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Episode 136: Setting the Stage for Sustainability in the Waste Industry

Listen to a dynamic session from Sustainability Talks 2021 featuring speaker Susan Robinson, senior director of sustainability and policy at Waste Management.
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In our latest episode of NothingWasted!, we bring you a dynamic session from Sustainability Talks 2021 featuring speaker Susan Robinson, senior director of sustainability and policy at Waste Management.

As Robinson notes, “What Waste Management does is very visible. We should expect to be in the spotlight, and we should be prepared.” To that end, she shared some thoughts with the audience on how they can do the same, when it comes to sustainability.

Here’s a sneak peek into the presentation:

Robinson set the stage by asking, “What’s the big deal about sustainability?” She noted that, “What’s really interesting—and there’s data to prove it—is that actually profit is impacted by how we manage our business, our impact on the environment, and how we treat our employees and the communities in which we work. We are being held accountable for all aspects of our business…and we’ll probably see more regulated requirements about reporting [in the future].”

She went on to discuss the importance of thinking strategically about “the business of sustainability” and noted that climate-change legislation and customer expectations “will definitely change how we all operate.”

So, how does this directly impact the waste and recycling industry? Robinson discussed the growing important of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) actions and associated reporting. For the “E: Our customers are setting climate-change goals, and they need us to do the same, in order for them to meet their goals.” For “S: Employee and community programs have taken center stage. Diversity, equity, and inclusion, hiring and training are table stakes in our business these days.” For “G: Our investors are looking at leadership diversity and compensation incentives tied to sustainability. They’re looking for transparent reporting and ESG policies. [They are also] looking at transition risk.”

Robinson went on to talk about “who cares about this.” For one, she noted that President Biden is taking “unprecedented action to move his climate-change agenda forward.” And she called out some western states, as well as New York, which are being very aggressive at setting climate-change-related goals. She went on to talk about how and why investors care about ESG: “The demonstrated outperformance of the upside and the resilience on the downside have made ESG a pervasive mega-trend driving markets, public policy, and business strategy—and as a result investors are demanding more transparency…hiring analysts to review the data, and asking questions…”

Robinson noted that “ESG leadership is not easy” and that it requires “really uncomfortable conversations”—but “it makes us better.” She further discussed how Millennials care about sustainable investing; the need to prepare for more regulations and transparency; environmental justice; and more. The presentation wrapped up with the mention of several trends to keep in mind: mandatory disclosure for non-financial ESG metrics; integrated reporting; regulations around emissions reductions; and environmental justice, which will impact all aspects of operations.                 

Listen to the full episode above.

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