For most businesses, the question increasingly is not whether or not you should do a sustainability report. It has become: “Are you doing ongoing sustainability reporting and integrating your environmental efforts with your finances?”

For waste and recycling companies, it’s also increasingly becoming a way to show your customers how they can achieve those sustainability goals with your unique position as an environmental business.

“With the explosion of information services, I think it’s much better for the company if they take control of the information being disclosed and tell their own story,” says Amy Augustine, director, corporate program for the Boston-based Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES), a non-profit organization that promotes corporate sustainability, regarding the reasons to do a sustainability report. “It’s a way to really educate investors and stakeholders on how they progress.”

Darcy Hitchcock is co-founder of the Portland, Ore.-based International Society of Sustainability Professionals. “You get some organization to your sustainability efforts. It builds some accountability,” she says.

Larger companies often exert influence on their supply chain, says Hitchcock. “If we’re doing it and you’re one of our suppliers, then you need to do it too.”

Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Co. is one those companies creating a ripple effect. Coke estimates that the sustainable work done by one of its employees affects 10 further down the supply chain. “One of the things the reporting does is tell the power of that economic multiplier on a global scale,” says Allyson Park, vice president, corporate external affairs for the company.

“We do it for transparency,” she says. “What we’re doing, how we’re doing it, who we’re partnering with, challenges we have.”

It can help open up economic ideas and reveal new markets, innovation and cost benefits. “You end up saving a lot of money in ways you didn’t expect,” Hitchcock says. It can also be a management tool to help the team improve performance.

Sustainable Sanitation

Waste Management Inc. approaches corporate sustainability reports as both a waste generator and an environmental services provider. “I’m trying to tell the world what we really do and how that positively impacts the environment,” says Lynn Brown, corporate communications vice president for the Houston-based company. “Sustainability is an ideal place to get in-depth on those things you can’t in a press release or an interview.”

Sustainability issues are of particular interest to the regulatory community, adds Sue Briggum, vice president of federal/public affairs for Waste Management. “It’s very important they know about it,” she says. 

And for waste and recycling companies, sustainability reports can serve as a valuable tool to get business. Waste Management has set four sustainability goals to reach by 2020: Triple the amount it recycles; quadruple the waste-based energy it produces; improve fleet efficiency by 15 percent; and achieve 25,000 acres of protected wildlife habitat (which it has already surpassed). “If you look at each of those, they’re relevant to our business – recycling, energy, fleets, landfills,” she says.

The waste industry’s largest company shares its sustainability reports with its national accounts customers and puts them into proposals. “By the very nature of what we do, things that are in a sustainability report are a part of our business,” Brown says.

“In other reports we’re often identified as the partner that helps them increase their renewable energy or recycling,” adds Briggum. “We’re the service provider for other people’s sustainability goals, and we have to tell a broader story than some of the generators do when we do our reports.”