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Sustainability Talks

Exploring the Role of the Consumer in Driving Sustainability

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At last month’s WasteExpo Together Online, one popular session looked at, “What Do They Want? - Sustainability! -- When Do They Want It? - Now!” It had a common theme about the roles of customer behavior, supply chain, transparency and more as related to sustainability.

The speakers were:

  • Kristin Kinder, VP of research and waste stream sustainability, Wastequip
  • Eric Paulk, national account manager, Rehrig Pacific Company

Kinder talked about how sustainability has gained momentum over the past five years and that “the goal is so much clearer on what is the right thing to do for the planet.” She credited the Paris Agreement for this wider recognition and understanding of the impacts of climate change, and the role of businesses in promoting sustainability.

Kinder also talked about efforts to quantify the economic risks of climate change and cited a Bloomberg report that estimated, “If we continue down on our current path, by 2050, we could lose between $60B and $100B+ of coastal property that will be below sea level.” She pointed out that, “If you’re a hauler who has contracts in coastal areas, that’s a business risk.” But, “on the positive side, we have a lot more tools for businesses to measure and understand their impact”—from science-based targets to frameworks like those provided by Sustainable Accounting Standards Board. Kinder also noted that, “Companies who track their ESG performance have been shown to outperform their peers.”

Kinder went on to talk about how “we are all consumers.” And consumers are increasingly alarmed about climate change, and engaged with the problem. She noted that at Wastequip, “we spend quite a bit of time studying what sustainability metrics are important to our key customers…and how they are reporting their progress.” Across the company’s diverse set of customers “the one thing they have in common is they are tracking their greenhouse gas emissions.” Kinder concluded by noting that Wastequip’s vision is “for our customers to be able to quantitatively see how our products flow into their goals. We’re looking at how to get our [ESG] data on products.”

Paulk shared how Rehrig is helping its customers “achieve their sustainability goals while leading the way toward the creation of a circular plastic economy.” Like Kinder, he observed that his company is increasingly hearing from customers (who are hearing from their own customers) that they care about reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and increased use of recycling content — as well as circular solutions.

He then offered several case studies, one of which came from the beverage industry and a need for it to explore “how do we more effectively recycle caps, labels and more?” The ultimate driver of this, Paulk pointed out, is the consumer. “Consumers are a lot more aware of what’s going on, and purchasing behaviors can be influenced by a company’s messaging on sustainability.” By partnering with CarbonLite, Rehrig is able to salvage “a large percentage of PET caps and labels to create beverage crates” that are then used to carry new product back to stores.

Another example, from a Fortune 500 client, focused on car-seat reclamation. Over 12M car seats are used annually, and 150M pounds are being recycled — but there was a need to determine how these plastics could be used in the supply chain. Rehrig was able to identify utilization of this post-consumer resin in pallets, “providing customers with a closed-loop solution.”

The speakers also addressed questions on topics including customer sustainability initiatives; steps that companies can employ in pursuing a circular plastics economy; maintaining brand equity; and more.

Want to watch this full session and others from WasteExpo Together Online?  You can sign up here for free: https://www.wasteexpo.com/en/conference-and-events/TogetherOnlineAgenda.html.html



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