A Pioneer Becomes President

A pioneer in landfill gas management and in the development of mixed waste processing in Ohio, Steve Viny brings a broad range of experience to his new role as the incoming president of the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), Silver Spring, Md.

President of Independence, Ohio-based Norton Environmental, he has become familiar with all phases of solid waste management - including recycling, composting, landfill siting, design and construction - all which will serve him well in his new position.

WA: What will you as a private sector operator bring to a primarily government sector organization in your new role as incoming president of SWANA?

SV: I consider myself a long time SWANA member first, and a private sector operator next. What I bring is perhaps a bit of entrepreneurial spirit. SWANA has made the investment to produce great products for waste professionals. Along with SWANA's enthusiastic new marketing staff, I hope to better communicate these products and services.

WA: What does your election as the first private sector president say about the association? Does this portend other changes in SWANA's future?

SV: It's a sign of the maturity of the association. SWANA has transformed from the Governmental Refuse Collection and Disposal Association (GRCDA), a primarily public sector organization, into a true professional association. Our seminars and training products are geared toward industry professionals regardless of their sector. My election as president is in harmony with this evolution.

WA: What are your goals as president?

SV: To use my efforts to advance the association. We face interesting times as our industry continues to consolidate. Big fish swallow big fish. Little fish swallow big fish. No matter how you look at it, there are less fish in the pond. I believe that consolidation will provide an excellent opportunity for SWANA, and I plan to use this as a springboard for future programs.

For example, Public Procurement Policies will need to be updated. In the past, it was common for several large waste companies to compete in a local market. Now, in the wake of consolidation, and enhanced by strategic trades, only one large waste company may be in that same local market. I see an excellent seminar on reviewing and revising public procurement policy in the wake of consolidation to increase competition.

WA: What are SWANA's priorities for member services?

SV: Among our top priorities are the specialty symposia, training and WASTECON. SWANA offers cutting-edge technology and practices at its symposia, including Landfill Design and Operation, Landfill Gas, Recycling, Waste-to-Energy, and Professional Management, just to name a few. We also offer certification training and non-certification courses in these subject areas. Many of our courses, such as MOLO [Manager of Landfill Operations], have become the standard for the industry.

Our WASTECON Annual Show sees growth each year. We are very excited for this year's Reno show. Our Y2K WASTECON will be in my home state of Ohio, and our Buckeye Chapter already is working hard to provide you a great show.

WA: How will SWANA be fostering better relationships between the public and private sectors?

SV: Outside of flow control, in many cases, the public and private sectors share similar advocacy positions. Our efforts on Section 29 tax credits were supported by both camps. Future issues such as ergonomics should see similar support. We are most effective in advocacy as an industry if Washington, D.C., hears a single message supported by both public and private sectors. While some public and private industry professionals are still bitter from Flow Control battle wounds, SWANA will look to form alliances on issues with common support.

WA: What advice do you have for people in the public sector to help them better understand the private contractor mentality?

SV: Always try to understand the competition. Roleplay. Above all, attend our SWANA symposia and seek network opportunities. Some of the best educational experiences are gained by networking with members and attendees during evenings and breaks. More than likely, whatever your solid waste issue, someone has been there and done it before. The education I gain from networking is worth tenfold of what annual membership dues cost.

WA: By the end of your tenure as SWANA president, what would you like to be remembered as having accomplished?

SV: I hope to be remembered as "the guy who got me involved." SWANA has so much to offer. If you pay your dues and come to one seminar per year, you're missing out. SWANA is not just a trade association, it's a brotherhood. The friends I've made throughout the years share a unique bond.

WA: How has the industry and its people changed since you started working in the solid waste management business, and how do you see it changing in the future?

SV: Many of the men I know have less hair, and an ever increasing number of women are entering the industry. Increased regulation has leveled the playing field quite a bit with regard to industry design and practices.

Perhaps the biggest change yet to occur is the effect of Wall Street on our industry. Our country is dominated by large publicly held companies that need to post a return for their stockholders. High returns from the Internet and technology stocks place increased demands on the returns from waste stocks. Will Wall Street support environmental benefit at the expense of an increase in annual cash flow? How will this delicate balance affect recycling and alternative waste disposal technologies?

Even publicly held companies with the best of intentions may find themselves torn between advancing the industry and advancing their stock price.

WA: What will the solid waste industry, public and private, look like five years from today?

SV: As a whole, the industry will appear much the same as it does now. While consolidation will undoubtedly continue for the next few years, new smaller companies will emerge. Many will be started by those who have sold their businesses in prior years. The public sector will continue to maintain their existing waste practices. New technology will be slower to advance as private sector dollars are closely scrutinized by Wall Street. Composting will become more than just a method for handling yard debris. Trash will still be picked up at the curb. My wife still will be married to a garbage man.