This week, waste and recycling industry leaders gathered together in Orlando, Fla., to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Environmental Research & Education Foundation (EREF). Over the last 25 years, EREF has funded valuable research with the goal of improving waste management practices and informing policymakers, making EREF one of the largest sources of solid waste funding in North America.
“We’re celebrating 25 years of the Environmental Research & Education Foundation. I have been honored to be part of the EREF family for 15 of those years, and over that time, I’ve been able to see firsthand the contributions EREF has made in the solid waste field to fund research that increases efficiency, mitigates risk, aggregates important industry data and helps solve the problems of our day,” said Bryan Staley, president and CEO of EREF, during the 25th Anniversary Celebration.
“Beyond research, EREF’s commitment to education is unparallel, and majority of the scholars and students we’ve supported have gone on to work in this industry,” he added. “Collectively, EREF scholars, research assistants and grant recipients have done great things, and these accomplishments wouldn’t be possible without the generosity of this industry.”
“It was astounding to see the turnout and support of the industry at EREF’s 25th Anniversary Celebration,” Staley told Waste360. “Clearly, the industry recognizes the vital role that EREF plays in providing sound data and credible research that helps to mitigate risk, reduce cost and improve management practices.”
During the 25th Anniversary Celebration, leaders from Advanced Disposal, Republic Services, Waste Connections and Waste Management discussed the value of philanthropy and how their companies support EREF.
Here’s a roundup of what the leaders had to say:
Richard Burke, CEO of Advanced Disposal
Why does Advanced Disposal value philanthropy?
Advanced Disposal works in more than 125 communities servicing more than 800 municipal contracts, and we believe that giving back to the communities we serve is core to our values as an organization. Advanced Disposal supports groups whose mission is focused on improving the environment, educating children and improving the quality of life for veterans. We keep those donations at the local level where we believe the most good can come from our contributions.
Why does Advanced Disposal support EREF?
I don’t think EREF is charity. Personally, as a CEO or a leader in the waste industry, I think [EREF] is a strategic investment. We’re investing in the future of our business. It’s not charity; it’s truly an investment that we’re making into some of the most important assets within our company.
Simply put, EREF is about science, education, real data and scholarships, and its mission completely dovetails into our business … When we look to the future of EREF, I think the first 25 years have been important—we set a great footprint and a great start. But the next 25 years could be even more important than the first.
Good science and research will be essential to help our industry tackle challenges, climate change, PFAS [per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances] and continued challenges around leachate treatment and gas management. EREF serves our industry well, and it’s a smart investment now and even a greater investment in the future.
Jon Vander Ark, president of Republic Services
Why does Republic Services value philanthropy?
Republic Services strives to be a good neighbor and doing so goes far beyond delivering superior customer service and environmental compliance. It requires a commitment to the vitality of the entire community. Through partnerships with local nonprofits, Republic Services is committed to making a meaningful and sustainable impact in the neighborhoods where our employees and customers live and work.
Why does Republic Services support EREF?
We're proud to support EREF—an organization that shares our passion for preserving and protecting the environment. Through research and educational initiatives, EREF is helping companies like Republic Services do our part to leave our planet better than we found it.
Charitable giving has become a big part of what we do. A couple years ago, we started looking at how we spend our money, time and efforts, and we decided that neighborhood revitalization was where we want to spend our time, effort and energy because neighborhoods are where we work, operate and live.
We started a charitable foundation, and we’ve done community grants and activated our employees to get involved. We’ve given away about 26 big neighborhood revitalization projects in the last 18 months and 1,300 community grants.
In some ways, we’re better together, and I think that’s where EREF plays a big role for us.
Worthing Jackman, president and CEO of Waste Connections
Why does Waste Connections value philanthropy?
Waste Connections and its employees support more than a thousand organizations through direct contributions, volunteering or fundraising. We host a golf charity event that now raises more than $1 million each year for donations to charities that support at-risk youth and their families. In addition, each year culminates with a Christmas bike-build where employees and their families and friends assemble thousands of bicycles companywide to donate to local charities, first responders and military bases for distribution to deserving youth.
Why does Waste Connections support EREF?
Waste Connections aligns its major financial contributions with its goal to further advance environmental sustainability, such as its first major grant that helped establish the Global Waste Research Institute and its multiyear commitments to EREF. EREF’s research and education initiatives help enable participant companies to become better stewards of the environment and further benefit the communities we serve.
We all do a wonderful job as companies supporting our employees and supporting many charitable organizations throughout our network, but I don’t think we as an industry do enough to support EREF … There’s no other source for fact-based battles than EREF, and when the going gets tough, we need the facts to engage in these debates.
Tara Hemmer, senior vice president of field operations at Waste Management, Inc.
Why does Waste Management value philanthropy?
As the original ambassadors to Main Street and your street, Waste Management has the privilege and responsibility to help make our communities better places to work and live—today and for the future. Our philanthropic focuses are connected to our sustainability goals of increasing and improving recycling, producing renewable energy, reducing emissions and preserving wildlife habitats. And, of course, we’re the title sponsor of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, which contributes more than $12 million each year to charities throughout Arizona and across the U.S.
Why does Waste Management support EREF?
We partner with EREF because they share in our vision of always working for a sustainable tomorrow, and we believe that vision will only be realized through investments in research and education. Building a pool of talent through the scholarships offered by EREF will help drive continued change and innovation in our industry.
As a new board member at EREF, it’s been really interesting to have the marriage of history versus the new vision. When I think about what’s happening in our industry and in the company of Waste Management, I really think it goes back to communities, environmental stewardship and the goal we all share of making the planet a better place to live.
The challenges that the industry faces are continuing, and we really need to think about the future of our solid waste collection and infrastructure and the funding to support these roles. We also need to think about scholarships, which are so important when it comes to attracting the newest level of individuals who are going to come in and do the good work that we need people to do each and every day. We have to attract the talent that we need into this industry moving forward.