Personal Benefits

A Commitment to Action: Taking Recycling to the Next Level in the United States

January 13, 2014

Elisabeth Comere
Director, Environmental and Government Affairs
View the original article here

When asked why recycling is so important, my response is simple: it is integral to business. Recycling is a fundamental requirement to uphold competitiveness and reputation as responsible and innovative companies.

For decades, companies and their respective trade associations have invested in various recycling initiatives aimed at recovering their own used packaging and printed paper products.  While initially such efforts reaped measurable recovery benefits, very little progress has been made in the past 10 years. We, too, have seen firsthand the benefits of a carton-specific voluntary approach through our own efforts and that of the Carton Council. However, future carton recovery progress relies on addressing the infrastructure, promotional, and harmonization needs that affect the recovery of all packaging and printed paper materials.

Discussion is ongoing among brand owners, packaging manufacturers and other “producers” regarding how to substantially increase material recovery and recycling in the United States via cross-sector collaboration.  While it has not led to much action to date, the forums for discussion have kept the conversation alive and have succeeded in elevating the knowledge and awareness level of all stakeholders through the process. The dialogue exposed the risks of inaction as well as the opportunities inherent in a robust recovery system.

Discussions have also led to extensive research conducted by multiple organizations to develop an understanding of the nuances that impact recovery success. AMERIPEN, for instance, has collected data and developed findings regarding what works best to dramatically improve recovery in cities across the US. AMERIPEN’s study combined with other research efforts have laid the groundwork by defining what needs to be done. It is now clearly understood that effective recovery requires a comprehensive set of best practices – optimized infrastructure, effective promotion and education, incentives, policies aimed at boosting recycling participation, and sustainable program funding.  Implementing best practices in all of these areas is unreasonable to ask of local governments and is more than any one material sector can bring about on their own.

Forums like Alcoa’s Action to Accelerate Recycling and AMERIPEN have primed stakeholders for collaboration bringing the right people to the table and raising the right questions to facilitate action.

The New Ask

Industry is now rallying around a new call to action: create an organized coalition(s) of private and public sector representatives to create a scalable but phased systems approach to recycling. Building upon past learnings, this approach will leverage pooled resources and use a combination of tools to strategically address priority opportunities as opposed to a series of discreet pilot programs and projects.

Experimentation in Coalition Building

To support the move from talk to collaborative action, my company is launching projects in Tennessee and North Carolina that will target communities with customized action plans addressing multiple barriers to materials recovery performance.  Depending on a community’s existing infrastructure and resources, we have identified the policies, practices and investment focus areas that will yield the greatest impact on recovery. Examples include recycling mandates or ordinances for variable-rate waste collection pricing, a transition to single-stream, roll-cart recovery systems, investment in optimizing processing facilities, working with state government to align policy and grant funding with local needs, and so on. We have estimated a total increase in recovery of over 220,000 tons if best practices and a robust outreach and education campaign are brought to bear on recycling programs across Tennessee.

We see our role in this experiment as the catalyst for collaboration. We are now building informal coalitions in Tennessee and North Carolina with key industry and government stakeholders to bring these system improvements to fruition. This experiment is testing a series of approaches on the ground to see what works at the local level allowing for replication elsewhere on a greater scale.

Aiming Higher: The SERDC Coalition

We now want to move forward with regional campaigns for collaborative voluntary producer initiatives – campaigns that build upon the learnings from state-by-state activities and stress best practices in packaging recovery to overcome funding constraints, infrastructure gaps and barriers to policy adoption.

In support of this idea, we took part in the Southeast Recycling Development Council’s (SERDC) Paper & Packaging Symposium this month in Atlanta. Involving over 100 participants, SERDC issued a straightforward call to action: Work together to recover more recyclables, of better quality, and quickly.

A common discussion thread was what distinguishes the SERDC initiative from past efforts and how that will bring about success.  Key differences are that SERDC is an established organization of state government and industry partners and other key stakeholders – the influencers are already at the table. Research to inform priorities for the region has been conducted and the group is ready to move on building the organizational mechanism to transition from research to action.

SERDC recovery initiative partners intend to explore the optimum levels of engagement of public and private resources, expertise and funding. Given growing consumer expectations and the threat of government regulation, the risk of inaction surpasses the rationale for a laissez-faire approach. We all have a stake in the outcome of recycling performance in this country and will achieve more by combining forces than through disparate action. We call on you to commit to participating in SERDC’s coalition.

Elisabeth Comere is the director of environment and government affairs for Tetra Pak in North America, the world leader in packaging and food processing solutions. She joined the company in 2006 as Environment Manager for Europe where she helped define and drive Tetra Pak’s environmental strategy. She joined the North American operations in 2010, focusing on advancing Tetra Pak’s commitment to sustainability in the US and Canada, and she is active in various industry and customer packaging and sustainability initiatives. Elisabeth previously served as a political adviser to a member of the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, and headed the environment department of the Food & Drink Industry group in Europe.

Survey: Doctors Key in Promoting Positive Impacts of Healthy Building Design, Construction & Maintenance

June 27, 2014
Original post here

The critical connection between a healthy building environment and patient health is often missed by the one group of professionals who may matter most – physicians, according to a new SmartMarket report by McGraw Hill Construction sponsored by the American Institute of Architects (AIA), United Technologies Corp. and other partners.

“It’s becoming clear from this initial research that doctors and other health professionals must engage with architects and the design community in a major way if we are to be successful in improving public health through design,” said AIA CEO Robert Ivy, FAIA. “We look forward to furthering that dialogue with physicians and to helping support additional research into this critical public health issue.”

The survey results were announced at the opening session American Institute of Architects Annual Convention.
The report, “The Drive Toward Healthier Buildings: The Market Drivers and Impact of Building Design on Occupant Health, Well-Being and Productivity,” finds that though 18 percent of homeowners say that doctors are their primary source for information on healthy home products and decisions, only 53 percent of pediatricians, 32 percent of family doctors/general practitioners and 40 percent of psychiatrists believe that buildings even impact patient health. Only 15 percent report receiving any information on this connection, but the results also reveal that a key challenge is not just getting information to them but gaining their attention in ways that would alter their perspective, with nearly a quarter (22 percent) reporting that more information would likely not change what they do today. You can access the full report.

The study suggests that getting more information to this group is essential to help create demand for more healthy building design and construction, given the limited understanding that physicians demonstrate of building health impacts. Physician awareness and recommendation of more fundamental healthy building design and construction practices that connect with the health risks of most concern to public health—lack of exercise, chronic stress, poor diet and obesity—could help create the market demand needed to drive investment, but only if physicians expand their engagement with these issues.

Today, the only issue the medical practitioners agree is a link between buildings and health is around mold and mildew, but that is only one of a plethora of factors in building decisions that could impact health.
“Most homeowners rely on family members and friends or colleagues to influence their choices of healthy products and practices, with very few seeking advice from builders, remodelers, contractors and architects who know most about how these decisions affect the occupant. As the construction industry increases its engagement in healthy building, this represents an opportunity for industry professionals to assist clients make decisions in order to positively impact their health,” said Harvey M. Bernstein, F.ASCE, LEED AP, vice president, Industry Insights and Alliances for McGraw Hill Construction.

The report also finds that, contrary to the position held by physicians, the general public is aware of the link between buildings and people’s health.
• 63 percent of homeowners believe products and practices they use at home affect their health, with the majority (50 percent) pointing to impact on allergies, followed by asthma/respiratory illnesses (32 percent) and headaches/migraines (30 percent).
• 90 percent of homeowners believe school buildings affect student health/productivity, and 95 percent believe hospital buildings and operations affect patient/staff health and productivity.
Human resource executives also recognize the link between buildings and health, with its top emphasis on spaces that encourage social interaction. Sixty-six percent of their companies consider spaces for social interaction when making leasing decisions today, and even more (75 percent) expect it will be considered in the future. Yet, the architect community is not as attuned to this need, with creating spaces for social integration being eighth in a list of key factors. This gap suggests the industry needs to be more sensitive to this issue given how the millennial and subsequent generations work, learn and interact and thus, improve their productivity.

The report reflects a landmark research project that is the first to span across five key stakeholders that influence the prevalence of healthy design and construction practices in buildings, including the physicians noted above, construction industry professionals in the residential and non-residential sectors, owner HR executives and homeowners. The breadth of the study is essential in critical gaps between stakeholder responses that are preventing the design and construction industry from fully capitalizing on the specific healthy building investments sought by other stakeholders.
The report reveals the increasing attention industry professionals and owners are placing on health in design and construction plans—as well as some of the needs the industry has to increase these efforts.

According to the study:
• All firms are reporting increases in addressing occupant health in design and construction decisions—59 percent of owners, with architects leading other players in adoption of healthy practices.
• Firms that are doing more green building work are also more attuned to health issues.
• Owners need more data and greater public awareness of the health impacts of products, practices and buildings holistically in order to support additional healthy building investments. Those are reported as the top drivers at 40 percent and 48 percent of owners, respectively.

“Green buildings have real, proven health benefits including improved employee productivity, lower health care costs and reduced absenteeism,” said John Mandyck, chief sustainability officer, UTC Building & Industrial Systems. “This study shows that human resource professionals and building owners see the benefit of investing in a healthier physical work environment — in fact, 66 percent of those who measured occupant well-being saw an improvement after moving to a green building.”

The report cites the need for further investigation into the specific benefits of different design, construction and product decisions, in order to overcome obstacles to investments in these areas that influence health and wellbeing.
The study is comprised of five separate market research surveys, all benchmarking at the 95 percent confidence level—(1) survey of architects, contractors and owners in nonresidential construction; (2) survey of residential builders, architects, remodelers and interior designers; (3) survey of U.S. homeowners; (4) survey of human resource executives at U.S. firms; and (5) survey of medical professionals, including general practitioners, pediatricians and psychologists/psychiatrists. Each survey captures the unique perspective of these stakeholders in terms of their awareness of healthy building impact, use of healthy building products and practices and drivers for them to prioritize health factors in future building decisions. More detailed findings on insights from all these groups are in the report.
“The Drive Toward Healthier Buildings: The Market Drivers and Impact of Building Design on Occupant Health, Well-Being and Productivity SmartMarket” Report was produced by McGraw Hill Construction in partnership with the American Institute of Architects and other premier research partners: United Technologies, CB Richard Ellis and the U.S. Green Building Council. Other support for the project was provided by the project’s two supporting research partners—the American Society of Interior Designers and Delos—and contributing partners Armstrong Ceilings Systems and Armstrong Commercial Flooring, Dewberry, Integral Group, Sloan Valve Company, Urban Land Institute, U.S. Green Building Council—Northern California Chapter, Webcor and the World Green Building Council.