Previewing ISRI’s Annual Convention with ISRI’s Chuck Carr

March 9, 2015

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to another edition of Green is Good, and we’re so honored to have with us today Chuck Carr. He’s the Vice President of Member Services of ISRI, the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries. Welcome to Green is Good, Chuck Carr. CHUCK CARR: Thank you, John. It’s a pleasure to be here. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Hey, Chuck, before we get talking about all the great work you’re doing at ISRI and everything that’s going on at ISRI right now, including your upcoming annual conference in Vancouver, I’d love you to share the Chuck Carr story, the Chuck Carr journey, prior to ISRI and then all the great work you’ve been doing at ISRI. CHUCK CARR: Thank you very much for that opportunity, although I don’t think that will take very long. I’m one of those folks who stumbled into the green industries with the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries about 12 years ago. Prior to coming to work for ISRI, I had been a press secretary on Capitol Hill, I’d done corporate communications for a great company down in South Carolina, I even did some public relations and political consulting. But I was a reevaluating my life a few years ago, I started looking for other opportunities, and I saw this recycling organization that was looking for a Communications Director. I have to admit, at the time, all I knew about recycling was getting your bin to the street on Friday, so it was quite a learning curve to come into a trade association that represents an industry that is made up of the for-profit professional recyclers. For those of you who’ve never had the opportunity to visit either an electronics recycling dismantler, or even better yet, a large metal scrapyard, it’s just awesome. You look up and you’re amazed at the equipment that’s used in these places. The first time I walked into a scrapyard and saw the machine that recycled automobiles, you put a car up in one end of it and 20 second later it comes out the other end in pieces the size of your fist, and as magical as that is, that’s really where the magic begins. It then separates all the components out into commodity grade specific materials, copper and aluminum and ferrous metals and plastics, to the point there’s very, very little waste left. Even as we speak, there’s technologies being developed to reduce that even further. So, it’s just a fascinating industry, where I feel like I can not only use what few skills I have but also do a little bit of good for the world. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Chuck, you’re the Vice President of Member Services. How big is your membership approximately back in the envelope, and where are your members? Are they located just in the United States or around the world? CHUCK CARR: Great question. ISRI currently has a bit more than 1,600 member companies located primarily in North America, but with associate membership in 30 or 40 countries around the world. Again, we’re talking about the for-profit recycling industry in just about every commodity you can imagine. Our members handle metals, they handle plastics, they handle electronics, they handle glass, tires and rubber, textiles, really across the gamut in any place where we can turn materials into commodity grade materials that can then go back in the manufacturing process. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Gotcha. For your members every year, you have an annual ISRI convention and exposition, which I’ve been honored to come to for the last five or six years, and this year on April 21 to the 25, you have your annual convention in Vancouver, British Columbia. Can you share with our listeners what’s the purpose of your annual convention? CHUCK CARR: Sure. That’s something that has evolved over the years, along with this industry and recycling itself. The current iteration of ISRI’s convention and exposition is the largest single meeting of professional recyclers anywhere in the world. The show has grown over the last 10 or 12 years from about 2,000 attendees to a high a couple years ago of nearly 8,000 attendees. We’ve seen the exposition grow in size from about 90,000 square feet to over 360,000 square feet. To put that into perspective, you’ve seen it grow from the size of an average small department store into a trade show that is made up of four or five average-sized Walmarts. It is just completely filled with vendors of equipment and services for the recycling industry, of software manufacturers, of consultants, and the whole thing is ringed with this amazing, huge, large equipment of cranes and material handlers, bailers and other large equipment that’s used in the industry. It’s totally fascinating to see. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Gotcha. Who typically attends? Is this, again, just your North American members, or is this where East meets West and the world literally comes together under one roof for these four or five days? CHUCK CARR: The show is becoming more and more international every year. That’s absolutely a terrific question. In recent years, we’ve had as many as 60 countries represented among those that come to the convention. It’s typically the workers, the managers, the CEOs and owners, again, in the recycling industry that you can sort of see the whole entire show segmented to those that are brokers and traders of material, those who operate the equipment in a scrapyard or a recycling plant, those who are more interested in the finance side of the industry, and those that are in the operations side. Having the opportunity to bring these folks together for networking opportunities, for education opportunities, just has become a must-attend event for the recycling industry and the world over recent years. JOHN SHEGERIAN: For our listeners in the United States and around the world that want to learn more about this great event or register for it, please go to ISRI’s website, isri.org. They have a beautiful page there where you can go on, you can register, you can learn more about everything Chuck’s talking about, and you can then come to Vancouver on April 21st to the 25th and see for yourself all the great things that are going on there. Green is Good will be there too, and we’re honored to be there this year, interviewing a lot of your great sponsors and guests and interviewing a lot of people enjoying the activities there. Chuck, for our listeners, give a little visual description, sort of a virtual reality tour, of an exhibit hall for our listeners out there who haven’t been yet, but are thinking about coming to your upcoming convention and exhibition. What does an exhibit hall look like, if they’re going to be walking around? CHUCK CARR: It’s just an amazing opportunity to see nearly everything that’s involved in the recycling industry, be it equipment, be it people, be it services and consulting opportunities from within the recycling industry. Again, as you walk into this enormous space, you’re immediately taken by the number of booths that are there. We actually have over 500 booth spaces that are being managed by something close to 250 companies this year. The opportunity to see your colleagues, to see those who work in the industry there that will just totally fill the aisles, as they seek out services within these booths and network with one another. For those who have never been to an ISRI event, we also are very proudly one of those few conventions that feeds and waters you regularly. Lunch is served in the exhibit hall. We want you to spend time with the exhibitors. We want you to make sure you have every opportunity to meet with the sponsors, and I think that’s one of the reasons why this show is so well supported by our exhibitors as well as by our attendees, is that we try and make sure that the show is a positive experience for everybody that comes. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Chuck, you chose Vancouver this year. Your colleagues and yourself chose Vancouver, which is an absolutely gorgeous city. I’m so glad you chose it, but talk a little bit about the thought process in choosing Vancouver over any other great city that you could have this wonderful convention in. CHUCK CARR: We’re really, really fortunate that we were able to get into this facility. The convention center in Vancouver, in fact, is the building that was used as the media center during the 2000 winter Olympic games that were held in and around Vancouver. It is a LEED platinum building. It has a green roof that’s absolutely amazing to see. It’s certainly one of the most modern convention facilities that you’re going to find anywhere in North America. No doubt, that was part of the reason why we saw some attraction to Vancouver, but more than that, Vancouver itself is proud of the fact that it’s really the symbolic gateway to the Pacific Rim. It’s proud of its heritage that includes everything from First Nations peoples indigenous to that part of North America to an extremely large population that comes from Asia, as well as European roots that are there as well. That sort of international flavor is what helped us choose Vancouver as well. If you want to get into more specifics, when you have a show that has this kind of equipment that this show has, there’s specifics with regards to not only space size but floor loads that limit us to only a certain number of cities. There are some cities out there that I’m sure many people assume are great convention facilities that just can’t hold this very heavy show. We’re very lucky that Vancouver can, and it’s such a wonderful building. This is our first opportunity to go outside the United States, granted only about 90 miles outside the United States. It’s been a bit different to plan an event slightly across the border, but nevertheless, I think the opportunities that are there are just going to be phenomenal. JOHN SHEGERIAN: For our listeners who just joined us, we’ve got Chuck Carr on. He’s the Vice President of Member Services of ISRI. ISRI is the Institute of Scrap and Recycling Industries that’s having a big convention on April 21-25 in Vancouver, British Columbia. To learn more about this convention and to actually register for it, please go to its great website. It’s isri.org. I’m on the website now. It’s chockfull of information in terms of the schedule, the registration, the hotels, the sponsors and exhibitors, isri.org. Chuck, talk a little bit about for those of our listeners that have been to your previous conventions, what are some things that you’re really excited about that might be new this year that we haven’t seen before? CHUCK CARR: In addition to a facility that just can’t be beat and a view that’s beyond description when you look over the harbor of Vancouver, we’re also trying to improve the quality and the value of the education experience that you receive at an ISRI convention. Every year, we put on anywhere from 70 to 100 workshops and spotlights and other training programs. In trying to schedule these programs, we hear every year from people who are frustrated that they’re not able to get to everything they’d like to do over the course of the four days that we’re there. So we’re trying to do a couple of things in restructuring our programming this year. A lot of our programs are going to be designed into commodity-specific modules, so that if you are an electronics recycler, rather than having electronics-specific programming running throughout the entire three days of workshops, we’ll do nearly all of that in one of the three days, which then gives you the opportunity to spend more time either in the exhibit hall or attending another commodity module, or perhaps even more of the very important non-commodity-specific business and economic sessions that we provide every year. That’s really the largest change you’re going to see from any other year, is the way we’re structuring the workshops. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Gotcha. Typically, your speaker list is just unbelievable. You always get the best speakers and the most timely and relevant speakers. Who are some of your speakers this year that you’re excited about? CHUCK CARR: I’m frankly excited about them all, and I’m glad you pointed out that we do try and get the best speakers we possibly can. Those who are in the industry can tell you that if you want to track the market conditions of the commodities markets, if you’re wanting to find out what the analysts are saying, you’ll find those analysts at ISRI events. Typically, there are three key events every year within the ISRI calendar that people don’t miss, and that’s our commodities roundtable program in Chicago in September, what’s known as the Mid-America Consumers Night, which is in St. Louis and just occurred a couple weeks ago here in February, and then the ISRI convention, where we have a lot of spotlight programs for every major commodity, including copper, aluminum, ferrous metals, stainless steel, lead, electronics, paper, tires and rubber, to give people an indication of what analysts are saying in the marketplace today and to the extent that those analysts can foresee the future, they’d like to know what’s on tap. The two larger programs that we have every year, we have an opening and closing general session. Those sessions have always had speakers that were usually out of the headlines that you’ve seen in the news. This year, we’re actually doing one that I bet everyone has heard of and one that you may not have heard of. Our opening session this year is going to be a gentleman by the name of Stan Slap, and I have to be honest that when I first heard his name, I thought, “Shoot me sails.” As it turns out, he’s a businessman, he’s an entrepreneur, he’s a motivational speaker, and a thinker who thinks through issues that I think matter, particularly to small businesses and businesses like you find within our recycling industry. He’s going to do a program called Tough Times, Tough People. We’re going to talk about how when you’re in economic slowdowns, when you’re in times that are in some way challenging, you don’t just blame the times and move forward. You have to be prepared to handle those times, to make sure that you not only get through them, but that you improve within them to be better on the other side. It’s a program that anybody, any company, that is seeking to get through what can be a little bit tough time today, should certainly hear, and I’m hoping that most of our attendees will join us. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s great. Who’s the big keynote? CHUCK CARR: The final speaker is going to be former Defense Secretary, Bob Gates, who served as Defense Secretary both under George W. Bush and under President Barack Obama. Therefore, he’s going to offer a bipartisan perspective that I think our folks are eager to hear at this point. We chose him this year because of his ability to give us perspectives on world events. He has been there throughout most of the happenings in the Middle East of the past couple decades. I think his perspectives on what’s going on with ISIS and ISIL will be very important. I think he has perspectives on how we now deal with countries like Russia, like China, will be of interest to everyone as well. He is typical of the type of speaker that ISRI brings into an event like this. We’ve had every President since Ronald Reagan as speaker. We’ve had nearly every Secretary of State, including last year’s Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton. We try and draw speakers that are from both parties, but more importantly, we try and draw speakers that will bring an interesting perspective to those of us in the industry that need to have our ear to the world, as opposed to just our local neighborhood. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That makes so much sense, and that makes the program so much richer, that that’s the approach that you and your colleagues and leadership take at ISRI. That’s why your conferences are so valuable to everybody. It’s not just from one perspective or another. You’re the head of Member Services, Chuck. Can you talk a little bit about the business of doing business at an ISRI event? Talk a little bit about not only going to Vancouver and loving the place you’re having it in and seeing all these great educational opportunities and exhibitors, but is there a business to business opportunity at your ISRI conventions? CHUCK CARR: John, every year, we poll our attendees to find out what it is about an ISRI convention that brings them there year over year. What is it that brings 15-20 percent new attendees every year, and 80-85 percent repeat attendees every year to an ISRI convention? Without fail, every year, the number one choice is the networking opportunities. I mentioned at the top of the show that week in Vancouver will be the largest single gathering of professional recyclers anywhere in the world this year. If you want the opportunity to meet with your colleagues in your state or your colleagues across the world or your colleagues in Vietnam or China or Brazil or Mexico or Canada, this is the place to be that week. Our program is designed specifically for that, to try and help everyone recognize that an industry that used to just deal with its own certain region is now dealing on a global level. What happens in China matters to what happens in Pittsburgh. It’s truly important that we all get that perspective and that’s offered at an ISRI convention. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Thank you, Chuck, and thank you for your time today. We can all get that perspective, as Chuck says, by coming to the next ISRI convention April 21-25 in beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia. You can learn more about the convention and sign up and register for it at ISRI’s website, isri.org. Chuck Carr, the Vice President of Member Services for ISRI, thank you, Chuck, for being a scrap and recycling superstar. You are truly living proof that green is good.