Waste Not
How Ford, Goodwill, Sprint Built Effective Recycling/Reuse Initiatives Through Innovative Partnerships

On Tuesday, the week of learning at SB ’15 San Diego continued as Nina Goodrich, director of GreenBlue, moderated a discussion on innovative partnerships around recycling and reuse initiatives.

The first partners to present were Carrie Majeske, Associate Director of Global Sustainability Integration at Ford, and John Gardner, Chief Sustainability Officer at Novelis. The automotive and aluminum giants joined forces to create the first all-aluminum F-150 truck. The process also built up recycling capability to bring aluminum scrap back into Ford’s system for a fully closed loop.

Other benefits from the partnership included:

  • 700 lbs of weight reduction
  • Best in Class for towing, payload and fuel economy
  • 5-star safety rating
  • Better acceleration and braking
  • The most advanced recycling closed-loop system in the automotive industry.

“Our business model is to think circular the whole way through the way we do our business,” Gardner said. “It’ll be decades before we see the F-150 at end of life, but when we do it’s designed to be completely recycled time and time again.”

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Ford and Novelis worked with existing logistical infrastructure as well, by having the same Novelis trucks that deliver fresh aluminum to Ford pick up the scraps to be reprocessed into new metal.

Next came the partnership between PepsiCo and The Nature Conservancy (TNC), represented by Meagan Smith, Program Director of PepsiCo Recycling, and Geof Rochester, Managing Director of The Nature Conservancy and their collaboration, Recycle for Nature.

The partnership emerged from dismal bottle and can recycling rates, lack of recycling bin access and increased concern for safe drinking water. Pepsi saw an opportunity to increase recycling rates by amplifying motivation through promotion of safe drinking water. Thus began its five-year partnership with TNC, with the goal to save and restore one billion gallons of water in rivers that supply water to more than 35 million people across nine states. The six focus regions include the Colorado River, Denver's Front Range Forests, Arizona's Verde River, Arkansas' Kings River and North Carolina's Cape Fear River.

Smith saw this partnership as a natural collaboration between two leading sustainability initiatives. Pepsi alone has 400 people working on water worldwide, so the beverage giant engaged that ‘horsepower’ and refocused it on the six focus regions. Additionally, after the TNC partnership was announced, Smith shared that MillerCoors and WellsFargo approached Pepsi about partnering to work on the Front Range Forest, which resulted in an additional three-year partnership with both entities and subsequently tripled investment in the region.

Rochester added that, historically, The Nature Conservancy hasn’t focused on recycling, but through Pepsi’s leadership and innovation they are now driving it in the U.S. Recycle for Nature provides tangibility and accessibility to a challenge that can be abstracted by science.

Rochester also noted that the narrative around conservation is changing; what used to be ‘nature for nature’s sake’ is now ‘nature for business’ and ‘nature for society;’ if we take care of nature, nature will take care of us.

Their target audience? Everyone. A large goal, Smith admitted, but by finding that motivation, adjusting communications, and targeting K-12 students, colleges and universities and anyone that visits convenience stores or gas stations, Pepsi and TNC hope to achieve success. They will also be announcing a celebrity partnership next Thursday.

The next featured partnership was represented by Liz Maw, CEO of Net Impact, and Darren Beck, Director Environmental Initiatives & CSR Innovation at Sprint, whose organizations together launched the Smartphone Encore Challenge — an attempt to inspire students to generate new ideas about how to revive old smartphones and their components, in February.

Beck outlined the current state of electronic waste in the U.S:

  • The wireless penetration rate in the U.S. is 104 percent
  • 1.9 billion mobile phones were shipped worldwide last year
  • 94 billion kilowatt hours of energy were used to produce those phones, which is the equivalent of 7 nuclear power plants running all year

He also shared that Sprint’s top cost is buying mobile phones from manufacturers, which Sprint then provides a $449 discount on. That, coupled with the fact that the electronic recycling rate is below 20 percent, makes the continued rate of consumption unsustainable.

“Smartphones are amazing machines. Even four-year old smartphones have gyroscopes, accelerometers, and computing capabilities that would take way more time and money to make from scratch than it would to rebuild a broken phone,” said Beck.

Through several partnerships, Sprint has been able to restructure its value chain. A partnership with HOBI recycles old smartphones; its buyback program has avoided $1 billion in costs for reuse; a partnership with Brightstar International has created a new marketplace for old phones; and the Encore competition with Net Impact has stimulated demand for after-market devices.

Maw presented the competition winner, TouchCart, a ”smart” grocery cart that aims to transform traditional shopping carts into multi-purpose shopping assistants, providing savings for grocery stores and an improved shopping experience for customers. Beck added that the competition has been a “pipeline for talent,” as Sprint hired two contestants from honorable mention winner FontsAloud, a mobile service for reading to the blind, as interns at Sprint to develop their idea further.

Sprint was delighted with the partnership and it proved to Beck that partnerships enable businesses “to achieve much more than we can on our own.” The phone company hopes to get more manufacturers involved in developing recyclable materials at the beginning of production, more competitions like Encore and to share Sprint’s resources — knowledge, connections, finance — to help startups advance in the marketplace.

Goodwill’s VP of Marketing and Donated Goods Retail, Michael Meyer was the final presenter. He shared experience from three recent partnerships with Uber, BON-TON and The Give Back Box.

Goodwill’s one-day Spring Cleaning event with Uber in April took place in 62 cities, got 6,800 people to donate 450,000 pounds of items and created 32,300 hrs of job training. Additionally, their social media reach that day was 24 million, six times larger than any other Goodwill campaign to date. Uber also saw an uptick in app downloads as older demographics familiar with Goodwill learned about its service.

Goodwill’s partnership with Midwest retail giant BON-TON yielded five million pounds of gently used items in 2014 through a simple collection program, and generated roughly 693,000 hours of job training and education through Goodwill. Meyer’s final share was the launch of a partnership with Give Back Box, a startup partnering with e-commerce retailers to ship prepaid shipping boxes that consumers can use to send pre-owned goods to charities — in this case, Goodwill. Partners include Overstock, Styleupgirl.com, Asics, Ann Taylor Loft and more, while still others are lining up to get involved.

Meyer closed by inviting everyone in the room to pitch Goodwill a pilot sustainability program.

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