The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers a guide to reducing waste for commercial building facility managers. For those in the profession, the guide might be old news, but for rookies and veterans alike it serves as a good educational tool for those who manage office buildings, schools, stores, hotels, restaurants and other commercial and institutional buildings.

These facilities generate significant amounts of waste that must be managed efficiently, economically and environmentally. The benefits of proper waste management are enormous, and much greater than simply getting the trash out.

Benefits of addressing waste

Until recently, many in facility management might not have paid much attention to the waste their organizations produce. Many organizational leaders are content to simply establish a system for removing trash; however, proactive organizations are seeing the benefits of establishing a waste reduction program.

Waste reduction programs can save an organization money through increased recycling efforts that cut their disposal costs and improve bottom lines. Additionally, understanding the amount and types of wastes produced better positions the company to find ways to reduce hauling costs and negotiate for waste and recycling services that actually fit the organization's needs.

From a PR perspective, managing waste, water and energy more efficiently are core components of sustainability and helps improve the organization's "green" standing, which can boost corporate image, attract quality tenants to properties managed and positively engage employees. Finally, a quality waste reduction program can reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Tracking waste

According to the EPA, the first step is tracking the amount of waste your organization generates, for as the old adage goes, "you can't manage what you don't measure." Therefore, tracking waste and recycling provides the key foundation for a successful waste reduction program.

One recommendation is the Energy Star Portfolio Manager, a free online tool for tracking waste, energy and water data over time. The EPA recommends using it to benchmark the performance of one building or a whole portfolio of buildings, all in a secure online environment. The portfolio manager "offers a consistent set of metrics for assessing your waste management activities."

The EPA also recommends partnering with WasteWise, the Food Recovery Challenge or the Federal Green Challenge, and joining the Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) Data Management System hosted in Re-TRAC Connect. Through the SMM system, partners can track and report to the EPA their annual waste management and green purchasing activities, set annual goals and apply for recognition, which can be used to boost corporate image in the media and with the public.

To meet your recycling program goals, you may wish to add to your team to better manage the program. Or you might leverage an existing team better to meet these goals. The EPA suggests that facility managers consider adding more of a focus on waste reduction in the organization's existing green team. This also may mean bringing in additional team members with a focus on waste and recycling.

These teams should work toward gaining community and leadership support to drive the initiatives to attain long-term waste reduction goals. Additionally, promote the program to other employees and educate them on ways to participate; offering employee incentives to reduce wastes; monitoring progress; reporting the status of planned activities to management; and reporting the organization's waste reduction efforts to all employees.

Additionally, set program goals to measure success. Examine tracking data to establish a benchmark and inform your goal setting. Setting goals helps you prioritize activities for preventing waste and expanding recycling programs.

Then, track progress toward the goals using your benchmark. After reviewing the results of the waste assessment, the EPA suggests holding a team session to identify potential waste reduction activities, and listing the most promising options and evaluate them in terms of feasibility and how they align with your goals.

The EPA says recycling program questions can be directed to specific departments at the local government or by using the Earth911 sponsored recycling locator. The site provides information about regional recycling and what material end markets and processing facilities you can access, particularly if you have large amounts of materials; local programs and what materials are accepted by your municipal or county programs; and what services recycling contractors can offer for your building.