Reducing the Healthcare System’s Carbon Footprint with Antos Environmental’s Tony Schifano
August 16, 2013
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and we’re so honored to have my friend and guest, Tony Schifano, on. He’s the President and CEO of Antos Environmental. Welcome to Green is Good, Tony. TONY SCHIFANO: Hi. Good morning, John. How are you? JOHN SHEGERIAN: I am great today, and I’m so thrilled you came on because you’re gonna be talking about a subject that we’ve never covered before and it is so important for our listeners to hear about, both near and far, but before we get into it, Tony, I got the chance to know you over the past four or five months in person, but I need you to share with our listeners your amazing journey because truly, you are one of the real founders of the sustainability movement way before it was ever cool to be green. So, why don’t you share a little bit about your whole journey leading up to Antos Environmental and what you’ve done there and what you’re doing there now? TONY SCHIFANO: I would be happy to, and it’s a long story, but I’ll keep it short. About 30 years ago, I was working as a healthcare manager and executive in New York and just living a great happy life and at the time, I was running the environmental services department and making my way towards an administrative position and we managed waste, It was an interesting experience in New York City to do that given the waste climate and who was available to collect different types of waste and it was quite simple back then, to be honest, with you, and infectious waste, which was a red bag back then, that’s what it was called, it was a very serious piece of material. If you saw a red bag, you literally got nervous and it had some real serious biohazard to it and my 500-bed facility made about eight or 10 bags a day and we treated them very seriously. Lo and behold, one day, it was the perfect storm. The AIDS epidemic was all over the media. There were needles washing up on the beaches surrounding New York and New Jersey. Kyle Bellamy and Ed Cots were running in a mayoral race. All of these things sort of culminated to people getting stuck with needles, the fear of AIDS, universal precautions came out of CDC and in a moment, John, a moment in time, my 500-bed facility went from 10 red bags to 10,000. The idea of better red than dead, which is what I called it back then, there were serious fines associated with inappropriate waste disposal around this issue because of the fear of AIDS. No one knew anything about it. They just treated everybody as potentially carrying this and they wanted everything in red bags and incinerated, which created a huge financial problem for the healthcare industry as well as an operational infrastructure problem. Well, I tried to manage this as best I can in my organization and I took a leadership role in the New York area in terms of the Greater New York Hospital Association, participating in the task force, but in a very short period of time, I saw this as a huge opportunity and literally quit my job and got involved in an organization that started to collect this material. We were the third licensed hauler in the United States and literally, it was a profound experience in how our revenue just jumped into the mega millions and the kind of volume we were picking up and the kind of process that needed to happen around this waste stream and I was very involved in it right from the beginning. Down in Washington, DC, we helped write the Medical Waste Tracking Act. We helped develop the carding of this and the process and compliance issues and regulations and the 18 by 18 by 24 cardboard box way back then 25 years ago and how we packaged this material. It was a dollar a pound back then but in a very short period of time, I realized that we were all laughing on the way to the bank and that waste management was an oxymoron like jumbo shrimp, particularly in healthcare organizations. No one knew how to segregate or manage. The behavior was horrible and while we were making oodles of money, it just didn’t make sense to me from an integrity perspective and I just wasn’t sleeping very well at night. These hospitals were suffering from very high cost around this and very little mileage of how to manage it. Ultimately, I sold and got rid of a number of different companies that were carting medical waste and I started consulting and back then, the company was called Waste Works, believe it or not. I thought I would do this for a couple of years before I’d get another job as a healthcare executive. Of course, that was 26 years ago. What happened was I led the conversations with money. They were paying so much money to have this stuff carted off I just felt like I could cut their costs in half if I could get in the organization and create some education and infrastructure and really drive a cultural transformation around this and I could cut their costs and I would be done. I would sell it all around money and that’s how it happened and I got my first couple of jobs and I got a speaking engagement at the Massachusetts Hospital Association, got hired from a few hospitals there, and in a very short period of time, I was talking all over the United States and it just took off from there. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, you were doing this way before Health Care Without Harm, Practice Green Health, before Al Gore won all of his Emmys and all that stuff. TONY SCHIFANO: Most of those organizations met with me years ago before they even started, picking my brain, trying to look at the kind of service models we had, why we were doing it. Many of them took off on philosophical tangents and compliance and regulatory issues but we were the company and still are the company that really drove the meat and potatoes, nuts and bolts on how an organization could create a culture that was environmentally committed and to this day, we still do it. John, people ask me, ‘Do you have a lot of competition?’ The answer is no and over the years, I’ve scratched my head and wondered why so many other people aren’t doing this. Well, the answer, to me, finally came a number of years ago. If this was simple, everybody would be doing it, but it’s really not simple and how I can create a little metaphor for you on this: If losing weight were simple, if stopping smoking was simple, if stop drinking was simple, if stopping gambling were simple, those are the struggles and many, many more, obviously, that individuals have in trying to control their own behavior. We’re walking into organizations the size of Mount Sinai, Columbia, Presbyterian, Yale, huge organizations with 18-, 20,000 people. How do we get them to change their behavior? How do we get them to recycle, create waste reduction mindsets? What drives me to do this is my passion around what’s happening to the environment. The Fresh Kills Landfill, which has now been closed, it’s the largest man-made object in the history of our civilization. There isn’t anything on the planet bigger than this landfill and if you think about how many landfills we have across the United States, it’s an overwhelming thought and the climate is reacting to it obviously. People who don’t believe in climate change really don’t have a grasp on reality and the more important issue here, John, for me, is that when I was born, there were 2 billion people on the planet. Today, there’s 7 billion. When I’m 85, there might be 9 or 10. What are we going to do? We’ll be competing for air. We have to stop throwing things away. There is no place called away, so that’s what drives us every day and while our focus is on healthcare, and that’s just by accident because that’s where I came from. Servicing healthcare organizations is a really special task because they have their own languages and their own disciplines and you have to be able to speak to what’s going on in the operating room and labor and delivery and we’re really thrilled and privilege to know that language and be able to help this industry but now, we’ve got to move over and be able to get into the university settings and corporate settings and Subaru and Boeing and DuPont and anybody, any organization, any building needs to look at what they’re buying, how do they utilize it, and what can they do besides throw it away, and of course, that’s the nature of our work. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, for our listeners who just joined us, we’ve got Tony Schifano. He’s the founder of Antos Environmental, but go look at his site right now because I’ve been on his site while we’ve been chatting and it’s AntosEnvironmental.com. Tony, you’ve won so many awards, Champions for Change, and I know you and I know your reputation. You are who you say you are and you’re doing an amazing job. Like you said, it’s not only in healthcare. You’re taking your catalyst for change, behavioral change, mentality of big corporations to get them into this whole mode. Talk a little bit about exactly what you do with our listeners so they can actually hear what you’ve done in some of those case studies and how you’ve created waste-reduction opportunities across the board for 30 years at massive organizations. TONY SCHIFANO: It’s a very challenging feat, and I believe that anybody who hires us really wants to do this, but it’s a tough thing to embrace because you’re operating a major organization in a way that’s most familiar to you and now you need to step out of that comfort zone and try to do it in a different way and it’s even difficult for households. I encourage domestic America to take a look at their households and try to compost food waste and recycle as much as they can and not make waste and to do that in a corporate setting is incredibly challenging and you have to have a lot of support and buy-in and a powerful belief system coming right out of the C Suite. The CEO and all of his closest colleagues in that management executive level have to want to do this and I must say that I’ve got really great listeners today. I’m so grateful because this sustainability movement has got a lot of traction and people believe we need to move in this direction, so it’s a little easier to convince an organization to do it but to actually do it really requires a lot of help because you’ve gotta build a brand new infrastructure. You have to look at what you’re buying so that you can do other things with it like recycle it or compost it or whatever but not throw it away so one of the things we look at is how can we minimize our carbon footprint and therefore, how can we minimize the amount of waste material coming out the back door. that’s very challenging because we’ve got powerful organizations in the waste disposal industry who have a different agenda and for the past five or ten decades, these people have been really making a lot of money picking up material and moving it around the country and dropping it in landfills and sengin resource off to farmlands and making money off of that enterprise so there’s a lot of powers that are against this movement. I just read something very interesting. Massachusetts is striving to be a zero-waste state. What an amazing statement to even think — and Deval Patrick is such a progressive thinker. I’ve met him twice. He’s just a great man and to think that he wants to have a zero-waste state and the powers against that are incinerator companies, the waste disposal giants. They have to change the way they do business because they’re doing business kind of in the old school way. They pick up waste material and send the bill. JOHN SHEGERIAN: We’re down to the last two minutes, Tony. Where does this go for you now? You’ve seen this whole paradigm shift. You’ve been one of the people, if not one of the few people, that have actually started and then evolved the whole sustainability movement in the United States. Where do you take it from here? TONY SCHIFANO: That’s a great question. You know, I can only stay focused. I can only spread what I believe is the truth around organizations soul searching because school settings, university settings, hospitals, look at the healthcare industry. Shouldn’t they be pollution-free? Their core competency is healing people. They can’t pollute and be that so there’s a lot of soul searching that has to happen. All I can do is be as powerful a voice as I can to create a belief system that says I can be Walmart and be environmentally committed. I can be Jiffy Lube. I can be Price Check. I can be Winn Dixie. I can be a car repairer. I can be a university. It’s not what you do, John; it’s who you are and we’ve got to get back to that soulful place as a human society that protects each other and this environment and it’s all about the future. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Antos Environmental is going to continue to grow in the years ahead, I take it? TONY SCHIFANO: My fingers are crossed. We’re a busy organization and there’s a lot more to do and I still have a lot of energy. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You sure do. For our listeners out there, I would like you to go to AntosEnvironmental.com. You can read a lot about Tony’s clients, his processes, and like he said, there’s so much to be done and this is not just for the health care industry. This is for big corporations, little corporations, government. Tony can come in and help green your organizations, create a shift of mindset and behavior in there. He’s done it before all across America. He has thousands of clients and we need more Tonys in this world, unfortunately, but for our young people out there, that’s a good thing. These are the types of opportunities that exist. Tony Schifano, you are a sustainability superstar and leader and truly living proof that green is good.