Implementing a recycling program in a multi-tenant office building can be especially challenging. As a Property Manager, you are faced with a multitude of issues:
How will tenants react?
Are your vendors ready?
Where do you get started?
How will you track and manage the program?
Is it worth the effort? (Short answer, yes!)
Do you have a company-wide, upper management initiative to achieve specific recycling goals and reduce waste costs? Are you struggling to keep up with your local Government recycling mandates? Do you feel like tenants or vendors just don’t seem to be on board with your recycling plan? Whatever your reason is, one thing is clear; you just can’t afford to ignore the recycling program in your building.
• It’s good for the environment
• It’s good for tenant retention
• It’s good for your bottom-line
Here are seven tips to implement a successful recycling program:
1. Get Tenant Buy-In
Implement a recycling program without tenant buy-in is like taking a 4-year old to an opera. It just won’t work! Even the best-planned recycling programs fail because of a failure to get tenants on board with the program. Tenants can be your secret weapon (or your worst enemy!) in successfully implementing a recycling program.
The key is to understand that there is no one-size-fits-all recycling program. Each tenant has unique requirements, and it is important to consider this in your implementation.
Here are some tips to get tenant buy-in:
• Make the program transparent
Let your tenants know what you’re doing because they are looking. They know exactly what’s going on. So whatever program you institute has to be transparent. If tenants feel like you lack in sincerity or commitment to the program, or if the program is not being implemented as promised, they lose trust. Getting your recycling program back on track from that point becomes an uphill battle. If something is not happening as planned, let the tenant know. Being candid in your communication with tenants builds trust.
• Make it easy to understand
No wishy-washy language or industry jargon. If you cannot explain your recycling program to a 5-year old, you can assume that your tenant is probably not “getting it.”
Here’s an example:
“Trash goes into black bins and recycling into blue bins. Stuff from the blue bins is collected by the cleaners on blue mats, put into larger blue bins and hauled off to the blue recycling dumpster. The rest of it goes into clear bags, clear mats and into the big trash dumpster.”
Another successful strategy is to get your key vendors (recycling and janitorial) to do a “show-and-tell” with pictures and videos that represent the source-to-recycled product cycle. Once tenants visually sense the positive impact that their actions are having on the environment, Property Managers have reported increased tenant engagement, enthusiasm, and better overall metrics.
Placing recycling bins in convenient locations, such as copy rooms, kitchenettes, cafeterias and break rooms is another proven recycling strategy.
The easier your program is, the more likely you are to get tenant buy-in.
Do your tenants have unique needs? Are their in-house policies in conflict with the building’s recycling program? Are they indifferent because they don’t trust the building’s recycling program?
One tenant was so untrusting of the building’s recycling program that she took bottles and recyclables home with her every day! She simply did not trust that the building’s recycling program was working. When the Property Manager probed further, the tenant explained that the she noticed that night cleaning crew would mix trash with recycling in the elevator lobbies and hauled it all away as trash. They fixed that problem by educating the cleaning crew and making small changes to the cleaning process. By listening to the tenant, making minor changes and gaining trust, this Property Manager was able to turn a tenant from being a skeptic to an ardent advocate.
2. Turn Vendors in Partners
Your key vendors, especially trash removal &janitorial services, play a critical role in the success of your recycling program. What differentiates a ho-hum, also-ran recycling program from a truly exceptional one is how you treat your vendors. Do you treat vendors as an integral part of the building’s operations - an extended part of your team? Or are they merely showing up, doing their thing and running scared?
How do you turn vendors into partners? Here are some ideas:
a. Empower them - explain why the program is important to the building and how they can help
b. Meet regularly to review goals and see what’s working and what’s not
c. Encourage candid discussion and be prepared to forgive!
d. Let them come up with ideas (you’ll be surprised!)
A Property Manager recalled how she was able to increase the recycling percentage in her building significantly by implementing an idea she worked on with her janitorial services provider – color coded mats. Not only did the janitorial services provider implement this novel idea, but they took it one step further by installing recycling stickers on existing bins, thereby saving the building the cost of procuring new blue recycling bins. Getting to that idea required candidness, transparency and trust, something you can only get from a trusted partner.
Are your vendors invested in your success? If you feel like you do not have vendors committed to your success, make a change. Don’t simply find another vendor. Find a trusted partner instead!
3. Make Incremental Changes
Think of the recycling program as a marathon and not a short sprint. Prepare for the long haul.
Big, wholesale changes could irk tenants, frustrate vendors, adversely disrupt other building operations and set you back. Small, incremental changes may seem slow initially, but with the right plan and discipline, will get you to your goal.
Consider a phased approach. If you currently do not have a recycling program in place, the goal of Phase 1 could simply be to understand your current systems and set a baseline. Phase 2 could be to research if a recycling program is even feasible. If you already have a well-established recycling program, you could consider setting goals for increasing the recycling percentage to reduce your costs from waste.
Start small. Paper one quarter bottles the next, cans a little later. The idea is not to overwhelm your tenants.
4. Have a clear understanding of your current recycling program
If you do not have a recycling program at your building, here’s how to get started:
a. Do a trash audit. Find out exactly what’s going into your trash bins. Your current trash pickup vendor can help you with this part. Once you know what’s going into the bin, you can find out what’s recyclable and what’s trash.
b. Observe your current processes. Are your tenants doing any recycling? Are there any tenants who could be recycling advocates? How is trash collected? Are your vendors educated about recycling?
c. Identify areas of improvement, set a baseline. Educate yourself about recycling (See Resources section at the end of the post). Hire a recycling consultant to put a plan.
d. Make a note of areas that you could improve
5. Define your recycling goals clearly.
Don't set goals that are not measurable. If your goal is: “we just want to recycle”, that is not a goal. At the risk of sounding clichéd, make your goals SMART goals. SMART goals are Specific Measurable Achievable Realistic & Time Bound.
Your goals should be based on what is real and achievable and not some pie-in-the-sky wish list. Property Managers who have implemented successful recycling programs set goals based on information and data from experts. Often, that will involve hiring a third-party recycling consultant to help you realize what is possible. Your recycling goals should have clearly defined timelines and metrics. For example: “Our goal is to recycle at least 60% of total trash for 2015.”
6. Measure and monitor
You can’t manage what you can’t measure. Once you set the recycling program in motion, watch it like a hawk. Don’t lose sight. Observe trends. Identify what’s causing those trends. Are there seasonal changes? If so, why? Has there been a change in your janitorial staff? Are new employees receiving the training? Where are the training logs?
Simple visual cues sometimes provide great insights:
• Is the recycling container full? Good.
• Is the cardboard container full? Good.
• Is the trash container full? Not very good.
7. Communicate transparently, Educate consistently
Don’t let that awesome recycling program stay in your head. Unleash it and infect others with your knowledge and enthusiasm! Use all resources possible - Email, bulletin boards, social media, tenant council meetings, posters, one-on-one tenant meetings, vendor presentations – to communicate what you are doing and how it benefits everybody.
Most importantly, don’t forget to celebrate your successes (big and little). Saved money on waste? Celebrate. Increased recycling percentage? Celebrate.
Ready to be recycling rock star? For real-world, practical tips on recycling from a seasoned Property Manager, click here.
Here are some additional resources to help you get started with implementing a recycling program in your office building:
- Commercial Recycling Requirements in the District of Columbia
- Arlington County’s Recycling System Toolkit (Especially for commercial property managers!)
- Blue Planet Recycling (Recycling consultants)
- US EPA Recycling Resources
- Earth911: Learn all about the latest innovations in recycling
- National Recycling Coalition
- Play The Recycling Game! (And learn what happens to stuff you recycle)