Waste diversion and recycling is top of mind for Abbie Webb, sustainability director for Casella Waste Systems. Webb leads the company’s overall sustainability strategy as it relates to recycling and diversion efforts, carbon emission reduction programs, public policy and technological and market-based innovations across the Northeast. She also helps the next generation of leaders understand the approaches of today and the lens of tomorrow.
Part of her role includes the development of the company’s annual Sustainability Report, which is a detailed outline of the company’s sustainability goals and accomplishments. This report is completed at the end of each year and includes input from every department within the company, making it a timely and difficult project to manage.
Webb was honored with a Waste360 40 Under 40 award this year, and she recently chatted with us about Casella’s sustainability goals and initiatives, the company’s goals for 2019 and what keeps her motivated.
Waste360: How did you begin your waste and recycling career nearly 12 years ago?
Abbie Webb: In college, I studied generic environmental studies, and after I graduated, I began working at Casella doing environmental compliance audits, looking under trucks and other basic tasks. Casella has been fantastic to work for, and any time I have a question about something or an idea, they support me and often tell me “yes, let’s do it.” Over the years, that support has allowed me to evolve in my role and help the company do new things like track their carbon footprint and produce sustainability reports.
Waste360: Tell us about Casella’s sustainability goals and initiatives and how you help lead those efforts.
Abbie Webb: As a company, we started recycling back in the 1970s, long before a lot of waste management companies. I think that, along with a number of other factors, is really part of the company’s DNA to push the envelope and think of new ways to do something better with the waste streams.
The company has really been building on that idea of finding the sweet spot with environmental and economic sustainability, and we have goals like reducing our carbon footprint, which we have been successful with. We have cut our carbon footprint more than 50 percent since we started measuring it in 2005, and we are constantly building upon successes like that to offer new solutions to our customers and to improve the business overall.
It’s exciting for me because I get to experience customer perspective a lot in this role, and that’s really what drives us to innovate and grow. To get customer feedback, we do some survey work and create one-on-one relationships with our account representatives. Those relationships allow us to interact closely with our customers and answer any questions they may have and learn what their goals are. My personal goal is to help empower those account representatives, which is where majority of our innovation and ideas come from.
Waste360: You help create Casella’s annual Sustainability Report. Tell us a little bit about that process and what the reports typically entail.
Abbie Webb: I am currently wrapping up our 2018 report, which is both exciting and exhausting. It is a pretty grueling process, and we really dig deep to ensure we’re not just checking boxes and putting numbers on a page. We really try to question what we’re doing and to identify the motivations behind what we are doing.
It becomes an intensive process, and what I really love about that is I get to engage with all aspects of the company—everything from safety and human resources to environmental compliance and organics. I can’t think of a single department within the company that I don’t work hand-in-hand with to put together these reports.
Other companies may outsource their sustainability reporting, and I’m sure that’s a more efficient way of doing it, but we believe the process and conversations that happen to create our reports are 90 percent of the value.
Waste360: We are approaching the New Year. What exciting things can we expect to see from Casella in 2019?
Abbie Webb: Similar to most companies that have a recycling business, we’re going to continue to spend a significant amount of time looking at the contamination in the recycling stream and finding ways to get that cleaned up. Part of that includes expanding our Recycle Better campaign, where we work hand-in-hand with our customers to tackle contamination.
Fortunately for us, contamination hasn’t been as bad as some of the horror stories we have heard happening elsewhere. We are not immune to contamination by any means, so we definitely have some work to do to get that stream cleaned up.
In addition, we’re seeing some exciting innovation around our organics service offering with food waste and the larger industrial organic streams like biosolids and ashes. There is a lot of work that can be done in those areas, and I’m excited to get some of those projects launched in 2019.
Waste360: You sit on the Board of Directors for the Solid Waste Association of North America’s Northern New England Chapter and you serve on the Organics Subcommittees for the National Waste & Recycling Association. Tell us about those roles.
Abbie Webb: Those roles have been really rewarding because they provide me with an opportunity to sit with my peers in the industry and discuss similar topics we have been talking about. From an industry and regional perspective, it’s one of those cool opportunities where competitors can sit side by side, set aside the competition and discuss how to solve big picture issues, such as how to make the industry safer, cleaner and better.
Waste360: What keeps you motivated?
Abbie Webb: I feel the most energized and motivated coming out of face-to-face meetings with our customers. I am fortunate to be in a role where I get to spend time in the back of a grocery store, for example, to see how waste and recyclables flow.
What’s cool to me is being able to see the inner workings of all the different organizations involved in this industry. Everyone is developing new and fresh ideas, and that alone is fascinating and energizing. I like to get out there and get my hands dirty; that’s where all the best ideas come from.
Waste360: What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Abbie Webb: I love spending time with my family, my husband Mike and my son Oliver, who will be two years old in January. We have a little farmhouse north of town and a couple acres, so I enjoy working with them in the garden and the orchard. I really just love being outside and growing stuff.
Waste360: What advice would you give to someone seeking a career opportunity in this industry?
Abbie Webb: Ask questions and don’t be afraid to make suggestions. I have done that throughout my whole career, and it has helped be grow in many ways. Also, be aware that you don’t have to start in a “sustainability role” or in a role at a waste and recycling company because really all companies have to deal with managing their waste and recycling.
It really comes down to seeing the opportunities around you, asking questions and being ready to take on projects if you suggest them.