Judy Walton, AASHE’s Chief Publications Officer, recently interviewed Herb Sharpe, Corporate Director of Education and Health Care Solutions at Waste Management, an AASHE Business Leader Member. Herb is responsible for leading a team of sales and sustainability professionals to drive value and provide sustainable solutions to Waste Management’s customers. He joined Waste Management in the summer of 2011 to develop and lead the new Education Solutions group within the Public Sector Segment and recently accepted the opportunity to manage the Healthcare Solutions Segment for North America. Before coming to Waste Management, Herb spent 23 years in the telecommunications industry building and managing top performing sales teams and successfully executing growth strategies.
JW: Colleges and universities are more like small cities than large businesses and this distinction is bound to create unique challenges when it comes to sustainability, specifically in implementing waste reduction and diversion initiatives. In your line of business, what are the main challenges you see facing higher education institutions today as they address their sustainability needs?
HS: I think one of the main challenges higher education institutions are facing is the ability to implement sustainability programs while controlling costs. When implementing new programs, universities continually look for ways to balance their long-term sustainability initiatives, which will deliver savings and benefits, with the short-term impact of increased costs. With our Think Green® Campus Model, Waste Management can help with this challenge. We can help colleges and universities implement cost-saving green programs such as single-stream recycling, composting, solar powered compactors, and e-waste recycling. Programs like these can help control waste disposal costs while at the same reducing the amount of waste sent to landfills.
JW: You mentioned the cost benefits of bringing in certain new programs, recognizing that higher education institutions today have serious financial concerns. Can you further discuss how institutions can minimize the costs of solutions while maximizing long-term benefits of becoming more sustainable?
HS: Waste Management can customize unique solutions for higher education institutions depending on how large or small their sustainability goals and budgets are. We can help colleges cut their overall costs by using our Education Solutions team to perform assessments and identify potential savings. A good example of this is Waste Management’s solar-powered compactors. This program cuts operational costs while helping to meet waste reduction goals. Arizona State University and Boston University are enjoying the benefits of this. In addition to looking out for cost saving opportunities, our trained team of sustainability professionals works with campuses to identify areas of great potential for increased diversion (including re-use opportunities) and recommends and/or implements strategies to maximize that diversion.
JW: It’s well known that student involvement is pivotal to the success of any sustainability program, and that the success of a recycling or sustainability program depends greatly on student behavior change. While institutional leadership may remain fairly consistent over the next decade, the student population is constantly changing. What are the best ways to guarantee active participation from students and maintain that involvement from one year to the next?
HS: Visibility is important. By that, I mean ensuring that all programs are implemented in a way that is visible to the student body. Placement of recycling containers at the student unions and large gathering places sends a strong message and keeps the institution’s sustainability goals at the forefront of students’ minds. In addition to that, ongoing education is important. g College websites, student newspapers and bulletin boards, for example, are constant re-enforcers that help to remind students and faculty what the campus is doing to meet its green objectives. With our network of schools, we are able to foster collaboration and share best practices from our different partners. We see an emphasis on a green culture from before the students arrive on campus, until they eventually leave. Green Move-in days, Greening Game Days, Zero Waste Events and appointing sustainability ambassadors are all programs we have identified as critical to getting active participation from students.
JW: We hear a lot about Zero-Waste these days. Is Zero by 2020 realistic for most campuses? What can make attaining that a reality?
HS: A goal of 80 percent waste diversion by 2020 is attainable, especially with Waste Management’s focus on organics. Organics is a major portion of the waste stream. In some universities, organics is a big issue and we are putting together several different pilot programs in order to help with diverting organics away from the landfills and turning it into a reusable source.
I mentioned move-in and move-out programs earlier. This program offers another great way to divert waste from the landfill through recycling and re-using. For example, a lot of furniture, such as desks and dressers, is thrown away each year as students move out. We’ve implemented programs on some campuses where we capture those re-usable items and give them to students coming in the following year so that those items don’t go to the landfills. Waste Management has several case studies of successful waste reduction programs, including those at Rutgers, ASU and the University of New Hampshire. Our goal is to help institutions get to zero waste. Advancements in collections systems and new technology will dictate whether we can reach 100 percent waste diverted, but 80 percent is definitely achievable by 2020, or even sooner.
JW: What about reporting programs showing students year over year how much was recycled and the impact that had? Does Waste Management offer programs like that?
HS: Absolutely. Reporting is key because it helps students – as well as faculty, staff and administrators – see the successes and motivates them further. To help universities and colleges track and meet their set goals, Waste Management provides quarterly and annual reports on how successful the institution has been in achieving those goals, and the impacts it has had year over year. Those reports can then be posted as another visible way to remind students and faculty of the institution’s sustainability programs and goals.
JW: What do you do in your spare time?
HS: My 18 year old daughter, Chandler, is an amazing soccer player and her mom and I just love watching her play. So most times, you’ll find me on the sidelines cheering her or at home watching my beloved South Carolina Gamecocks football.