Sustainability is part of the DNA of the waste and recycling industry and proof once again that it is filled with the world’s first environmentalists. At the recent Waste360/Stifel Investor Summit, moderator Michael E. Hoffman from Stifel Financial Corp., asked each speaker about their company’s Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) and sustainability efforts.
Without exception, they discussed how sustainability is a priority that is increasingly embedded into the fabric of their companies — and offered some insights into the why and how.
Mary Anne Whitney, SVP & CFO of Waste Connections, Inc., notes that, “We do these things because they’re the right thing to do and part of running a good business.” Over the past few years, the company has learned the importance of communicating that message and has “been on a march toward increasing the communication and providing the kind of data that’s replicable and reliable and useful for setting targets over time.” She also points out that the company’s leadership team is “directly involved” in ESG efforts.
For Patrick Dovigi, chief executive officer of GFL Environmental Inc., “ESG has been a core focus of ours since we started. Diversion of food waste continues to be at the forefront, as well as landfill gas-to-energy.” He notes that, as the Canadian-based company looks to further expand its U.S. operations, “We’ll continue driving forward, because the services we offer are accepted and valued by our customer base.”
Brian DelGhiaccio, EVP & CFO of Republic Services, Inc. shared similar sentiments: “We truly believe sustainability is good business. It’s been integrated into what we do for decades.” And in recent times, the company has been better able to “get that story out about what we’ve done and what we plan to do — which shows how committed we are to this ESG platform.”
Michael Battles CFO of Clean Harbors, Inc. echoed the idea that, “it’s great to bring light to some of the good things we’re already doing” and notes the company has been improving its Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) scores. He mentioned that Clean Harbors is putting in place “incentive compensation plans for safety, which is a social scoring system.” But, “the hard part is setting achievable goals around carbon, water, and other areas—and hitting those goals. We’re working on those right now, and it’s a focus for our organization and the Board or Directors.” Their goal for 2020 is to get a sustainability report out in advance of their 10-K.
Dan Mannes, vice president of investor relations at Covanta Holding Corporation, discussed how goal-setting and reporting is working well at his organization: “If you’ve looked at our CSR, we have a number of underlying initiatives that tie in to our ESG goals — and we report on them. For instance, several years ago, we put in a goal to grow the amount of waste that avoids landfills by 40%. We’ve already far exceeded this — so we’ve had a lot of success with these types of metrics.”
Other leaders also talked about the challenges as well as opportunities related to the measurement of ESG initiatives. Jeff Feeler, chairman & CEO of US Ecology, Inc., pointed out the “irony” of “starting to get measured on something that, from the inside perspective of US Ecology, is part of our DNA.” He notes that, even though the company’s primary purpose “and the really only reason we exist is to protect human health and the environment,” they don’t score particularly high on ISS ESG measures. “So it’s an area of focus for us now to gather that data of what we’re doing day in and day out. We want to be able to meet the goals and objectives of our investors who are focused on it.”
Cindy Miller, CEO of Stericycle, Inc. also talked about ramping up reporting efforts and making internal changes to align with ESG priorities, including “taking our head of investor relations and moving her over as VP of ESG.” She notes that this move is “very telling both within the organization and out to our investors and the general public — that we are focused on it, it’s very important to us, and a core of who we are.” She expressed excitement about being able to get the right systems in place “so we can frame up the story of the huge difference we’re making and that all the folks take very seriously working at Stericycle.”
For Peter F. Minan, CFO of Harsco Corporation, internal changes are also an important part of their ESG efforts: “We’ve made it a priority first by creating a department with direct report to the CEO, with a leader specifically tasked with ESG improvement and management. So we’ve elevated that position to part of the executive leadership team, which I think is quite important.” Additionally, the company has “made a concerted effort to get the data out there and explain to the world what we have done and are doing on ESG.”
Ned Coletta, CFO of Casella Waste Systems, Inc. summed things up well by saying that, “We are one of the few industries that enable sustainability. As investors sit down and think about who is really making a difference, our industry rises to the top.” His company is launching a new ESG website, and its Board recently added a new member, Rose Stuckey Kirk, the chief social responsibility officer at Verizon, “who will bring some great perspectives to help us advance this further—something we believe in deeply.”
Sustainability is in the DNA
The message of the day was loud and clear: for today’s top waste and recycling leaders and companies, ESG is part and parcel of what they do and why they exist. Goal setting and reporting continue to evolve, with the hope of providing transparency and accountability — and accurately capturing the sustainability efforts that these companies take seriously.