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June 18, 2014

Infusing Transparency into the Pursuit of Zero Waste to Landfill

Waste Management and UL Environment are helping waste producers to institute landfill diversion processes to achieve a true “Zero Waste to Landfill” outcome. What are WM and UL’s take on validating these initiatives? WM’s Raymond Randall sat down with UL’s Scot Case to discuss how to meet the need for transparent sustainability claims.

Raymond Randall: Waste Management has been working collaboratively with our customers for many years to help them increase their diversion rates, innovate and optimize to find better options for managing their material streams. Traditionally, companies felt comfortable determining their diversion rates internally, and those rates were frequently used for internal benchmarking or anecdotal purposes. But the market’s call for increased transparency has led many companies to reconsider the practice of “self-certification” and seek objective authentication from a third party entity like UL Environment. Tell me a little about how or why UL Environment decided to develop its Zero Waste to Landfill Claim Validation?

Scot Case: UL has been helping companies build trust with consumers for 120 years. When we looked at the number of companies making zero waste pledges and beginning to make zero waste claims, we were struck by how many different methodologies companies were using to evaluate themselves. As we began our research, we found more than a dozen different definitions of the word ‘zero.’

This finding was quite alarming to us because UL Environment exists in part to build trust in environmental claims. Consumers can’t look at a product and tell if it is safer, healthier, or greener because these beneficial attributes are invisible. You have to trust the claims people are making.

The green product world has suffered several ups-and-downs when manufacturers begin exaggerating environmental claims and environmental benefits, a phenomenon known as “greenwashing.”

Consumers are already mistrustful of many advertising claims and we didn’t want use of the phrase “zero waste” to give them more reasons to be concerned.

We decided that for the claim to be meaningful, everyone should be using a consistent definition of “zero”, and using a consistent methodology for measuring, tracking, and reporting progress on their zero waste goals. The Landfill Waste Diversion validation procedure, or “Zero Waste to Landfill” standard (UL-2799), is the result of our consensus-based standard development process to define zero waste.

Raymond Randall: That transparency is both needed and welcomed. When Waste Management reviewed the landscape of definitions of “Zero Waste” or even “Zero Waste to Landfill,” it was almost comical to see the diversity of definitions of these terms, and especially the variance in how “zero” is actually defined. Many companies, and even some certification entities, define “zero” to mean 90% diversion, 95% diversion, or some other number. UL Environment’s Zero Waste to Landfill Claim Validation actually interprets “zero” to mean….”zero.” While a somewhat obvious definition, it hasn’t been the common definition. What led UL Environment to buck the trend and actually develop its claim validation so that “zero” actually means “zero”?

Scot Case: Well, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, the government agency responsible for enforcing truth-in-advertising claims, published its Green Guides, which outline the requirements for making legitimate environmental claims. The Guides include a specific definition for the word “zero.”

I think many companies are not fully aware of the Guides or the risk they are taking by making zero waste claims that are less than completely accurate.

The UL standard both defines “zero” and outlines the methodology for substantiating the claim.

Raymond Randall: The UL standard is indeed a clear and concise standard. Waste Management had the pleasure of escorting one of our customers, Bridgestone Americas, Inc., through the standard, and they were awarded the highest tier of validation, “Zero Waste to Landfill,” becoming the first company in the world to earn that validation. We’ve also had other manufacturers express interest in UL Environment’s claim validation platform, and it seems to be a natural fit within the manufacturing world. Yet other industries are experiencing similar cries for transparency and clarity in their environmental claims. What other industries or market segments is UL Environment sensing a growing interest in its Zero Waste to Landfill Claim Validation platform?

Scot Case: We’re seeing interest from lots of different industries; in part, because retailers like Walmart, and other companies like McDonald’s and Proctor & Gamble have publicly announced zero waste goals. Suppliers to those companies have begun feeling pressure to adopt similar goals. Currently, companies in a range of industries have validated to the UL standard, including Mayer Brothers (beverage), Waste Management Phoenix Open (events), Bridgestone (tire manufacturing) and GAF (roofing).

Raymond Randall: That’s fantastic, Scot. In many ways, it identifies companies who are leaders in their respective industries, as they each pursue Zero Waste to Landfill initiatives. Let’s hope there are many more companies deciding to embrace this kind of clarity and transparency in their sustainability claims.

Thanks for spending a few minutes with me today, Scot.

Join UL and WM on June 24th (11:00-12:00 pm CST) for an online conversation about why zero waste is such an important concept and hear details of UL Environment’s validation process.

What are your thoughts on the Zero Waste to Landfill initiative? Take the conversation online by tweeting @WasteManagement and @ulenvironment, or posting on either the Waste Management or the UL Environment Facebook page, and tell us what you are doing to contribute to the Zero Waste to Landfill initiatives.