Elizabeth Montoya did not expect to find herself working in the waste industry before she became Rubicon’s third employee.
Yet in a few years she was leading Investor Relations for the provider of cloud-based waste and recycling solutions that today has more than eight million service locations.
In this Q&A, the Waste360 40 Under 40 recipient talks about what it means to be a B corp; fostering sustainability through technology; and what she describes as her “humble beginnings” with the company back when she shared a broom closet as an office with the company’s founder and CEO.
Waste 360: What has your experience been like as a female leader in the waste industry?
Montoya: I never thought I would work in the waste industry or at a technology company. When I met Rubicon’s Founder and CEO Nate Morris, he told me that he was building a business that would solve the problem of global waste. I jumped at the chance to join Rubicon as its third employee because I shared that passion and wanted to work for a mission-driven company. The waste business has historically been male-dominated, but that is changing. I have always felt like it was an asset to stand out in the industry as a female and bring another perspective. I think that one of Rubicon’s strengths is that Nate sought out to hire leaders with diverse backgrounds and experience. It has made us a stronger company.
Waste 360: How did Rubicon start to incorporate sustainability into its business model?
Montoya: Sustainability has been a part of Rubicon’s mission to end waste since day one. I started out as the company’s Director of Corporate and Social Responsibility. The premise for the company was built on sustainability through technology, and that remains true today. Leading with sustainability that makes business sense has always differentiated us in the market. When I joined Rubicon in 2011, sustainability was more of a radical idea in the industry and I’m proud that Rubicon paved the way for its customers to do business in a smarter way that also leaves a smaller footprint.
Waste 360: Tell us about RUBICONMethod (multi-step system for setting up and maintaining a business recycling program)? What was your and your team’s reasoning in choosing these steps?
Montoya: During on-site customer visits and in my daily life, I saw organizations of all sizes miss the same key steps when it came to creating successful recycling programs. The slogan, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” is a great reminder, but it doesn’t explain how to actually do so. We organized Rubicon’s go-to strategies into a digestible process called the RUBICONMethod to empower not only our customers, but also the public through our online sustainability resources. Following the acronym “DIVERT,” the six steps of the RUBICONMethod stand for Determine, Initiate, Vocalize, Eliminate, Roll-out, and Track. It’s simple, but the best thing you can do to increase recycling and decrease contamination is to arrange bins side-by-side (trash, recycling, and compost) with picture-based signage so that people stop and think before picking a bin. If you place a recycling bin on one side of the room and a trash bin on the other side, you will end up with trash in the recycling bin and recyclables in the trash bin because people will choose whatever is most convenient. Another key step is ensuring that all stakeholders are educated about your recycling program – especially custodial team members. Using color-coded bin liners is essential because they signify where the bags should go upon reaching the back of house. Depending on your hauler or city requirements, we recommend black bags for trash, clear for recycling, and green biodegradable bags for compost.
Waste 360: How has Rubicon changed since you joined as its third employee to today?
Montoya: My first “office” at Rubicon was in a broom closet I shared with Nate! Those humble beginnings did not deter me because I had faith that we would become a major player in the industry and change the waste and recycling business forever. Very early on, Nate and the other leaders at the company placed a lot of focus on our mission and our seven core values (Be passionate; Embrace learning; Be humble and transparent; Advocate for customers; Do what you say; Embrace challenge; and Serve the planet). It’s the reason why, in 2012, we became one of the first and now largest Certified B Corporations. As the company has grown, I have also had the opportunity to grow my career. In 2015, I took over Investor Relations at Rubicon. As a remote company, we look different today, but in my opinion, we still feel the same because we haven’t lost the entrepreneurial spirit from our start up days, and we are still true to our core values.
Waste 360: How do you keep company culture strong in a remote environment?
Montoya: Rubicon moved to a remote work environment in March of 2020. As a “Great Place to Work” since 2018, ensuring that our people feel connected is of utmost importance to the company. We share updates and perspectives from across the company at our regular All Hands meetings. We strive to make the meetings more engaging by encouraging live feedback, featuring inclusive topics shared by our various Affinity Groups, and by incorporating polls and song requests. We have also found ways to bring employees and their loved ones together either virtually or in person for social and volunteer activities.
Waste 360: What was entailed in becoming a Certified B Corporation? What in your mind does this certification mean?
Montoya: To become a Certified B Corporation, your company must decide that it wants to use the power of business as a force for good and that it is ready to hold itself to a higher standard. Any company can access the free B Impact Assessment tool through B Lab, the certifying body for B Corps, to identify areas for improvement. I see the assessment as a checklist of things that a company can do to be a better corporate citizen across five key areas (governance, workers, community, environment, and customers). Not everything may be a good fit for your company, but the assessment provides cutting-edge policies and goals to consider. Being a B Corp demonstrates to our employees, customers, haulers, and investors that we are serious about our mission and our values. It is also a great way to attract like-minded people into our business. We often hear from new employees and customers that they sought out Rubicon because we are a B Corp. For me personally, it is a symbol of pride and a driving force to go beyond the status quo.