Empowering Consumers to Recycle with Keep America Beautiful’s Brenda Pulley

January 13, 2014

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome to another edition of Green is Good, and today we’re so honored to have with us Brenda Pulley. She’s the Senior Vice President of Recycling for Keep America Beautiful. Welcome to Green is Good, Brenda. BRENDA PULLEY: Hi, John. How are you? JOHN SHEGERIAN: I’m great, and we’re so thankful you’re on the show with us today and this is Keep America Beautiful’s first appearance on Green is Good, so thank you for coming on and sharing the Keep America Beautiful story today. BRENDA PULLEY: Thank you. We’re delighted to be part of your show. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Before we get into talking about all the great things you’re doing over at Keep America Beautiful, Brenda, can you share with our listeners a little bit about your journey, how you even came here and what brought you to Keep America Beautiful? BRENDA PULLEY: Sure. I started my career working for the U.S. House of Representatives and there I worked for a member of Congress named Ike Skelton and had the opportunity in working with him, who was Chair of the Energy and Environment Small Business Committee to start address recycling, waste reduction, hazard waste, energies that were prevalent at that time in America and how to address those and how businesses could better address the proper handling of waste recycling and materials. From there, I worked for a couple different trade associations but all very much related in recycling so one was the National Association of Chemical Recyclers and so a couple different trade associations in that and then I joined an aluminum company called Novelis, again with energy and environmental issues very relevant to the business, particularly the recycling of aluminum, and then, as you can see sort of throughout my career, there were recycling and environmental type issues and really during that journey found that there’s a real opportunity to work with individuals, not just businesses, but also individuals and encouraging them in the importance of recycling and the benefit it has economically to not only the US, but frankly globally. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You joined Keep America Beautiful back in around 2010 or so? BRENDA PULLEY: I did. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it. We’re so thankful you’re here. You have an amazing history in doing everything sustainable and green, so can you share a little bit about Keep America Beautiful today? First of all, I know you’ve recently launched, and I’m on your website and for our listeners who want to follow along, Keep America Beautiful has a great website. It’s www.kab.org. You launched the I Want to be Recycled campaign. Can you talk a little bit about that? BRENDA PULLEY: Sure. It’s very consistent with Keep America Beautiful’s mission, just so you know, so we are celebrating our 60th anniversary of Keep America Beautiful. We started frankly with litter and trying to prevent litter back in the ’50s and one of our first PSA campaigns that people will remember was an anti-litter campaign. It’s our first partnership with the Ad Council, so this new partnership has a lot of the opportunity to launch a new public service ad campaign and it is very much around recycling of materials. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Keep America Beautiful and recycling. Talk a little bit about that keyword, recycling. Why recycling? Why now? BRENDA PULLEY: It is, as you know, I know you operate globally, that businesses, leaders around the globe are looking differently at resources. They’re looking at the global population, the growing demand on resources, and even individuals are looking to rethink and reconsider the value of resources that we’ve been putting in the waste stream and so how do we not be as wasteful but in fact, keep those resources in our economy in reusing them? JOHN SHEGERIAN: It’s important for our listeners to understand and for those who have just joined us, we’ve got Brenda Pulley on from Keep America Beautiful. It’s KAB.org. You have a lot of resources at Keep America Beautiful and I know before you launched your campaign, you did some research about recycling. Can you share with our listeners what did you learn about recycling in this research and in your homework prior to this launch? BRENDA PULLEY: Sure. A lot of thought, a lot of work, a lot of research was put into it so that we had the right messages for that campaign and one of the key things that we found in the various interviews and focus groups that we did was people really do not want to be wasteful but they need to be (a) encouraged to recycle with the right message, which I’ll get to, and also need to have recycling information, John, and I know you know how important this is but they need to have readily accessible recycling information on what, when, and where to recycle so the first one is what’s the right message of people? And they felt like it was a burden to recycle but one thing that we discovered was when they realized they could be empowered to make something not be wasted but in fact, give it a new life, it has an afterlife, keep it in that economy, they were really inspired so it went from an obligation, literally, the recycling kind of concept, to an inspiration to recycle when they realized they had that power and that was reassuring them of what materials could become. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s so interesting; so what you’re saying, Brenda, is you’ve got to encourage people to recycle and then you have to make it easy and accessible. BRENDA PULLEY: You really do so it’s (a) that convenience of recycling so having that bin, whether it’s at home or at work or out and about or at the school, having those bins readily available, having the information on what, where, how, but then the other thing is that underlying that we’re always encouraging people and reassuring them of what things can become so whether it is that the beverage bottle now can become a pair of jeans, a shampoo bottle that can become a park bench or the juice bottle, I should say, can become a park bench, those kinds of things, from can to can, they need to be reassured of that. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s so good. You know, now that you’ve launched a campaign, what are you learning? What’s coming back to you as you watch the campaign evolve? What are you learning from the consumers as you start the whole interaction and rollout and scaling of the campaign? BRENDA PULLEY: Well, it’s still relatively early in the campaign so we’ve really are working with our partners, the Ad Council, and its media partners, and we’re working with our partners, so KAB affiliates, all our recycling partners in many cities and counties across the country, so working to get it really activated but I will tell you it is great when you show the ad to people and see their response to it. We’re getting really good feedback about the ad and it’s clicking and it’s really registering or resonating, I should say, with people about what materials can become. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You know, and that’s so interesting and for our listeners out there again, I’m on your website, on Keep America’s Website and it’s www.kab.org and I know this is a new campaign and I’ve been a huge fan and follower of your work for a long time and I remember that initial campaign. I’m old enough to remember the initial campaign that you had and grew up with that on television. I know you’ve recently launched other campaigns so besides I Want to be Recycled, you’ve launched Recycling at Work. Can you share a little bit about that? Because we all go to work every day and this is another great platform you’ve put out there so please explain to our listeners what that means. BRENDA PULLEY: Sure. When you look at EPA data, we know that up to 40, 45% of municipal solid waste is actually generated in workplace settings so what we decided to do last year as part of America Recycles day and frankly, partnering with our Alcoa Foundation was look where there are opportunities that we can help make a difference and so it just seemed to be one of those opportunities when you think about recycling at work and particularly, many larger businesses have started to look, as part of their sustainability platform, to put in recycling. A lot of folks have doing it in manufacturing for a lot of reasons, for economic reasons, etcetera but frankly, in the workplace setting, particularly office type workplace settings, we found there was not enough recycling that was offered, particularly in small and medium, and so this program is really designed to make it very easy for any size business. There’s the 10-step action plan for any size business to look at, do waste characterization, identify locations on their office settings to put recycling bins, and then not only do we offer easy steps on how to do that. One of the key things that we want to do to set ourselves apart is really identify opportunities to engage and inform employees on how to recycle because at the end of the day, you want to engage individuals in the workplace so that they will recycle. We are hopeful and actually will be studying if there is a spillover effect and it influences more recycling in the home but we’re looking to organize activities on how to hold an America Recycles Day event in a workplace setting or how to hold an Earth Day event on the workplace setting and we’ll be sharing those activities with our pledge partners and one benefit that we’re looking to provide more there’s exclusive offers with a couple recycling bin providers that once you become a pledge partner, you get 15% reduction on office-type recycling bins so that’s the array of benefits and resources that we’re providing. We know there’s much more, particularly when it comes to recognition and then reporting on those successes, reporting on the amount of material that is recycled, or frankly, sort of phase two that we’re looking at. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s so interesting, and for our listeners out there, what’s so eye opening about what you do, Brenda, is I’m on your website now and I’m looking at some of your featured videos. You have chapters all around the country so it’s just not Keep America Beautiful and you have one office in DC running a national program. You have chapters such as Keep Las Vegas Beautiful and Keep Atlanta Beautiful, and I know you have Keep California Beautiful. You have amazing chapters across the country that are always great ambassadors for the work that you do and are continuing to engage and get more people involved with all the great recycling programs you have across America. How many chapters do you have now? BRENDA PULLEY: We have over 600 of what we call affiliates and over 1,000 partners that are affiliates and recycling partners and others that frankly are, as you just indicated, embedded in communities across the country and that really gets to the core of Keep America’s mission, John. It’s about engaging individuals to be part of their community and working with others and to help improve the public spaces in that community, so whether it’s picking up litter, converting a vacant lot, planting trees, planting gardens, or instilling more waste reduction and recycling activities. That is what we do and again, as I said, it’s about being part of that community and engaging individuals to be part of that community and to take greater pride in that community. JOHN SHEGERIAN: For our listeners just joining us, we’ve got Brenda Pulley. She’s the Senior Vice President of Recycling for Keep America Beautiful. It’s www.kab.org. I’m going to take us in a different direction now, Brenda. Recycling is so important but as you know, and as I’ve learned just in recent years, it’s a fascinating social study in terms of demographics, as to who’s really into it and who’s really not and I know what’s near and dear to your heart and where a lot of your focus has been in recent times at KAB has been in America’s youth and the colleges and the young people that are on fire for The Sustainability Revolution and for recycling. Can you share how you’ve created these unique programs across America to engage America’s youth and what you’ve learned from that whole process? BRENDA PULLEY: Sure. As you indicate, we’ve done some research, some national surveys, those kinds of things and there’s that 60, 65% of individuals across the country that we call the sometimes or the sporadic recyclers that all of our programs are really designed to target to help them become the everyday recycler, whether they’re passionate or not. We want it just to become second nature for them to do and clearly audiences that come top of mind are that K through 12 when children are young and very open to these kinds of messages and really sharing with them the importance of recycling and working to help make it a habit that they’ll just grow up with and frankly, be ambassadors for others to recycle, whether it’s their parents or their neighbors, that kind of thing, so we have a K through 12. It’s kind of based on behavioral change, some of those different attributes that you can employ and that is recycling competition. We have a fun friendly competition that’s designed (it’s a four week) to really engage and activate students to recycle more in the school and during that process, the idea is there’s some teaching moments to make that happen and sometimes, teaching very related to recycling but sometimes, teaching to show that recycling has economic contributions or some scientific learnings but that is really one of our key programs. We augment that with some activities and lesson plans and other programs that we have but the core is called Recycle Bowl and it is really designed to engage students to recycle more and again, fun friendly way to do it. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, don’t you also have college competitions every year, also with regards to recycling? BRENDA PULLEY: We do. In fact, we model a lot of the Recycle Bowl off that program so we partner with what’s called RecycleMania and their Board of Directors and really work with them to grow that program. It’s been about 15-plus years but I know it’s a great program. In fact, I was just with one of the two individuals from Ohio, actually from two different schools by the way, who came up with the idea. They wanted to create a little competition and it’s grown from two schools 15 years ago to over 600 colleges and universities today that participate. That’s an eight-week program but it’s really designed not just to do just benchmarking for all those recycling coordinators on campus, but exactly like Recycle Bowl, it’s really designed to engage both staff and the faculty but particularly the students in recycling and the importance of recycling. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You know Brenda, I know Keep America Beautiful continues to do their great and important work, not only because people across America donate to your wonderful organization, but there are large corporations that are great supporters that continue to ensure that we’re going to have a better environment in the years ahead and I know there’s great companies, like Alcoa, Coca-Cola, Dr. Pepper, Snapple Group, and others that are supporting the great people at Keep America Beautiful. We have about three minutes left. Can you share how their support equates into more action, more activity, more convenience and accessibility to recycling and what that means for your organization? BRENDA PULLEY: Absolutely. These are companies that truly have sustainability as part of their core operations and it’s an honor to be able to partner with them to help design programs that can truly help make a difference and so the leadership of Alcoa Foundation, Unilever, Waste Management, Nestle Water North America, and Keiser Bush, American Chemistry Council, those are just a few of the partners we work with, Coca-Cola as well, to really identify opportunities for working in public-private partnerships and actually partnering with government. Over 50% of our affiliates are either part of government, housing government, work with government, so we really are about creating public-private partnerships to help make an improved community. JOHN SHEGERIAN: What does that mean in terms of extra bins or more bins around America so people have more accessibility to drop off their, as you said, bottles or cans or whatever they want to recycle? BRENDA PULLEY: Sure. We know there are studies that 60 or 70% of the public have access to curbside recycling but it’s a whole different story of how many participate but curbside has made incredible progress, 1970s I think there were no curbside programs. Now, EPA estimates there are 9,000 curbside programs. Can we do more to encourage households to recycle more? Absolutely, but when it comes to public space recycling, as we talked earlier about office or at school, we know there are just not enough recycling bins, that convenience factor out there, so we do partner with groups like Coca-Cola, Alcoa, Dr. Pepper, Snapple, and Pepsi to really work and this is a big effort, right? We know that there are about 10% of where there need to be public space recycling bins that are out there and it’s about getting the right bins, putting them in the right places, making sure the signage is right so that people in that split second decision when they’re on the go can have that recycling bin there and make sure they recycle something versus putting it in the trash, big program, lots of effort, looking at best practices. We have a best practice manual, the top 10 tips on our website so I encourage people if they have an interest in that to go there but there is much opportunity in this space to improve recycling on the go. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s just a perfect way to wrap it up and for our listeners out there that want to do more or want to donate to Keep America Beautiful to make it work or want to learn how they could recycle more in their own community, there’s three websites I want to put out to you. It’s KAB.org. It’s also AmericaRecyclesDay.org or IWanttobeRecycled.org, all great websites, all important, and it gives us all access to the great work that Keep America Beautiful is doing. Brenda Pulley, you are helping to keep America beautiful and truly living proof that green is good.