A year into the COVID-19 pandemic, much has changed. Businesses and communities have adapted and readapted to meet a difficult moment, protect one another, and above all, survive.
But with vaccine rollouts underway across the globe, a new moment is fast approaching. Firms that have weathered the storm will soon be called from the wings back to the economic stage. The question any such organization should ask is: Are we ready?
This is a call to action: To leverage the lessons learned, adversities overcome, and new processes and technologies adopted over the last year to compete in a soon-to-be reopened playing field. The window of opportunity may not last long, as businesses everywhere vie for new workers, new customers, and new contracts all at once.
To help the waste & recycling communities meet this fleeting moment, let’s explore some insights across markets, public policy, public opinion, and consumer preferences that present emerging opportunities in the post-pandemic arena.
Let's begin with a broad trend across markets and popular sentiment in the last 12 months: people are ditching carbon, fast.
Firstly, COVID lockdowns caused oil demand to plummet, resulting in over-supply for producers. OPEC cut production in response, and recently pledged to maintain current rates through April, causing oil prices to jump.
Then there's the renewed fight against pollution across government and business, spurred by recent natural disasters like the 2020 California wildfires and 2021 Texas polar vortex. In January the United States rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement, and General Motors announced plans to sell only zero-emission light-duty vehicles beginning in 2035.
Even oil producers are positioning as climate-conscious: BP and the UAE are both pursuing investments in carbon capture - a process whereby carbon waste is funneled underground, without being released into the atmosphere.
Takeaways: What does this trend away from carbon mean for waste & recycling organizations?
Fuel prices stand to rise through at least the next few months, and may increase further throughout 2021 as economies reopen and fuel demand surges. Maintaining efficient routing and dispatch operations will help keep costs down and margins up.
Both analysis and action are key here: Set up reporting on distance traveled per route, vehicle mileage per gallon, and current fuel prices to determine fuel use and cost over time. The work then begins to minimize marginal drive times per stop – for instance, by servicing a given area only on certain days of the week. Automated optimization tools can certainly help move the needle, especially with ad-hoc work.
Beyond reducing operating costs, diminished drive times also bring down your carbon footprint – and being green is in vogue. So, make sure to publicize your commitment towards a sustainable operating model! Social media is a great way to join leading brands and public figures to boost your profile in environmental awareness.
Bidding Back Better
Let's now move from market trends to market friends: governments are turning to fiscal stimulus in 2021, as workers reentering the labor force need jobs to fill.
Much of this spending is slated for infrastructure projects. With a $1.9 trillion relief package having made its way through Congress in the US, the Biden Administration is upping the ante with an infrastructure package worth $3 trillion.
Likewise the EU passed a €1.8 trillion stimulus package, including the €750B NextGenerationEU fund for environmental projects, digital infrastructure, and other crisis response initiatives across EU member states.
Takeaways: Public infrastructure spending means C&D contracts - lots of them, all at once, using government-compliant RFP processes.
To compete well in the procurement frenzy, you need to move fast while also protecting your margins. Incorporate templated price books as well as price indexing in your contracts to help address this duel need for speed and caution.
Importantly, highlight your commitment to the environment as a differentiator - particularly if the project involves green infrastructure. All else being equal, promoting sustainable practices could be a deciding factor.
Finally, in the customer realm, the pandemic has fundamentally altered buyer preferences in favor of e-commerce. This is true even of commercial buyers: Over 75% of B2B decision makers in a global 2020 McKinsey study prefer digital self-service or remote human interaction to make purchases.
Moreover, in addition to business re-openings en masse in the coming months, many new commercial customers are just arriving on the scene: According to the 2020 Yelp Economic Average Report, new US restaurants and food businesses were opening near pre-pandemic levels by Q4.
Takeaways: Lots of commercial prospects will soon enter or re-enter the market for waste & recycling contracts, and competition may hinge simply on how easy it is to shop and sign up for service.
Convenience is key, so enable customers to quickly answer questions, submit orders, and make payments as autonomously as possible. A customer portal that interfaces directly to your back office can help by removing barriers to action, like the need for a call or email follow-up from your staff. To help streamline the initial customer setup process, consider standardized default pricing via area-based service agreements.
In all, opportunity abounds in post-pandemic waste & recycling. From leveraging green PR to establishing nimble pricing and a proactive posture, savvy service providers will be well positioned to take clearing skies by storm and hit the ground running.
Customer Success Manager