on the same goal. We’re all trying to improve material management processes and increase material recovery.