Episode 96: Rising Leaders Talk Trash (Transcript)
[00:00:00] Liz Bothwell: Hi everyone, welcome to Waste360’s NothingWasted! Podcast. On every episode, we invite the most interesting people in waste recycling and organics to sit down with us and chat candidly about their thoughts, their work, this unique industry and so much more. Thanks for listening and enjoy this episode.
[00:00:26] Zach Martin: Welcome to WasteExpo’s 2020 virtual session of Rising Leaders Talking Trash. I am Zach Martin, Vice President of Sales for Big Truck Rental. We have a great group of panelists today here on the virtual screen, that all been awarded the prestigious 40 Under 40 Award this year in 2020. The goal of this session, for you the audience, is to provide some insight into a career in the waste and recycling industry, as well as to get the perspective from these rising stars on some key topics that are impacting the industry, not only today but into the future.
In addition, to highlighting the 40 Under 40, I did want to take a quick minute to talk a little bit about the FILA Group. FILA is The Future Industry Leaders Alliance that is a part of the National Waste & Recycling Association. This group has made up of about 80 members across the US and Canada of folks that have been identified by up-and-coming leaders within their organization. It’s a great opportunity to network and get access to some awesome professional development throughout the year.
If you have interest, we’d like to encourage you to learn more about the group, apply to the group. You can do that in the resource section of this webinar, as well as check out more details on the 40 Under 40 group in that same section. With that, on the panel today, we actually have a FILA member, Josh Mann from Waste Management. We’re going to go around the horn, have each one of you introduce yourself, tell us a little bit how you got started in the waste industry. Josh, you want to kick us off?
[00:02:05] Josh Mann: Sure. Thanks, Zach. Great to be here today. Certainly just glad that we can all get together and enjoy a WasteExpo virtually this year.
My name is Josh Mann, I’m the Public Sector Solutions Manager for Waste Management. It’s a fancy way of saying I design, implement, and manage municipal collection programs here in Southern California. Got about a hundred and twenty thousand individual customers spread over three counties. It’s an exciting business here in Southern California. I come to the industry, actually, rather recently. My background is in economic development.
I spent a lot of years assisting communities with attracting and retaining businesses, primarily small and medium-sized businesses to their communities. I worked a little on tax incentives. I really just had a chance of a lifetime lunch with a friend of mine and he said, “I got a career opportunity for you.” Here I am, five years later.
[00:03:17] Zach: Awesome. Thanks for sharing, Josh. Alex?
[00:03:21] Alexandria Coari: Yes, absolutely. Thanks so much for having me. My name is Alexandria Coari. I am the Director of Capital and Innovation at ReFED. ReFED is a national nonprofit that works to accelerate solutions to food waste specifically. In terms of how I got started in the waste industry, my background actually is in investment banking. I had a handful of years also working on fair trade certification, specifically in the fresh produce industry.
Then, the last few years of my career, I’ve worked in the startup acceleration space. About two and a half years ago when I joined ReFED, prior to that I was actually living between Mexico and Chile. As I was coming back to the States and looking for my next opportunity, I was thinking about the words of a recruiter that at one point had asked me, given my eclectic background here, what I was trying to do with my life. Did I want to make money or did I want to make an impact?
Honestly, in that moment, I realized two things; one, me and him probably weren’t going to get along very well. But two, that was a really pivotal point in my career where I think given my personal aspirations, passions for wanting to make a difference in the world, I just vehemently rejected that notion that you had to be able to choose between making money, making a career, and having an impact on the world.
When I first started learning about ReFED, it was really intriguing to me because the organization itself tries to motivate and mobilize the entire food system towards actions that fight food waste. It’s a fantastic example of how you can both make money, and I’m not talking about on a personal level, of course, but food waste is just good for business. It helps save money for consumers. I know Turner will talk a little bit about that too.
Then, also, it just has a great impact, both on a social level and environmental level, so decided, like I said, two and a half years ago, to marry this finance background, food supply chain development, and innovation experience at ReFED.
[00:05:22] Zach: Awesome. Thanks for sharing, Alex. That’s a great story. Turner, how about you?
[00:05:28] Turner Wyatt: Alex, I resonate with that so hard. Just avoid choice at all costs. That’s just my life motto. Thanks, everyone. I’m really happy to be here. My name is Turner Wyatt, I’m the CEO of the Upcycled Food Association. We’re a nonprofit industry association with a mission of reducing food waste by growing the upcycled food economy. I got my start in this whole world in the food rescue space, collecting food that would otherwise go to waste from distributors, wholesalers, that sort of thing, and delivering it to low-income families in my hometown of Denver, Colorado.
Got interested in upcycled food via a couple of realizations. Anyone who’s ever worked in food rescue will tell you there’s just a lot of stuff that you can’t use or that you have a total overabundance of, but just because you can’t redistribute, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value. For example, bread, like the most overproduced thing out there. We started doing things like brewing it into bread, or excuse me, into beer, selling the beer to local restaurants, and making money to support our general operations as a nonprofit.
Realized, “Boy, you could make a lot of money this way. That really does a better job of realizing the value of all this extra bread that we have versus just composting it.” Then, through that journey, meeting more people, and exploring that idea more, it turns out that the entire food waste movement can be more consumer-based, and therefore, more economically sustainable, more scalable. That’s how I ended up in my current role as CEO of the Upcycled Food Association.
[00:07:16] Zach: Awesome. Thanks for sharing, Turner. With that, guys, let’s get started. Turner, I’ll come back to you as you’ve gotten into this business, and now the CEO of this organization. Have there been any mentors that you could talk about? And how did they maybe help you excel in your career?
[00:07:37] Turner: Yes, absolutely. I think important to note, coming from the food rescue space, I worked for an organization called Denver Food Rescue. I served as the executive director there for about seven years. We had this philosophy that– It’s not a philosophy. It’s just a reckoning with reality, that low-income communities and communities of color are the ones that are most impacted disproportionately so by environmental problems, including food waste, and that will pay the most when the effects of climate change come around and start impacting our communities around the world.
Therefore, they deserve to have the greatest agency and control over creating solutions, so we created a board of directors that was entirely driven by members of the community who we were partnering alongside to redistribute this food. It was a pretty radical thing. I still to this day, have not heard of a single other nonprofit board that was entirely a resident pled, as we termed it.
I am entirely convinced that most of the success that we had as an organization was directly related to the fact that we had this really strong, ethic of resident leadership being deferential to those with lived experience of the problem that we’re seeking to solve. That’s my context, how I come into this. At my current role, I think that same philosophy has taken hold within the upcycled world as well.
This association was created to solve the problems that upcycled food businesses experience and to streamline the industry, promote the industry, and get more consumers exposed to upcycled foods, so that they can vote with their dollars to participate in the reduction of food waste every time they visit a grocery store. If we’re trying to solve problems, the people with the best knowledge of the problems are the ones with lived experience, so the companies themselves.
The board of directors that at Upcycled Food Association, similarly, is made up of our member of businesses who are everyone from pre-launch startups, all the way up to publicly traded businesses who are engaged in upcycling food, realizing the value in food that slips through the cracks, and elevating it to its highest and best use. Who’s been a great mentor for me is just being deferential to those with the most lived experience over the years.
[00:10:12] Zach: Awesome. Alex, you talked about an aha moment in your career and making a choice. Are there any mentors that you could share with the group that have helped you grow in your career?
[00:10:25] Alexandria: Yes, absolutely. From my perspective, some of the best mentors that I’ve had over the course of my career, I would say, have been other women that have been surrounding me, and have shown me unique paths to work on problems that, really, I think are going to make an impact on the world. Those women, some of the things that I’ve learned from them are one, to always be curious and ask questions.
To your exact point, Zach, of when people present you with a choice and to your point Turner, questioning that choice, and, does it really need to be a choice? I know, particularly for women, there has been historically a sense that we need to be making a choice in terms of career versus other things in our lives.
To find strong mentors having that lived experience, at least for me, and understand how to manage life and work, ask those questions, challenge norms, to me, has been really powerful and has driven me to where I am right now, where I’m having a fantastic ride on this rollercoaster that is food waste, and fighting food waste. We’ve done so many great things over the last couple of years with ReFED.
I’m really grateful for those mentors that have challenged me to keep asking questions, be curious, and really try to uncover opportunities and areas where people might be undervaluing. I can’t think of an industry that’s more undervalued than food waste, so yes, I’m very grateful for them.
[00:11:58] Zach: Awesome. Thanks for sharing. Josh, what about you made the change from economic development into the waste and recycling space? Any mentors stand out to you over the course of your career?
[00:12:11] Josh: Yes, certainly. I think of two folks in my Leadership Team, Doug Corcoran, who was entering his third decade in the industry. It really shows the breadth of what you can do. He talked about that he started out as the assistant to a trash picker at a landfill. Now he oversees our entire public sector group for all of Southern California. Just showing that the upward mobility, and the breadth of what’s available within the industry.
Then, Sandra Pursley, who I work with. She’s another transplant. She came out of the home building industry, and just really been exciting to work with her. She’s got a great mindset about how communities work, and I find myself privileged to be able to work with some really incredible people.
[00:13:15] Zach: Awesome. I think that’s one of the best things about our industry is that we’ve got this group of veterans that are willing to spend the time with folks just like you, and help give you guidance and thoughts. Then, our group, that we’re talking about today is providing a new perspective on the way of doing things, which is really having a dramatic impact on the industry.
With that, Alex, you talked a little bit about maybe some of the things that you’ve started to see change. How do you think the industry will change over the next five to 10 years in the efforts that you’re making?
[00:13:54] Alexandria: Yes, absolutely. I’m still early in my career here in waste but hopefully, it’ll be a long career. Even over the last several years, I’ve started to see some changes, and truly do believe there’ll be even more changes coming in the near to medium and long-term. I think one of the biggest changes and most exciting changes that I’m starting to see in the space, at least with food waste, there’s this growing recognition that food waste is a major contributor to climate change.
I think that has major implications to the commitments that food businesses are making, that the actions that investors are taking, the policies that are being developed by our government and our officials there. For those of you who work in the space, you’ll be quite familiar with the Project Drawdown report that came out this year, that really quantifies food waste as the number one solution to climate change. It’s really putting food waste on the map in that area focus, which I think will bring all new players into the space, so I’m really excited to see where that goes.
Then, of course, we can’t talk about the future of this industry without referencing COVID, I would say. I’d be interested to see what Josh and Turner have to say about that, too. Particularly with our work, what we’re thinking about there is that we need to be, of course, handling the major pressing challenges of the day. In our world, that’s how can we recover as much otherwise wasted food as possible, and make sure that’s getting to people in need where possible.
We also need to be turning our attention a bit, towards how do we build a more resilient food system because we know that things like this are going to come up in the future. The challenges of our food system existed before COVID, they will exist after COVID, but we need to be thinking more collectively not individualistically, as I think we’re seeing with the pandemic that’s not really helping us to solve this challenge
I’m hopeful over the next several years a couple of really tangible things I’d like to see change, one is just a connection of all of these disparate data sources that are out there right now, that I think if brought together and were made to be more real-time would really change the industry for the better. Let’s talk about how much food waste is happening, but up to the minute, what does it look like? What type? How much? What does it need to be able to transport? It doesn’t need cold storage. That way we can ensure that it’s being used to the best that it can be.
Additionally, I would say, I hope there’s some more mapping of important infrastructure that we’re able to do across the food system because then, we can make those smarter decisions about how to utilize existing capacity, but then also where new investments need to go to utilize that food even better.
Then, into Turner’s point, our organization at ReFED, we’ve done a lot over the past couple of years around food rescue and hunger relief, and I think it is incredibly important that as we look towards building a more resilient food system, that we’re really focused on putting these food insecure individuals at the center of the model, forming a human-centered design approach to getting that food to them because right now it’s a system that considers them beneficiaries of grateful donors. I just don’t think that is the most dignified, convenient, and efficient way to be working that system.
[00:17:12] Zach: Turner, do you have any thoughts on some of the comments Alex shared?
[00:17:17] Turner: I, of course, agree with everything that Alex says. You can’t improve what you don’t measure, that was one thing that really came out of what you said, Alex. When I started in this world like 10 years ago looking into food rescue and food waste, it’s really like you said, it’s been since about 10 years ago or so at this roller coaster and growth of food waste as an environmental solution, and as a movement has really ramped up.
Back then, people weren’t even measuring their food waste. Now, they are. How do we put that data into play to help reduce the problem? I’m really excited about some of the work that ReFED is doing. We at Upcycled Food Association are really excited to contribute to that in productive ways to get past the point where we’re measuring and being more proactive.
[00:18:21] Zach: Awesome. Josh, we’re talking a little bit about food waste here with Alex and Turner. How has it impacted your role in the Public Sector role for Waste Management in the discussion from municipalities, residents? What does that topic look like for you?
[00:18:39] Josh: It’s exciting times, California is typically the leader in waste and recycling efforts, the state is definitely championing getting the organics out of landfills and into much more productive uses. Certainly, there’s an opportunity to recover the food before it goes to waste, and that is job number one. I’m working with a lot of communities to strengthen their ties to their local food banks, shelters, and Soup Kitchen programs because really that is the number one way to reduce food waste overall.
We’re also working on designing those programs, make the best use of the organics that we have for either composting or energy production. It’s definitely a complex situation in the fact that the market is slowly responding. We’ve got a lot more material than we have capacity for right now, but we’re finally starting to see the shift. I think you’re going to see some really amazing things come out of California in the next couple of years with regards to food [inaudible 00:19:54].
[00:19:55] Zach: Thank you. Josh, let’s stick with you for a minute here. Technology is something that is ever-changing at a rapid pace. How do you think technology is changing the industry? What are some of the types of technologies that you see or you’d like to see in the future?
[00:20:14] Josh: Certainly at Waste Management is been making huge strides in technology investments, we’re getting to see firsthand the tools of the trade. I think early on, the technology was really supplemental to the industry, it was how we managed our billing, our customer data to where we are today, where it’s really the backbone of how most industry companies operate, whether you’re in the hauling space, processor, facility operator, or the many supportive companies that make the world go round in the waste and recycling industry.
Technology really is forefront in terms of what we’re doing. I can tell you that at Waste Management, that we’re now not only comping our competition within the industry, but we’re comping the best of the best, the Googles, the Apples of the world for how can we do a better job of using technology to provide safe, reliable service to our customer. I can tell you that the big thing for us -that I’m sure that this is something that’s rolling out really industry-wide- is the use of a GPS and cameras to, basically, capture every service that we provide every single day.
Ultimately, I think that that’s where the industry is going. Amazon really revolutionized how people track their goods, that they purchased. I think, in the same way, is going to be a shift in our industry from the collection side, in terms of being able to demonstrate, without a doubt, that we’ve provided that safe, reliable service because you’re going to get a service confirmation, or you’ll be able to get a service time window because the data is just that good in terms of what we can do today with both GPS and cameras.
[00:22:10] Zach: Yes. Thanks for sharing, Josh. Alex, you talked about a need for data in your space. When you think about technology over the next several years, what are some things that you would like to see that maybe would help provide some of that data? What are the things that would be helpful for you?
[00:22:28] Alexandria: Yes. That’s a great question. That’s a lot of what we think about at ReFED, we try to be this one-stop-shop data center for everyone to come to understand what the size of the problem is, but also one of the most viable, scalable solutions to solving this problem of food waste. In order to do that analysis, you need data coming in. What are the economics of the various solutions? What’s the ROI there, the economic impact? We think a lot about that.
The solution providers that we track in the space have a lot to contribute, as well as the food businesses who are the ones that are actually adopting the solutions and thinking about, “Is this an actual good investment for us? This is really giving us the information that we need?” Hopefully, going forward, there will be this coalition of solution providers and food businesses that really want to pull back the curtain a little bit. Anonymized, of course, not attributable data, but that data to be speaking to each other that we can start to understand what those analyses and economics look like.
Very specifically on a technology front around data, some food waste solutions that I’ll mention just high-level, to Turner’s point, around tracking and analytics, absolutely more businesses are tracking and measuring their food waste, but there are some innovators in the space that are helping businesses do that. Namely, I’ll say an organization called Leanpath, another one called Wasteless that is doing that as well. Technologies like that are in the startup space, they’re getting venture capital money, and really working with big names like IKEA and others, to help them do some of that data tracking and measurement.
Beyond that, I’ll just say given, again, the onset of COVID here, another technology and data space that I think is very interesting would be online sales platforms. The industry, historically, is a lot of pen and paper, it’s a lot of phone calls. Behavior change is a very hard thing to make happen, but as we all move to this digital economy, more online sales and platforms that allow for the transfer of food. I think that data collection and utilization will probably contribute as well.
[00:24:46] Zach: Okay, thank you. You mentioned COVID, we could probably do an entire session just on COVID here related with our group, but let’s shift gears to that for a minute. Turner, let’s come to you. Regarding COVID, how has that impacted your work? Maybe what are some best practices that you’ve learned about or take in, hopefully, coming out of COVID?
[00:25:12] Turner: My favorite thing that I’ve heard about COVID analysis at the last few months is that it just accelerated 10 years from now until today. I love thinking about it as a way of just accelerating technology, accelerating our solutions. It’s about bringing us into the future. Like I said, when I started this work in the food rescue space, I was literally. as an 18-year-old, getting on my bike and going to grocery stores to pick up the food that they had, that they were going to throw out and delivering it to shelters. Pretty low barrier to entry. If you can participate in the single greatest solution to climate change on your bike as an 18-year-old, that’s a pretty potent solution.
That’s the low-hanging fruit where we were at, and now we’re getting past that in the food waste movement. The low-hanging fruit is no longer low-hanging, we have to reach a little bit higher if we’re going to come up with the next generation of solutions. That’s why the work that Alex is doing is so important of providing the intel that we need to get there. What does that look like as COVID brought us 10 years into the future? What is 10 years down the line in the food waste movement?
I think it’s filling in the gaps since the low-hanging fruit is no longer there, and these obvious solutions, we have to be a little bit more creative and think into what are the types of food that are going to waste, what are the things that we just weren’t even thinking about before in terms of on-farm food loss and byproducts, and recognizing that all of this food has tremendous value. A trillion dollars more or less of food goes to waste every year, let’s capitalize on that. Frankly, let’s capitalize on that for the sake of the food rescue organization, the people on their bikes and their volunteer’s cars picking up food to better fund those operations, but then also create a really strong financial incentive for businesses to reduce their byproducts by realizing the true value they’re in.
We have a saying in the Upcycled world, “The wasters of today are the ingredient suppliers of tomorrow.” Zack, that means the hollers of today are the distributors of tomorrow? I don’t know. It’s really all about what’s happening tomorrow in 10 years from now. It’s better assigning, better understanding, better realizing and elevating what’s currently going to waste to its real value.
[00:27:57] Zach: Got it. Okay, Josh, how has COVID impacted your work at Waste Management?
[00:28:04] Josh: To answer your question, certainly, something that has paused our entire company to really rethink its approach to safety. Safety is really job number one here at Waste Management. Typically, we’re thinking about how do we protect our employees and our customers from the physical things, the vehicles, heavy equipment, materials, but COVID is really brought in this whole new layer of this invisible threat.
From that standpoint, remote working has become a very large component. People like myself, and our entire customer service team is all transitioned to work from home situation. Then, for those members of our team that basically have to show up to work every day because that’s how the job gets done, coming up with those protocols that ensure that they’re protecting themselves and the team that they work with. It really has redefined what safety means in terms of the industry.
Certainly, from that standpoint, I think that COVID is been a huge learning opportunity for everybody just to go back and rethink about your processes. It’s something that probably is going to help us all in the end. That’s been a challenge, but we’re up to it.
[00:29:35] Zach: Yes, okay. Josh, to your point of safety, Alex, in talking about COVID impacting safety and maybe your business or line of work, any thoughts you have on what’s happened there?
[00:29:52] Alexandria: Yes. ReFED itself, we sit at a systems level and look at all of the other players that are really on the frontline. Josh and his team that are actually doing the work. Turner, all of his members that are actually turning that food waste into value-added products, and then of course there are all of these food recovery organizations and hunger relief organizations that we also monitor in the space. Particularly in that space, food safety, proper PPE has really become an important factor to making sure that food that is still edible can be provided to people in need.
How really COVID has affected our work at ReFED is going back to the data component to all of this. At the beginning of the year, ReFED was really focused on working on what we’re calling our insights engine. This is our living-breathing data center that we’re going to be launching in November, which is a generational leap from this roadmap we put out back in 2016. That was going to be heads down working on that over the course of the year.
When COVID hit, and we were looking at our constituencies and all of the stakeholders across the food system, something that we started to realize is that one of our main objectives, which was to catalyze more investment and smart investment into the space where it’s needed, it wasn’t happening as fast as was needed. We were trying to do one-on-one matchmaking to bring in money to the space, to support organizations that needed it most.
Ultimately, what we ended up deciding and doing, alongside continuing our standard work that we had planned for the year, is we launched a COVID-19 Food Waste Solutions Fund. We ideated on this over the course of a two-week period brought in our first dollars into the fund, and really the point of it was just to be a one-stop rapid response vehicle to gather a whole group of donors and allow them to use ReFED and our expertise to push out money to frontline organizations that were fighting food waste and hunger relief.
You’ve got to be nimble in this environment, it really demonstrated to us at ReFED that it’s really important to understand your expertise, your skillset, and where you can really add the most value. To the extent you have that capacity to adjust and adapt where needed. Right now, I’m happy to say we’ve raised over $3.6 million for the fund. We’ve given that all out to more than 36 organizations. It’s changed our work very significantly, I had no idea we were going to do that at the beginning of the year, but I’m happy we had the expertise and the resourcing to be able to do that.
[00:32:40] Zach: Yes, that’s amazing. I’m not as familiar with the food waste space as you and Alex, or you and Turner are, but you certainly just see lines at food banks, and given the current state of the economy, just a challenging situation altogether. It was already a challenge, but I think Turner you said it’s pushed it forward and accelerated even more, that’s created a challenge, so the work you guys are doing is fantastic.
We certainly appreciate the effort that you guys are putting in there. I guess, Alex, to stay with you here, what are some of maybe just the biggest opportunities, if you just had to highlight a couple specific to the industry that you serve.
[00:33:21] Alexandria: Yes. Where do I start? I think the biggest opportunity that we need to capitalize on probably is that I’ve heard individuals say that the food waste base, in particular, is where the clean energy sector was about 15, 20 years ago, so, how can we really start to focus all of the passionate individuals and energy from food businesses, government agencies and solution providers and capital providers towards the highest and best use of their time, as well as their money?
Because what we’re finding is that in order to scale food waste solutions, it’s going to take billions of dollars of financing across public, private, and philanthropic capital sources. We really need to be thinking about how do we keep this space sexy, really demonstrate that there is value to be had and returns to be had in this space. Not just economic, like I said, but social and environmental. I think besides that, there’s a real opportunity for pre-competitive collaboration in the space. Sometimes I hear conversations around how will food waste prevention is contrary to food waste recovery, because if you prevent it all, you’re not going to have food to recover, and then that says nothing about the recycling space, right?
All three of us on the line, I think we’d probably all agree that we’re more related to each other than not, and we really need to be thinking pre competitively about how to just deal with the food system and use the food for its highest and best use. No passing judgment on where it needs to go in the hierarchy, but just making sure that it goes to that highest and best use, but that will take coordination.
[00:35:02] Zach: Yes. It makes total sense, really, to create, for lack of a better term, the ideal kind of supply chain or food chain, and then figure out everybody’s responsibilities within that. Turner, any additional commentary to Alex’s points?
[00:35:16] Turner: Yes, absolutely. Well, it’s a supply chain. It’s absolutely a supply chain that we’re trying to optimize here. The end of the supply chain is the consumer, that is the one space I think where the biggest opportunity is, is that, yes, so far there has been so much philanthropic support of reduction of food waste and that’s so important because there’s just some models that are super effective at producing a really high social and/or environmental return on investment.
The way that we support that and produce those outcomes is through philanthropic dollars.
Then there are some other types sources of food, really high value that have the opportunity to produce a financial return on investment. For those ones, let’s engage with the consumer in a new way to put them in the driver’s seat to the solution. Food waste is this magical place that everyone agrees is really important. One of our associate members, Mattson, product developer out of California, did a study last year. They found 95% of people want to reduce food waste. That’s incredible. First of all, who are the 5%? Who are those people? Those monsters? Really, the 95% of the vast majority of people really care about this issue, and it also happens to be the most effective.
Come on, it’s something that should really resonate within consumers. Let’s get them to fund it, the masses. If this is something that 95% of people agree on, the 95% of people should be putting their money into creating the solution. Well, the problem is right now, they don’t have the opportunity to put their money into this solution necessarily. They can make donations to the nonprofit organizations that are in ReFED’s insights engine. They can choose to do business with one holler over another that has better practices, but let’s give them the opportunity to align their food purchases with their values, and that’s really what increasing access and demand for Upcycled Food is [unintelligible 00:37:41].
[00:37:43] Zach: Okay. Turner, to stay with you for a second, what do you think is the biggest misconception about what you do when maybe you talk to someone that’s not in the space?
[00:37:55] Turner: I think the biggest misconception is sort of the general tendency that people have to call waste waste. It’s no fault of anyone’s because we all, this industry and the lexicon that we use predates all of us, and that’s what I’m really excited to be a part of changing. I think everyone on this call agrees that we have to redefine things because it’s not waste. It’s a misnomer. How can we use our collective genius and the different people that we’re engaging with to, not redefine, properly define waste?
In some ways, of course, the biggest misconception is the biggest opportunity, because I think when we have that paradigm shift and you get people to stop thinking about waste as worthless and start thinking about it as a big opportunity, because like Alex said, the fact that it’s going to waste right now, but has tremendous value shows you that there probably is less competition. In terms of young people, entrepreneurs who want to make a lot of money and do something really great for the environment, this is a place where you can be a vanguard of something totally new and super impactful.
[00:39:25] Zach: Yes. I think that’s a great point, Turner. One of the goals that say up today is highlighting some of the great work that you guys are doing within the industry, because the waste space gets this reputation and it can create challenges for companies to recruit young talented folks at a school because it does have this misnomer. I mean, certainly didn’t graduate college personally for me and say, “I want to work at the waste space” I didn’t even know anything about it. I just thought the trash fairy picked up the items every week.
I think you bring up a great point, and that’s part of today’s discussion, is just highlighting all of these things that impact this great big supply chain that we’re working in. I think to that point, Josh, what advice would you give someone that’s interested in having a career in our industry?
[00:40:19] Josh: Certainly, I think there’s really three things that I’d love to highlight. The first being is, like you mentioned, you don’t have to be an expert to get started. The waste and recycling industry has got a lot of opportunity out there, and I think if you’re motivated and willing to learn, really the opportunities are endless.
The second thing I think is important to mention is that whatever your education or your skillset, the industry probably needs you. We’re at a point, kind of what we talked about earlier, with the fact that engineers and programmers are as essential as drivers and mechanics, that really is a pretty diverse industry in terms of companies and what they do.
Really is a lot of great opportunities for those folks that maybe don’t think, “I don’t have the skillset for the industry, I believe that you probably do.” The last thing I would probably mention is that the industry it’s evolving quickly, and what I see is companies have really shifted into gear of hiring the best of the best. That’s regardless of your background, who you are, that if you are the best person for that job, that’s who they’re looking for.
The great parts about that is that you ended up with this great diversity of backgrounds, mindsets and ideas to your point, sort of the call talking about FILA. I am constantly amazed at the group when it comes together, just the breadth of the diversity, the different backgrounds and the different companies and the different ideas. Really does speak to where the industry is headed. I can said, I think the opportunities are really endless for someone who’s getting ready to jump in.
[00:42:28] Zach: Yes. I agree. Turner, let me come back to you for one quick second. You’ve had obviously a passion for your business and for food since a very young age. What advice would you give someone that’s may be interested in having a career in this space?
[00:42:46] Turner: Yes, I think a lot of what Josh said resonates. Start where you’re at. The full transparency of the way that I got involved in this industry is taking an internship in undergrad, unpaid internship, to do whatever they needed me to do. Which a lot of the time was, like I said, getting on my bike literally and schlepping food around.
I think that that is an important thing to keep in mind of, “Yes, this space is ripe for transformation”, and therefore there’s no real clear corporate ladder that you’re just going to march your way up as a recent grad or as a person trying to get into this industry regardless. Therefore, just to be honest with yourself about where you’re at, and that is the perfect place to start, totally acceptable, perfect place to start wherever you’re at.
[00:43:52] Zach: Awesome. Alex, as you were making that decision at that pivotal moment in your career, what’s one thing you wish you would have known about the space before making that change?
[00:44:05] Alexandria: Yes. Maybe the question is meant to be a cautionary tale of things that I wish I’d known. I’m not sure that I have too much of a cautionary tale, but just the one thing that really comes to mind– maybe there’ll be a couple of things, but the one thing that really comes to mind to me, at least when we’re talking about food waste or otherwise wasted food or sparks as Thomas McQuillan would call it at Baldor, or surplus food, which, Turner, I love that you brought up the comment about just changing the way we talk about and use the language in this space. If anybody has a great solution for that, we at ReFED continue to look for it, just want to call that out.
The thing that I’ve started to realize is that working in this industry, at least to me, is a never-ending learning journey. There are so many players involved because it really is this food system, it’s a food chain. We’re talking about from farm all the way down to consumers, there’s a lot of nuances all along that value chain. I guess I didn’t think that the industry wouldn’t have something to teach me, but I am realizing quite quickly that I’m not sure I will ever have learned all of it, and at least to me that’s very interesting. I feel it will keep me engaged in the space. That’s something I wish I’d known at the front end, but what would I have done differently? I’m not quite sure.
The other thing I’ll just mention is, at least particular to this space, is that it’s a little bit more challenging because there’s no one specific owner often have the problem of waste. Particular when we’re talking about food waste, I will say, and maybe that stands for other ways channels, but within a food business, it’s not often on someone’s PNL to reduce the food waste. It’s not on their final year-end review how much food waste did you cut for the organization.
You’re often having to think about solutions that go across function, or that are building coalitions or working with the top to get buy-in down below. That can often present a challenge, but also an opportunity, I think, there. As long as you’re a person that likes to build coalition, likes action and solving challenges, and then you really are not trying to ever stop learning, I think this is the industry for you.
[00:46:33] Zach: Awesome. Well, I think what’s been great about this session that we’ve had today is that we’ve talked about food waste. There’s such a huge challenge with such a huge opportunity to impact people, impact community, and I hope that this platform continues to get the word out about the challenge that’s out there, to your point and bring some attention to it, Alex. I thank you guys for the time today and think about this it’s such a great opportunity for folks to have a long standing career and impact on community, the environment.
You don’t have to make that decision that Alex talked about at the beginning because you can absolutely do both within this space. Before we wrap up. Are there any closing comments that anyone would like to make that maybe we didn’t get to make throughout the discussion today?
[00:47:28] Turner: No. Thanks, Zach.
[00:47:31] Josh: [crosstalk] I can say is that if I’d known the industry was going to be as exciting and as challenging as it is, I would have started sooner. I’ve had a blast.
[00:47:42] Alexandria: That’s actually one of the things I was going to say, Josh. The one thing I wish I’d known is that this industry existed to the point earlier. I didn’t even know that there was a waste industry, I just thought my stuff went somewhere and someone dealt with it and it wasn’t even a thing, so that’s a great point, Josh.
[00:47:57] Zach: Yes, totally agree. Well, thank you guys for participating today. It was a great panel. Appreciate everyone for attending virtually here. There will be a short survey following a session. Share your feedback and then mark your calendar for WasteExpo 2021 that is slated for in-person, April 26th to 29th in Las Vegas next year. Stay well and enjoy the rest of your day. Thank you, everyone.