Bringing Recycling to the Retail Store with Best Buy’s Scott Weislow

September 13, 2013

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and we’ve got on the phone with us Scott Weislow. He’s the Director of Environmental Sustainability at Best Buy. He’s a colleague, but more important, he’s a friend of mine. Welcome to Green is Good, Scott Weislow. SCOTT WEISLOW: Thank you, John. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You know, Scott, you have such a great history and journey and Best Buy is lucky to have you as their Director of Environmental Sustainability and I’m lucky to have you as a friend but talk a little bit about life before Best Buy. What did you do and how did you end up here? SCOTT WEISLOW: Sure. I’d be happy to share a little background about myself. I spent about 20 years prior to Best Buy in the environmental and regulatory compliance world. I was in environmental consulting. Like I said, I also ran an environmental remediation company and then spent some time at places like the Toro Company. At Toro, I built a compliance program from the ground up to ensure that their outdoor power equipment products met legal requirements in the market that they served. I’ve also served on various boards and committees over the years including the National Association of Manufacturers, the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute and the Consumer Electronics Association and I came to Best Buy because of a strong history of innovation and I believed it to be the kind of company where I could be involved in groundbreaking environmental work and I’m happy to say it’s proven to be the case. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Talk a bit about what you’re doing at Best Buy. If I walk into a Best Buy here in Manhattan today and I want to recycle an electronic device, which of course, is the core business that you’re involved with. You’re the largest retailer of electronics in the world. What are my options in the Best Buy in Manhattan? SCOTT WEISLOW: Oh, you’ve got some great options. We’ve got four big things really right off the bat. We have a recycling kiosk in every store so you walk right in the front doors and you’ll see our kiosk and you can drop off ink and toner cartridges, rechargeable batteries, wires, cords, cables, bags, gift cards, some of the small stuff, but our real big ticket is our recycling at the customer service counter. That’s where we accept most consumer electronics with a few exceptions of course, which you can see on our website but you can visit BestBuy.com, select your state, and from there, you can see the program details for each area, each state, what we’ll take and what we won’t take at the store but typically, just about everything electronic and then our other program, we have haul away programs for appliances and larger TVs so TVs that are a little bit too large to take in store, we’ll also pick up at the customer’s home so we’ll remove an appliance or any TV, like I said, that is free of charge from a customer’s home when a new product’s purchased and delivered by Best Buy or we can also schedule a pickup if no new product is purchased and then we have our final one. We have our trade-in program, which we’re really excited about so the customers come in and they’ve got old product that still has value that can be assessed for trade in and then they can get gift card values from the company. If the product doesn’t have any value, then we recycle that responsibly as well. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Gotcha, and anything fun or any interesting things you want to share with our listeners out there that are dropped in these kiosks or that you guys get to recycle on a regular basis? SCOTT WEISLOW: Oh, we see all sorts of interesting things, John, some of them I probably won’t share with you on the radio but over the years, we see a lot of really neat things, some old eight track tape players to some of the old style Walkman tape players, which I’m probably dating myself but back when you and I were kids, those were things that you strapped on you back. JOHN SHEGERIAN: We were into it when we were young, huh? SCOTT WEISLOW: Yeah, absolutely, and we still see some of the large boom boxes to cordless phones and just about anything you can think of. JOHN SHEGERIAN: There’s a lot that you’ve done and your team has done with regards to recycling at Best Buy. Your team and your company are leading the way. You’re the fore runners of in store take backs and recycling. Pull the curtain back a little bit and share a little bit what’s going on behind the scenes with recycling at Best Buy. SCOTT WEISLOW: Absolutely, John. Thanks. We are constantly looking to see how we can grow the program and be an outlet to our customers for as many of the materials as they’ve got laying around their house and so one of the things that we recently did is we created a video to talk about why we recycle at Best Buy, how it works, and what we’re able to do for our customers, again, just trying to get the word out for them to understand what we have available to them as an outlet for those products. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, I’ve seen that video. I love that video so in terms of how you do things appropriately and you keep these electronics out of landfills and things of that such, that’s why the video was made in terms of the actual how it really works. SCOTT WEISLOW: That’s right. It’s very important for us to maintain environmental standards and to ensure for our customers that those products that you said don’t wind up in landfills or aren’t sent to underdeveloped countries where many of these products wind up and are broken down in undesirable ways and so our program is to ensure that that doesn’t happen. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You know, Scott, when I said you guys are the leader, I meant it. I know there’s some wow numbers here. Can you share the wow numbers with our listeners in terms of how many pounds of electronics do you recycle a year approximately? SCOTT WEISLOW: Absolutely. We recycle approximately 409 pounds of electronics for every minute that our stores are open and that number goes up every year as we continue to grow the program so it’s really fantastic and last year, we recycled more than 170 million pounds of electronics and appliances combined and we think estimating that that’s about 21 units of electronics alone last year. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Historically, before Best Buy started this great program and under your leadership have scaled this program, historically this stuff would have just ended up in our landfills and potentially either as landfills go, once it gets rained upon, could have ended up in our ecosystem, therefore affecting all of us, whether it’s our plants and our environment and vegetation or eventually, make its way back into its water stream and then to human beings. SCOTT WEISLOW: That’s really accurate. That’s exactly what happens with the materials and unfortunately, the vast majority of it that’s still is what’s happening today around the world. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Thank gosh you guys are doing what you’re doing. Besides recycling, I know there’s so much more to sustainability over at Best Buy. What are other things you’re doing in terms of sustainability and in terms of waste minimization over at Best Buy, Scott? SCOTT WEISLOW: We’re doing quite a few things, John, so as I mentioned earlier, we have our TV and appliance haul away program so again, those are for TVs that are larger than the size restrictions we can take in store so to make it easy for our customers, we’ll pick up those TVs if they’re home for recycling. We also have a program that I manage, which is to recycle as much of our packaging waste that we generate as a company as possible so this includes recapturing cardboard, plastic, film and wrapping, Styrofoam. That material really can accumulate quickly at all of our locations and so we try to collect that and divert it from landfills and recycle it for a second life as new products there as well and speaking of that, from diverting from landfills with that material, we launched earlier this year our landfill diversion goal. I’m really excited about this, John. We’re working diligently to divert at least 75% of the waste that we generate at our locations and our distribution centers and process that material for recycling as well. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow, and what’s the date when you want to achieve this 75% goal? SCOTT WEISLOW: We intend to achieve it by the end of this calendar year for sure and then we will continue to increase that goal year after year. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow, that is amazing. Let’s go back to electronics, which is the core of what Best Buy sells, but before we do that, for our listeners that just joined us, we’ve got Scott Weislow on with us. He’s the Director of Environmental Sustainability for Best Buy and for our listeners out there, go to BestBuy.com. You can go to BestBuy.com/recycling. There’s lots of great information there and just BestBuy.com is just a wonderful website. I’m on it now but there’s tons of great information on all the important topics that we’re talking about with Scott today in terms of everything that they’re doing in terms of sustainability right now. Talk a little bit about e-waste again. E-waste is the fastest-growing solid waste stream in the world, Scott, and tell us a little bit about why again e-waste has been always for eight or nine years now almost such an important topic at Best Buy and how you guys really have achieved tackling this issue and others should really learn to follow. SCOTT WEISLOW: Sure, John. Thanks. As you said, it is the fastest-growing solid waste stream on the planet today unfortunately and at Best Buy, we take it very seriously and we’re working to solve it, not just because it’s the right thing to do but because we want to be a part of the solution. We sell it so therefore we feel like we should be responsible to take it back and recycle it so we offer the most comprehensive electronics recycling solutions in the market and we’re providing a very valuable service to our customers, we believe. As I mentioned earlier, people have these materials just piling up at their home and in many cases, don’t even know what to do with it so we want to make sure they have a responsible way to get rid of their old gear so it’s a big part of the solution, recycling is, and every ounce of material that we can reclaim is just another ounce of material that doesn’t have to be mined or manufactured from the earth so there’s also important policy steps that need to be taken and we are very active on that front as well so we work with legislators to encourage federal e-waste legislation. We want to see some federal legislation coming down that really puts a blanket coverage on this problem and we think it’ll help reduce the amount of electronics that still, as we said earlier, end up in landfills and we want to drive that recycling rate up higher, not just at Best Buy, but we really want to take a big bite out of this problem. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s great, and again, for our listeners out there just to be clear, they didn’t have to buy the electronics from Best Buy to recycle it at Best Buy. Isn’t that true? SCOTT WEISLOW: That’s right. It doesn’t matter who made it, where it was made, when it was made. We will take it and we’ll take it for free. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, again, you’ve made recycling convenient. Not only is it at all your stores but as you said earlier, Scott, your folks can pick it up from people’s homes when they’re dropping off new televisions or new washers or dryers and things of that such. Is that not correct? SCOTT WEISLOW: That’s right. Any time a customer buys a new appliance or a new larger TV and has it delivered to their home, we’ll pick up their older units for free and again, if they don’t have a new product purchase, we’ll still pick up from their home for a small pick-up charge. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Best Buy makes recycling easy. SCOTT WEISLOW: That is our goal. We want it to be as easy as possible for our customers. JOHN SHEGERIAN: I love that. Earlier this year, we had your colleague, Leo Raudys on the phone and on our show to talk about ISO certifications and all the environmental management systems that go into good recycling. Can you share more about what you’re doing with regards to that? SCOTT WEISLOW: Sure. Our EMS plan is working out really, really well for the company. We use it to hold ourselves accountable for the way we interact with the environment. It’s really simple in concept but it’s giving us the structure to do an even better job with our processes and capabilities. It’s important to really note that our EMS is just not about compliance only. It’s the way we manage a performance against all our environmental activities and goals, not just the recycling program, but our hazardous waste management and a variety of other activities we do here at the company and we had this certification for more than a year. In fact, we just had our annual recertification just within the last few weeks and that went really well and it’s something we’re really, really proud of here at the company and there’s a lot of people that have their fingers in this and it takes a lot of team effort to make that happen and again, we use it as a backbone to drive all of our environmental work. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it, and one of the other things in the media, the media’s always talking about reducing our carbon footprint, Scott. How does carbon footprint relate at Best Buy in terms of what you’re doing and all the great work? Because I know it’s not all just recycling. You do so many other things over there. Can you share a little bit about the meaning of carbon footprint at Best Buy and how you’re reducing Best Buy’s carbon footprint? SCOTT WEISLOW: Absolutely. This is another program that I manage here for the company and we’re really, really proud of the work here. We work very hard throughout the company to reduce our carbon emissions to the environment, a very key issue as we talk about climate change and global warming so over the last few years, we’ve implemented a lot of programs to cut our energy consumption and this includes activities such as making our buildings smarter with controls in place to keep the temperatures down and regulate those through automation rather than human error and we drive our costs down but at the same time, we’re driving our use of energy down so this helps us reduce our carbon emissions, which is a huge effort and last year, we hit 75% of the way to our carbon emissions goal. We have a goal of reducing our carbon emissions by 20% by the year 2020 so we’re 75% of the way there already, which is really fantastic. It takes a lot of people to get to that and it’s something we’re really excited about. In fact, our energy savings from the company and our efforts, we received a 96 A rating from the Carbon Disclosure Project, which is tied for the second highest among all reporting F and P 500 companies. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Holy Toledo! So, you’re just truly leading the way in every way, not only in recycling, but also on this whole carbon footprint issue? SCOTT WEISLOW: That’s our goal. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Hey, so for our audience, we’re down to the last couple seconds here, Scott. If you want to sum up Best Buy’s commitment to sustainability since you are the Director of Environmental Sustainability at Best Buy, what would you say? SCOTT WEISLOW: I would say that it’s an ongoing project for us. We want to keep striving to be a leader in our space. We want to serve our communities and I would say for our customers, everyone’s got old technology and when the time comes to dispose of it, I’d say please come and recycle it with us. It won’t cost you a thing and together with you and Best Buy, we can tackle the growing e-waste problem. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Scott Weislow, you’re a sustainability superstar and truly living proof that green is good. SCOTT WEISLOW: Thanks, John.