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Tyre-derived fuel is being created at the Wiri Tyre Recycling Plant

Waste Management targets its carbon footprint for future generations – By Dave MacIntyre

Waste Management has become a leader among businesses endeavouring to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to transition to a future low-carbon economy. Here, Dave MacIntyre talks to Marsha Cadman, general manager customer and sustainability for Waste Management, about why and how the company is treading the pathway to a greener carbon footprint.

As one of New Zealand’s leading providers of waste and environmental services, Waste Management (WM) is aware of the unique challenges faced by a company in its sector wanting to reduce its carbon footprint in line with the Paris Agreement. Its carbon emissions come not only from vehicles – it has one of the largest fleets of trucks in the country – but also from landfills.

The company is meeting that challenge by publishing a sustainability strategy – entitled For Future Generations – which embraces a commitment to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, as well as outlining actions that will ensure WM remains sustainable as part of New Zealand’s low-carbon economy into the future. 

Reducing GHG emissions is an overarching commitment that affects every facet of the business, from HR to procurement to operations to strategic planning, and it’s not a simple fix or a quick one. It means changing over a long period of time and driving out old habits – such as educating drivers not to leave their trucks idling for long periods of time, and adopting a sustainable procurement policy to better understand what the company buys and the sustainability commitments of their suppliers, including how much waste is created.

The journey to green

Before getting to the stage of adopting a sustainability pathway, what prompted the company to consider such a strategy?

Marsha Cadman says sustainability was always considered as just ‘what we do’, so articulating that commitment to the principles of sustainability – that is, ensuring WM is delivering a sustainable company financially, socially and environmentally – was not a difficult step. 

However, to get the For Future Generations strategy moving, WM first engaged with both internal and external stakeholders to identify the material issues the company faced. “These material issues were then considered by the WM executive, as well as a broader subset of the management team. This provided the basis to identify programme areas, which included ‘Our Environment’ where we committed to ‘address GHG emissions’,” says Ms Cadman.

“From this point we took the first step of measuring our total carbon footprint. We believe we are the first waste and environmental services company in New Zealand to measure our footprint and have it externally audited and published.”

The independent third-party programme CEMARS® (Certified Emissions Measurement And Reduction Scheme) was used to audit the company’s results and the progress it is making.

Five programme areas

WM has split its sustainability efforts into five programme areas. Along with Our Environment, the other programme areas are Our Community, Our Customers, Our Business and Our People. 

Ms Cadman says these were easily identified through the material issues raised by stakeholders. “The projects and goals within these programme areas are also linked to the material issues – for example, ‘empowering customers with information’ is a project within the Our Customer programme area,” she explains.

Waste Management’s sustainability advisory panel at its first meeting (L–R): Adam Weller, WM sustainability manager; Tom Nickels, WM managing director; Sir Rob Fenwick, panel chair; Lisa Martin and Tim Manukau, panel members; and Marsha Cadman, WM general manager customer and sustainability

“We heard loud and clear from our customers that they need more accurate data about their waste, and better advice and information on how they can reduce and reuse. We have been working hard on both aspects, and still have work to do in this space.

“We have already acted on some problem waste streams, such as tyres, and are pleased to now be providing tyre-derived fuel to Golden Bay Cement from our Wiri Tyre Recycling Plant.

“Our work with the government has meant we are well across the problem waste streams they have identified. These are significant – though not insurmountable – challenges, as we develop appropriate circular solutions for these waste streams in New Zealand.”

Electric fleet

Given the size of WM’s vehicle fleet, switching both trucks and light vehicles to electric power has been a priority area over recent years. By the end of 2019, WM will have transitioned over 30% of its light fleet to electric. 

“Unfortunately, we are still waiting for suitable utes and four-wheel-drive electric vehicles (EVs) to replace our existing fleet, but we know it is only a matter of time,” says Ms Cadman.

“Our heavy fleet programme has also progressed since we announced that project in 2016, with eight conversions underway in our EV workshop in Auckland, taking our electric trucks to 13 and with more planned for next year. Even better, we are starting to see electric trucks suitable for the New Zealand market becoming available direct from the manufacturers, which is exciting.”

Leadership

Through all of these initiatives, WM places a lot of importance on its leadership team being involved in both the development of the strategy and project implementation. 

“Without the support of our managing director and the entire executive, we would not have been able to make the commitments we have. In addition, we invest in educating our teams about sustainability and the strategy – through induction programmes, and regular updates on our progress via email and Skype – to make sure we are aligned across the business. It is critical that all of us understand the individual roles we play in delivering on For Future Generations,” says Ms Cadman.

She says WM is pleased to be a leader in this area for the waste sector, but there is a lot more work to do – particularly if New Zealand is going to achieve the necessary reductions in GHG emissions to move towards a low-carbon and circular economy. 

“Whenever I talk to people about this, they often seem overwhelmed. My advice is to just start with trying to understand the areas in your business where your largest emissions are,” Ms Cadman notes. “Don’t worry about measuring your entire footprint, which can be daunting, but think about the actions you can take around your top three. You will get huge traction just by talking to your teams, customers and other stakeholders about what you are doing.”

WM will be reporting on its progress in For Future Generations early in 2020, and will also update the strategy with more specific targets that weren’t able to be included in the first version. An example is GHG emissions. WM had to measure its footprint and then have the measurements audited before it was able to set targets around how it would reduce emissions. 

In its strategy in 2020 it will set reduction targets in line with its commitments as a member of the Climate Leaders’ Coalition, which includes keeping emissions to 2 degrees of warming, while aiming for the tougher target of 1.5 degrees.

Dave MacIntyre is an award-winning journalist who specialises in transport issues within New Zealand; he can be contacted at d.macintyre@xtra.co.nz


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