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Retail Waste Reduction Made Easy

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June 16, 2011

By Jesse LaRose

Editor’s Note: This is the first of an article series by expert guest columnist Jesse LaRose, which will direct retailers to a variety of free resources to help execute waste management, energy management, as well as green merchandising and logistics programs. This article and an one next week will focus on waste management. Next week’s column will focus on how to conduct waste audits, procure vendors and implement the program.

How do some companies such as Limited Brands manage to go above and beyond the regulatory requirements to win awards for waste reduction from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)? The secret is they effectively utilize the formal and informal complimentary assistance that environmental agencies at all levels offer.

Limited Brands racked up an EPA WasteWise Partner of the Year Award for 2010 for its recycling and waste reduction efforts. They diverted 86 percent of their waste stream from the landfill, which amounted to 17,000 tons of materials prevented and recycled. Sounds impossible, right? You are probably thinking that you can barely stay on top of the regulatory landscape without going above and beyond to get awards. I can almost hear you saying, “We don’t have the headcount or expertise to implement a program like that!”

Good news, you aren’t alone. Most retailers don’t. Those that do are likely to either have made it the most important aspect of their brand (think REI, Whole Foods) or have such great regulatory risk that they have developed entire departments and marketing campaigns to manage these issues. Retailers like Limited Brands know that recycling isn’t only good for the planet, but also for their bottom line. They save around $14 million annually as a result of their efforts. That should be motivation enough if your company doesn’t fall into one of the first two categories.

Still, the task can seem daunting, but fortunately there are many great resources that can get you on the path to developing an award winning waste management program in no time. All you need is a little common sense, determination and the ability to ask for help.

EPA logoThe EPA and states offer great complimentary resources to assist retailers of all sizes and sub-industries in implementing a first class recycling program. A great place to find these resources is on the Retail Industry Portal. Here are some highlights:

U.S. EPA Partnership Programs
WasteWise is the EPA’s flagship waste management and recycling program that works with its partners to reduce waste through prevention, recycling, donation and procurement. Other programs include Plug-In To eCycling, which focuses on e-waste recycling and the Responsible Appliance Disposal (RAD) Program for appliances. Both programs offer technical assistance similar to WasteWise.

WasteWise partners commit to making improvements compared to their current baseline efforts. That level of improvement is completely at the retailer’s discretion. If you want to play it safe shoot for a 5 percent reduction, which is just fine. You can exit the program at any time after signing up and all the benefits of the program are complimentary:

  • 1-on-1 assistance from expert resources. The EPA works with experts from consulting companies, non-profits and within the agency’s national and regional offices to provide partners with assistance on baseline development, waste audits, contract evaluation and program implementation.
  • Online data management system and reporting. The Re-Trac system allows partners to get in depth analysis reports that will show trends annual, quarterly, month to month, give you a standard way to organize your data. The system will provide you with useful environmental metrics such as a complete GHG impact analysis and convert those figures into easily understood metrics such as equivalent cars removed from the road. Now when you claim results in your sustainability report, you can do so with the credibility of the EPA behind you.
  • Awards and recognition. The EPA gives out about 30 awards annually based on company size, industry and materials diverted. Also you’ll be able to use the EPA WasteWise logo on you sustainability reports and even on the doors to your stores.

Regional Support
The EPA is divided into 10 regions. Determine your region based on the location of your corporate headquarters and ask your national program contact for an introduction. Before being introduced, see if you can align your waste reduction objectives with the EPA’s goals for 2011. By focusing on helping the region achieve its objectives, you are more likely to gain recognition and additional support. For 2011 the goals for the regional offices are in the areas of:

  • Food scrap prevention and recovery;
  •  Partnering with states and local governments to achieve zero waste; and
  •  Leading by example with green purchasing.

If your stores sell food, this is a great year to begin an organics recycling program, donation effort or other initiative to reduce your food waste

State & Local Support
States, counties and major cities often offer support as well for local initiatives. These resources are great for programs at your corporate headquarters. It will also be helpful to have a local contact that can keep you apprised on broader developments in government programs supporting sustainability efforts.

These resources can also be very helpful when you are piloting your new Zero Waste program. Some counties offer on-site assistance when launching a new initiative and can greatly speed up the process of identifying local providers to help you prove the business case.

Now you are smart. You have become an expert by speaking with the experts, know what needs to be done and that you can save the planet and piles of cash for your company. Now you just need to get the ball rolling in your organization, which can be challenging. With employees all over the place and competing priorities at headquarters, where do you start?

Special thanks to Janet Bowen, Lorraine Graves and Ron Vance of the U.S. EPA for their assistance with this column.

Jesse LaRose imageJesse LaRose is the President of ESE Solutions, a sustainability consulting firm that helps retailers achieve their environmental goals while reducing expenses. The U.S. EPA has contracted with ESE Solutions to provide enhancements and publicize the resources of its Retail Industry Portal. Jesse can be reached at jesselarose@esesolutions.com.


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