“Sustainability fully embraces all aspects of ESG,” says Susan Robinson, senior director of sustainability at WM, at the opening of the ESG and Business Success session at ISRI2022. Investors aren’t the only ones interested in measuring and rating how companies meet environmental, social, and governance (ESG) goals. “Our customers, employees, and regulators are all considering ESG metrics when evaluating a company,” she says. Robinson was joined by Marie Hache, director, ESG, at PwC, Luba Shabal, director, Impact Due Diligence, at Closed Loop Partners, and John Shegerian, Chairman/CEO, at ERI. Together the panelists showed the audience how ESG and the circular economy are not just trends but rather generational shifts in thinking that’s likely here to stay.
Hache described how her company’s purpose is to build trust in society through ESG. “We help our clients build that trust to show that companies are interested in more than just financial return. They want to know the impact they have on the environment, society, and employees and how those elements combine to make a company better, more competitive, and gain better revenues.” She recommends companies decide what elements of ESG are relevant to their business. On the environmental side, companies may choose to focus on climate, greenhouse gas emissions, or waste and recycling streams. When considering social, companies may turn their attention to employee satisfaction or diversity, and deal with ethics and compliance regarding governance. The next step is how to bring those elements to life. “How do we want to communicate to the world what we’re doing in a way that’s relevant and reliable,” she says.
Shabal noted how her company works to accelerate the transition to a circular economy. “It’s a new economic model where economic growth is decoupled from constant consumption and environmental degradation, everything we do is in the ESG space,” she says.
Shegarian spoke about how the shift from a linear to a circular economy is one of the greatest generational shifts we’re living through. “When I co-founded ERI in 2002 we didn’t want to just be a business as usual. There was no industry for e-waste, we saw an opportunity to do it differently and build the world’s largest electric shredding machine in 2008.”
The machine not only created faster thruputs but also the commodities that come out of electronics recycling including glass, shredded, and cleaned steel, plastics, aluminum, copper, gold, silver, palladium, and trace metals like cobalt and lithium. “When done right, responsibly, and with radical transparency, it’s a zero waste, zero landfill, and zero emission business,” Shegarian says.
During the Q&A section, Robinson turned the discussion to the growing regulatory requirements in Europe around reporting and ESG requirements. The U.S. may be headed down a similar path. On Monday, March 21, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced new rules about publicly traded companies disclosing climate risks to give investors a clearer idea of how companies manage present and future challenges regarding climate change. While the SEC’s requirement would only focus on public companies, Robinson asked the panelist about why privately-owned companies, of which there are many in the recycling industry, should consider ESG reporting, tracking activities, and goal setting.
Hache explained that there’s a competitive advantage to engage in ESG reporting. “You can go to your partners and customers and say, ‘This is how we’re helping you achieve your goals and how we can help you contribute to your process.’” ESG can be a competitive advantage for companies when it comes to being selected as a provider or supplier.
Shabal agreed with Hache and added the audience of recyclers have already dedicated their careers to a service that’s all about preserving natural resources to make the world better. “Walk the talk,” she says. “If you’re here to do the right thing, how do you know you’re doing it? What is your net impact on the people and the planet? How do you evidence that? Do you have data to support it?”
Building off the other panelists, Shegarian added that ESG and reporting can make an impact on a widespread struggle facing many industries—labor shortages. “We’re fighting for employees,” he says. Admitting that many of his employees could be making more by working elsewhere, he said they choose to work at ERI because of the mission. “They like what they do, they get to make the world a better place,” he says. “So, in addition to revenue and making the right decision, doing ESG through the lens of the mission and culture is a competitive advantage for employee retention.”
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