On July 23, the Environmental Industry Associations (EIA) held the second of its quarterly training webinars for its “Environmentalists. Every Day.” (EED) grassroots educational communications program. This hour-long webinar, attended by 41 National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA) and Waste Equipment Technology Association (WASTEC) members, shared best practices for organizing community open house events or site tours, giving presentations at schools or before civic organizations, and supporting philanthropic activities.

EIA President and CEO Bruce J. Parker opened the seminar by addressing the importance of “building solid relationships with your neighbors and reaching out to the influential voices within the communities in which you operate.”

“Many of your friends and neighbors simply don't understand our industry,” Parker continued. “They're not aware of our role on the front lines of protecting the environment and the public health. They don't know how much you do to reduce pollution, conserve energy, promote material sustainability through recycling, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions through landfill-gas-to-energy projects and by the innovations in the trucks and equipment that you use in the management of waste.”

“Community relations are at the heart of the EED program,” Parker concluded. “This is our opportunity to educate and inform.”

One of the highlights of this session was a discussion with Amanda Pratt of Rumpke Consolidated Cos. and Mary Margaret Cowhey of Land and Lakes. The two solid waste professionals discussed how their companies communicate with the communities they serve, then opened the floor to questions.

Asked about the benefits of community outreach, the speakers described a number of suggested community outreach techniques, including working with area schools and community organizations, organizing facility tours and open house events, and supporting other community efforts. “I think that the benefits are quite endless,” said Pratt. “For example, in surveys, we've found that [almost all] tour participants are coming back to us saying that the experience changed the way they thought about landfills and recycling and were all supportive of Rumpke … I think that it should be one of your highest priorities. It's very a cost effective way to promote your company and the industry and create a positive reputation with the people in the communities that you serve.”

“When you spend time with a school district or a town, and they come to appreciate and like you and treat you more as a partner than a vendor, that's just priceless,” Cowhey added. “What you end up doing is building a reservoir of good will.”

Cowhey detailed how Land and Lakes has worked with the curriculum directors for the school districts they serve, while Pratt cited Rumpke's company mascot, Binny, who represents the company at area sporting events and community functions.

Land and Lakes is a smaller company that serves the Chicago-land area, while Rumpke serves customers throughout Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia. Though the companies share similar goals for community relations, the resources that each has available to implement those efforts are different. Pratt described how Rumpke has a corporate communications department to oversee community relations efforts. Conversely, Cowhey shared, “We don't have a communications team. It's just us … But we find that there are some people in the company who are better at public speaking than others.”

Both speakers endorsed the materials made available to NSWMA and WASTEC members through the EED program.

NSWMA and WASTEC members who could not attend this webinar are invited to download both the annotated PowerPoint slides and an audio/video recording of this session by visiting www.environmentalistseveryday.org/spreadtheword. A recording of the April 2009 session on media relations is also available for download.

The next training webinar, scheduled for Oct. 22, will focus on best practices for communicating with government officials. EIA tentatively is planning a January training session on internal or employee-focused communications.

In addition to these quarterly training sessions, EIA continues to offer its member companies direct media relations and public affairs assistance to help members arrange presentations in their community, reach out to local media representatives or use other campaign tools. For help using EED program resources, contact Thom Metzger at tmetzger@envasns.org.

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Thomas Metzger is director of communications and public affairs for the National Solid Wastes Management Association. Reach him at (202) 364-3751.