Episode: 212 |
Ushma Pandya:
Zero Waste:



Ushma Pandya

Zero Waste

Show Notes

Umbrex member Ushma Pandya is the Co-Founder and Partner at Think Zero Inc, an environmental consulting firm supporting businesses’ waste reduction and diversion goals.

In this episode, Ushma walks me through the stages of a typical waste reduction project, and shares some of the surprising things she has found in the recycling bin.

You can learn more about her firm at: https://thinkzerollc.com/

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Will Bachman 00:00
70% of the battle is people don’t know where the item goes, the other 50 is actually changing behavior. Hey, welcome to Unleashed I’m your host Will Bachman Unleashed is produced by Umbrex the first global community connecting top tier independent management consultants with one another. We just heard from today’s guest Umbrex member Uzma Pandya. Sushma is the co founder and partner at think zero Inc, an environmental consulting firm supporting businesses waste reduction and diversion goals. In this episode, ooh schmo walks me through the stages of a typical waste reduction project, and shares some of the surprising things she has found in the recycling bin. You can learn more about her firm at think zero llc.com. And if you’re thinking of seeking an independent consultant to support a project at your firm, or if you are interested in joining our global community of independent management consultants, email me at unleashed@umbrex.com. Hello, ushma Welcome to the show.

Ushma Pandya 01:13
Thank you. Well,

Will Bachman 01:15
ushma give us an example of something you have discovered on a recent audit of recent waste audit. That surprised your client. Sure.

Ushma Pandya 01:27
We do waste audit and commercial building. And we often pull out clothes and shoes. That is always a surprise to our clients that people are just staggered, have lots of clothes and shoes in their drawers and closets and just tossing them. And the second thing is a lot of companies swag. companies spend a lot of money on branded materials and their employees don’t seem to care about it. A little stress ball water bottle, right in the garbage, all of that. But they don’t want it. What have you found in the recycling bin that does not belong there. Oftentimes, we’ll find at compostable cups and bowls. So I did work with a client once who are evaluating what they provide in their cafeterias and pantries. And they were so excited that they had been, you know, paying more for compostable service were furnishing their green crabs, but then I had to tell them, well, you don’t offer composting, so it doesn’t matter. You know, because putting in the recycling bin or putting it in the landfill ban doesn’t mean it actually gets composted. You need to separate stream. Classic virtue signaling. So telling all their employees, we have compostable balls, we’re not actually going to compost them. But theoretically, they could be composted. So they could I guess, if they took them home, right, or found a compost bin out on the street somewhere.

Will Bachman 03:08
All right. So that’s, that’s pretty funny. So let’s start at the top. Your firm think zero. Tell us about tell us about what you do. Thanks. Yeah, so thing is zero LLC is a waste reduction and diversion advisory business. I started this firm with my business partner, Sarah, about three to four years ago. And we work with businesses and building on their waste reduction and diversion goals. So we’ll we’ll spend some time with them figuring out what their goal is. Some of them are quite ambitious, they may want to get to zero waste, which is defined as 90% diversion from landfill or incineration. And others just want to, you know, do their part and reduce as much as they can. So we’ll set the goals. We do waste audits, where we actually do show up at night, and open up garbage and recycle and compost bags and see what’s in them. Make sure people are actually recycling correctly, or composting correctly, and weigh their trash and take lots of pictures and videos and crunch the data. We do walkthroughs of building and then we actually do a lot of behavior change and change management works or trainings, setting up programs and the buildings, cabling, you know, you name it, we do it to be quite innovative and how people think about their waste and helping them reduce it. Okay, so bunch of questions from that.

Ushma Pandya 04:34
So zero waste is a zero waste means that 90% gets diverted. So it actually sounds like it should be called 10% waste, but zero are some things that are just not able to be diverted or recycled or composted. So I think, you know, it would be great to be 100% but I think 90% is a laudable goal. Given what we generate today, alright, so it’s like a little fudge factor in there. Okay, so zero waste. So why are companies trying to achieve this goal of zero waste? That’s a good question. A couple of things. Oftentimes, this happens because of policy and regulatory pressure, as well as consumer pressure on the policy or side, many cities are now establishing the zero waste goal. There are many cities here in the United States, we’re here in New York City, New York City has a zero waste goal that they are looking to achieve by 2030. And that means every single commercial building has to achieve their own Zero Waste for the city to achieve its goal, San Francisco, Seattle, Austin, a ton of a ton of cities have achieved this goal. On the flip side, on the consumer side, there’s just a lot more awareness about waste as an issue. I still think we’re pretty early, but you’ve seen the campaigns with straws and plastic bags, that would not have been, I would not have thought that would have even been possible five years ago. But we are now seeing consumers pressuring governments to enact those bans. And then that means companies also want to do their part, right, and kind of meet the consumer demand. So they’re also looking to see how do we reduce what we’re doing? So they have regulatory pressure and fines, and then they have opposite consumer and employee pressure. Okay, so and they do this through, I guess, reducing just what they buy through maybe putting in long, obviously, I shouldn’t be guessing I should be asking. So it’s it’s reduce it. So it’s basically avoiding sending stuff to the landfill. And that could be recycling it or could be reusing it.

Will Bachman 06:53
Tell us walk us through in a little bit more detail the different phases of a typical engagement. So maybe we start with even Who is your client? So he said commercial building? So would you get hired by the building owner and kind of do an entire building? Or are you working with a corporate, you know, rental client who has two floors of that building?

Ushma Pandya 07:18
We’ll do both. So a lot of our major clients do tend to be a building owners and property managers because waste is a building problem or building operational process. But each tenant within a building is responsible for what happens within their their spaces. And so we will also have individual businesses, who will hire us as well to help us with whatever it is that they’re doing in their own building. And in that case, we then will liaise or work with the building property manager as well, to make sure that what is happening within the tenant space also then flows through to the loading dock and what is being carried out of the building and where is it going?

Will Bachman 08:09
Okay, so what are the key stages of a typical engagement, let’s say with a building, and it sounded like, the first thing is a bit of a diagnostic or a waste audit? Can you walk us through like, what what what are stages 234 of a project.

Ushma Pandya 08:28
So we, the first thing we do is we collect data, and the data can come from a couple of different places. One we we do a waste audit to see what is the level of compliance that the tenants have an outbuilding. So we’ll do that at night. We’ll also do a walkthrough of the building to see are there enough bend? Is there enough signage? Just is it clear what people have to do with the material in their hand because I would have to save 50% of the battle is people don’t know where the item goes. The other 50 is actually changing behavior. But if you don’t have the right band with the right signage, it’s pretty hard to do. So we’ll do a walk through the building. We also will talk with the hauler or the waste management company to understand their process. We’re collecting data about what happens to the trash, the recycle and the compost or the organic ones that leaves the building. So we know actually what is what can and cannot be recycled, what can and cannot be composted, and what needs to go to landfill, and then we’ll do and then we also saw as you’re walking through the building, we also do a diagnostic understanding of what could be eliminated. Because people think about recycling as the first thing you should be doing. And I would say recycling is the last thing you should be doing. The first thing you want to do is refuse or not even, you know to reduce so you’re not actually creating anything that needs to go into a bin.

Will Bachman 09:54
Then you would reuse so you would refuse it you would reduce it you would reuse it and only after all of that would you act

Ushma Pandya 10:00
Recycle or compost, or put in the in the landfill bin. So we gather all that data, we will have a conversation with the, with the client to see what their goals are, are they trying to just meet the rules?

Will Bachman 10:16
Do they have some internal goals that they’re trying to meet? Or do they want to try to get to 90%? You know, what is their goal with sustainability? And how does waste reduction diversion fit into that, then we’ll establish what their goal is. And then we are going to typical engagement and consulting project, we then develop the action plan. So what are the strategic initiatives that need to happen, some are operational, like set up bins and signage,

Ushma Pandya 10:43
working with the cleaning staff to make sure that they have the right process. And then doing a lot of change management and behavior. behavior change work within the the office, so training, incentive, culture change, they’re getting people to just change their behavior and think differently about what they do. We’ll also work with the purchasing department to switch out what they’re buying. Maybe they want to go straight to reusables. We’ve been working with a company on that. But then you kind of got to phase in that and figure out how do you get people hooked to no longer use that paper cup for water and ma you know, and coffee, but all have a reusable that they have to wash at the end of the day? So that’s kind of long winded answer, apologies. But you know, it was gathering the data, setting the goals, and then establishing the plan and then executing on it. Tell me a bit about the the change management work, what what sort of what sort of training or what sort of incentives? Do you would you be providing for people to stop doing whatever thing they’re doing of throwing reams of paper away or something, give us some examples of some of the changes that you try to drive in behavior. It’s surprisingly, how much of this work is change management. It’s all about behavior, because people are used to doing things a different way, which is you just toss everything into a trash. And do you just it gets taken away in a way means that you’ve solved the problem because your area is clean. But what we do is we have to get people to actually do things differently. So for example, if you have water or coke in a can or copy, you need to go dump that and rinse it before you put it in the recycle bin. Wait, what? Yeah, you need to clean your recycles before they go in the recycling bin. Really, you need to rent a coke can. Yeah, I wrote that the coke Can I reset my milk jugscontainer. Make sure it’s not, you know, dirty. And when I do away signage, I’ll see a half you know, half a bottle of coke thrown into the recycle, you got to at least dump out the liquid. Okay, you’ll find salad in the salad container and the recycle bin. So we have to get so that’s a big change is you actually need to go into your pantry, dump out whatever is in the container, and then recycle it. So that’s a big thing for people. The second thing is that if you have reusable and to go containers right next to each other, because sometimes you do need to offer both. Getting people to actually use the reusable is a different change, you know a different behavior that they need to get to and not complain about it. If you do take away all the single use items, then you need to get people used to the different way of dealing with the material. I can’t just throw it in the trash I need to go put it in the pantry, you need to take it back to the to the cafeteria. If you’re offering compost, you need to get people to scrape their food into the compost bin before putting the plate either also in the compost bin if it’s a compostable thing, or if it’s plastic or reusable do now putting it into a different bin. So those are some of the basic behavior changes that we need to kind of get people to do. We have lots of different incentives. I mean, draconian incentive is we have cleaning staff who won’t take away your dust side, Ben if it’s contaminated. Most commercial buildings have a dust dust side bin only for paper. Because there’s only one bin and no one wants to get up that paper bin tends to be the trash can. And so in some building cleaning staff put an oops card on your desk saying oops, your Recycle Bin doesn’t have recycled stuff in it. So we’re not going to take it, clean it up and we’ll take it tomorrow. That actually does change behavior. Believe it or not. property managers are sometimes really scared to do that. But once we do it, it does change behavior. On the flip side, will you can do things such as lunch and learns or will Do come, you know, come learn about a topic and bring your reusable mug and we’ll get free cookies to everyone who comes with their reusable mug to the, to the, to the lunch and learn Yeah, to kind of get people starting to have a different behavior. So we try to do fun things and not so fun things. We’ll also do a challenge, where we’ll say, hey, whichever building or whichever sorry, floor or department has the best recycle bins, at the end of the day, they get a pizza party, or they get a shout out. So we’ll, we’ll try to encourage Positive Behavior versus punish you for negative behavior. But the death side oops card is, is a favorite of mine.

Will Bachman 15:47
So you know, you’re being watched. Yeah. And someone’s paying attention. Wow. Okay. So would be annoying to have your trash bin taken away? I can’t imagine people just go steal a trash bin from somebody else. Yes.

Ushma Pandya 16:08
Okay. So some offices are actually having compost bins, or you scrape your food and stuff into them. In New York City, if you have a cafeteria of a certain square footage or or more, you do actually need to compost that tends to be back of house. So in the kitchen prep area, but most of them will also offer it in the front of house, if you put your plate on the conveyor belt and it goes in the back. They’ll take it and they’ll compost it. Smaller offices that are trying to be more green. And I’ve worked with some of them do have their own compost bins, and they work with micro haulers for smaller composting services. And they have a bin in their pantry area and they have signage and people compost.

Will Bachman 17:00
How did you get into this kind of waste reduction Zero Waste world

Ushma Pandya 17:07
at all always been interested in a topic, I think people have asked me why I don’t know. I think I lived in California many years ago. And we did a lot of environmental education. I think that was aware of it. I also grew up a little bit in India, where waste, you didn’t throw away a lot of things, you kind of reused a lot of things. So just aware of how different it was here in the US. And so it was just something that I was just fascinated by the fact that we throw away so much, and we don’t really care where it goes. And for me, when we throw stuff into landfill, there are so many health and wellness issues with it, obviously for those who live near a landfill. But when we throw things away, and they leach into the the into the ground, it can leach into our water it can leach into soil that then eventually we’re growing food in. You know, it’s like there are health reasons for thinking about what you consume and what you throw away. So that’s that, but I met my business partner, we both live in the tobacco neighborhood of New York City, because we both cloth diapers are kits, and we shared cloth diapers. And we realized that we are both really into this topic. And when the New York City commercial recycling rules came out, we realized that this could be an opportunity for us to help businesses or buildings, at least get into compliance with with the rules. And over time we’ve been testing and innovating and trying things are beyond even just compliance. How do we get companies to do different things? You know, so we’ve been testing out new ideas. We’ve also worked with the America, the New York City chapter of the architectural Institute on a zero waste challenge. So we did that last year, which was fun. So you know, we’re trying out different ways of engaging on this topic with different stakeholders. And did you go through any formal training on this? Or have you just kind of attended industry events and read up on it and just kind of figured it out? or How did you develop all of your methodologies. So my content knowledge is from reading and attending a lot of events and talking to people. I also through the US Green Building Council and a true I’ve received my true certification, which enables me to certify facilities as zero waste. So I learned a lot about the methodology through that programming. But the work that I do with companies is based on my 20 years of experience, I’m a former strategy consultant, as well as you know, in house at a fortune 10 company, and setting goals, developing the plan, and doing a lot of change management and behavior change. Work is been something I’ve been doing for a while. time I’m now just applying those skills to the topic of waste reduction and diversion. Before may have been, you know, thinking about how do I get a company to go from x to y now, it’s like, how do I get people to recycle? So the skills are the same, I’m just applying it to a different topic. Okay. Sure. In a previous conversation, you told me that you have been developing some templates and some kind of very process documents for this. So that, you know, even thinking about potentially packaging something up that clients can, you know, purchases a product, they get that, can you tell us a little bit about about that side about how you’ve been working to kind of streamline and systematize what you do? Yeah. So obviously, this is a homegrown business and we bootstrapped business, and I’ve created along with my business partner, right, all the tools and templates we use, we are hopefully, we’re hoping to do a soft launch in the next month or so. A self guided program on waste reduction diverse, so we are taking all of our material, and all of our, our the way that we do the work, and we are packaging it up into some module, and checklists and templates, and you know, our training our FAQs, how to do a waste audit the form to do the waste audit all of that we’re putting it together, and we’re going to be enabling corporations to be able to purchase it and then use it within their own space. We’re still working out some of the details. But when you and I spoke, I know you encouraged me to think about it as a subscription model. So we are thinking about that, because we do update our content constantly. And will probably also offer the opportunity to do phone consultations with us. But the idea here is how do we take what we have in our head and what we do in a very high touch way. With some marquee clients here in New York City. How do we enable many more companies to be able to do that? to scale our work without scaling my business? In terms of people? Well, Lucia, this has been fascinating. Where can people find you online? If they want to go to your website or or reach out to you? Yeah, my I have a website things zero llc.com. And then we are on Instagram at thing zero LLC. We also have a LinkedIn page and a Facebook page. Fantastic. Well follow us. All right, well, I’m gonna have to check out your Instagram. See, see, maybe see some things that you’ve pulled out of recycling.

Will Bachman 22:43
Thank you so much for being on the show. This is really interesting to hear about the world of zero waste. Great. Thank you so much for the opportunity to talk soon. Thanks for listening to this episode of Unleashed the show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional. Unleashed is sponsored by Umbrex, the world’s first global community of top tier independent management consultants. The mission of Umbrex is to create opportunities for independent management consultants to meet, share lessons learned and collaborate. I’d love to get your feedback and hear any questions that you’d like to see us answer on this show. You can email me at unleashed@umbrex.com that’s umbrx.com. If you found anything on the show helpful, it would be a real gift if you would let a friend know about the show. And take a minute to leave a review on iTunes, Google Play or Stitcher and if you subscribe, our show will get delivered to your device every Monday. Our audio engineer is Dave Nelson. Our theme song was composed by Gary neg Bower and I’m your host Will Bachman. Thanks for listening

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