Milk-Bone and Sustainability with Big Heart Pet Brands’ Mike Jackson

May 18, 2015

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JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome to another edition of Green is Good, and we’re so honored to have with us today Mike Jackson. He’s the Distribution Supervisor at Big Hearts Pet Brands. Welcome to Green is Good, Mike Jackson. MIKE JACKSON: Hey, thanks a lot, John. It’s great to be here. Thanks for having me on. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Just for our listeners out there, Big Heart Pet produces the famous Milk-Bone pet food, so we’re so thrilled to have you on. We’ve never covered this topic before, but before we get talking about what you’re doing at Big Heart, we want you to talk a little bit about Mike Jackson a little bit. Talk a little bit about your life, personally, and how you got involved with Big Heart and how long you’ve been there. Share a little bit about you with our listeners, please. MIKE JACKSON: The most important part of my story is my wife and my five kids, my wife, Amy, and my sons, William, Colin, and Ian, and my daughters, Emma and Brynn. Any story about me starts right there, really. Going back before them, I was in the United States Marine Corps after college in the mid- to late-90s for four years. I joined Milk-Bone in 1999, and I’ve been there ever since. Around 2006 or so, I began to take a real strong interest in environmental issues. That all started with waste reduction and responsible waste management. That led me into all manner of environmental issues. That started as a personal interest, and from that point, it led me to look at things that work through a different lens. Then I started to try to apply some of this knowledge to what was happening at work because I saw an opportunity there. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Gotcha. We’re so thrilled to have you on today, and we’re so thrilled to talk about Big Heart. For our listeners out there that want to learn more about all the great work you’re doing, Mike, at Big Heart Pet, they can go to I’m on your website right now. It’s a beautiful website. There’s tons of information. Obviously, we’re going to be talking about the Milk-Bone line and things of that such, but there’s a lot of other information in terms of corporate responsibility and how you guys really do discuss people, planet, your supply chain, and, of course, the wonderful world of pets and these beautiful pictures of pets on your website. Again, it’s Talk a little bit about the Milk-Bone Bakery that you have in Buffalo, New York, and your zero-waste program, where you’ve cut what you send to landfills tremendously over the last five years. MIKE JACKSON: Sure, John. Going back to 2007, that’s our baseline year for this. We were sending about 549 tons of waste to a landfill every year. We took a good, hard look at this, and realized that we could be doing a lot more on the recycling front. We put together a cross-functional team to examine this problem and figure out how to get all the recyclable material out of the waste stream. We started our program in July of 2008, and it had a really, really big impact right from the get-go. Taking it a step further, we began to think about we’re cutting our waste tremendously. Maybe we can get to the point where we’re not sending any waste to the landfill at all. I had read an article around that time about a Subaru facility in Indiana that achieved zero landfill. I wasn’t familiar with the concept at that point. I began to dig into that a little bit and explore the possibilities, and we realized that we’ve got a shot at doing this. We really focused our efforts on taking what remained of our waste stream and ensuring that it didn’t go to landfill and Covanta Energy really helped us out there. They’ve got a facility in Niagara Falls, which is only about 20 minutes from here, a huge facility that converts waste to energy via the incineration process to create electrical energy. We work with them to arrange for all of our remaining waste. Anything that couldn’t be recycled that we still had to throw out was going to get taken to Covanta and we knew it was not going to go to a landfill. We were able to take complete ownership of our waste stream in that regard. The biggest hurdle for that, really, was finding somebody who would take our compactor box to Covanta because the people who typically handle this, the waste haulers, they all wanted to take our compactor box to their landfill, so we would have to pay them to dispose of it and pay them to haul it and what not. We made it clear no, we don’t want it to go to a landfill; we want it to go to Covanta. There were some difficulties there, and our recycling service, Cascades Recovery, actually provided the solution to the problem. They said, “Hey, we’re already taking on your recyclables. We’ve got a truck that’s equipped to take your compactor box up to Covanta, so we’ll do that for you as well.” Our recycling vendor, Cascades Recovery, actually handles all of our recyclables and they also transport all of our non-recyclable waste. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow. Wait a second. There’s a lot to this story here, Mike, and I want to deconstruct it a little bit. You mentioned you got inspired by the Subaru story that you read. For our listeners out there, this is how one person at a great brand, Big Heart Pet, can get inspired and literally change a corporate culture or cultural DNA of a company, which, again, leads to making the world a better place. You read about this plant that Subaru has, a zero waste plant. Did you actually contact them? Did you go over there? Did you read more about them? How did you even continue to build your theses that this is the way you wanted to push Big Heart? Who was listening at Big Heart and giving you the green light and allowing you to move this forward? MIKE JACKSON: I researched the concept of zero landfill and started thinking a lot about logistically, how do we do this? What do we have to do to actually make this happen? I didn’t speak with anybody at Subaru, but I did a lot of research trying to read about other facilities that had gotten there. There weren’t really very many at that time, but when I presented the idea to our management team here, our plant manager said, “That sounds great. Let’s go for it. What do we have to do to make this happen?” I had complete support from our management team here. I’ve got to backtrack a little bit and say that our recycling program is as successful as it is because not only did we have support at the top, we’ve got support and participation throughout all levels of the organization. If you’ve got management’s support, you can say, “We’re going to put a program in place and we’ve got a program.” But the success of that program is dependent on the entire organization taking part and believing in it and working for it. Our plant manager said, “Let’s go for it. What do we need to do?” We went from there. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Gotcha. Why is it so important for our listeners out there to take a company like yours and instead of taking this stuff, as you said, the waste companies want you to do, take it and put it into a landfill, why is it important to go zero waste in terms of methane and not only the cultural DNA aspect for the pride of your company and marketing for you company, but also what does it do in terms of methane and keeping methane out of our ecosystem? MIKE JACKSON: It’s really important because methane is produced from landfills. It’s an extremely potent greenhouse gas. Within five years after methane has entered the atmosphere, for that five-year period, methane is 100 times more potent than carbon dioxide and 100 times more heat is captured by that methane. Over a 20-year period, it’s something like 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide. The next 20 years, they’re going to be so critical for us to really arrest the runaway climate change that’s taking place right now. JOHN SHEGERIAN: For our listeners out there that have just joined us, we’re so happy and honored to have with us Mike Jackson. He’s the Distribution Supervisor at Big Heart Brands. You can check out Big Heart Brands at If you love pets, you’ve got to go on this website. They have the most gorgeous pictures of pets. They have a great message from the CEO of the company. Big Heart, if you don’t know them, not only do they produce the iconic Milk-Bone brand, but they produce a lot of other brands like Kibbles ‘n Bits and Nature’s Recipe, 9 Lives, Meow Mix, and many, many others, Gravy Train. These are some of the most famous and iconic pet brands. We’ve got Mike Jackson with us talking about how they’ve gone zero waste. You talked a little bit about getting the green light from your bosses and from management and also having buy-in on recycling throughout the company. How did it work then? You work with Cascade and they help bring you to Covanta. Why Covanta, and what was Covanta doing that the traditional waste company couldn’t offer you? MIKE JACKSON: Their proximity to us is ideal. Their facilities are only 20 minutes from here, so logistically, it’s a really good fit. They were also so instrumental to us. When I contacted them and talked to them about what I wanted to do here with getting to zero landfill, they jumped right in. They sat down with me and helped me figure out how we’re going to make this happen. We’re going to make this happen. What do we have to do to do it? They went the extra mile in getting us there. JOHN SHEGERIAN: What does Covanta do with the material when it goes there? MIKE JACKSON: When it gets there, it’s incinerated. In layman’s terms, it’s incinerated and the heat that results from that is used to create steam, which powers turbines, which creates electrical energy. That electrical energy goes back out on the grid. They’re creating electrical energy, so we’re really attacking two problems at once. One is the landfill issue, and the other one is the growing energy needs. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So it’s really a waste to energy plant. There’s a lot of bottom lines here, like you said. You’re hitting the landfill issue, and you’re also creating a new energy source. MIKE JACKSON: Yes, exactly. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Since 2008, when you started this, how much has Milk-Bone recycled since then? MIKE JACKSON: We’re coming up on 25 million pounds of materials recycled. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow, that’s huge. MIKE JACKSON: Yeah, it’s going to be a big milestone for us. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow. That is just great. What’s the next step for you, Mike? When you’ve had such a huge success like this at a company, are all the other brands, are you spreading this internally and becoming a recycling evangelist as your CEO said, “Hey, we’ve got to do this on all of our lines?” What else is next for Milk-Bone, in terms of waste management and the holistic approach that you’ve taken? MIKE JACKSON: I’d like to talk a little bit about a program that we started a couple of years ago. We got to zero landfill in 2009. After a couple of years, we were trying to think about what’s the next step here? All the numbers, all the environmental data for what recycling does, that’s fantastic, but it’s kind of abstract, too. I started thinking about what we can do here to make our zero landfill status and our recycling help our community, help the city of Buffalo and the surrounding area. What we do every year around Earth Day is we send some of our recycling proceeds, some of the revenue generated by our recycling, to some local organizations that are doing good things in the city. For instance, our scrap metal proceeds will go to a group called Go Bike Buffalo. What they do is they work to promote cycling in the city of Buffalo and get bike lanes built and bike racks throughout the city, bikes for people who need them, that sort of thing. In a sense, we’re turning our scrap metal into bike racks and bikes. Our wooden pallet proceeds go to a group called Re-Tree Western New York. They’re dedicated to reforesting the region. In a sense there, we’re taking scrap wood and we’re turning it into new trees. Our paper waste proceeds go to the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library to get new library books. Every year around Earth Day, we hold an employee electronic waste drive, where our employees can bring in their waste from home and dispose of it in an environmentally friendly manner. Some of those proceeds go to an organization called Camp Good Days and Special Times, which benefits kids with cancer. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Oh my gosh. You’ve now started attacking all the different waste streams in your facility and trying to come up with new and unique ways of creating double and triple bottom lines around the recycling of these items. MIKE JACKSON: Yeah, exactly. We’re trying to use these efforts to create tangible benefits in the community where we live and work. JOHN SHEGERIAN: How many employees are at the Milk-Bone facility that you manage? MIKE JACKSON: We’ve got about 200 employees here. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Two-hundred employees. I know your company is much bigger than just Milk-Bone. Has this kind of success story, not only with Covanta and the waste to energy that you’re doing on the 25 million pounds that you’ve recycled, but all these other things you’re doing with wood recycling, electronic recycling, metal recycling into bike racks, has this spread among the company? Is this now being taken to different brands and different divisions with regards to all the work that’s being done at Big Heart Pet? MIKE JACKSON: Yes, I know we’ve got a couple of other facilities within Big Heart Pet Brands that have achieved zero landfill after we did. I know that some of the other facilities are also looking at community-minded initiatives, like the one we started a couple of years ago. JOHN SHEGERIAN: What’s next for your facility? We’re down to the last two minutes or so, Mike. What’s next for Big Heart Pet and for your Milk-Bone facility? MIKE JACKSON: I think what we would like to do is expand our corporate social responsibility initiatives and maybe try to find some other organizations that we can help out in a creative way. Also, the building itself, this building is almost 100 years old, so simply by that fact alone, it’s a green building because it’s been here so long. There are some green enhancements that I would like to see here that maybe we can get done in the coming years, things like solar panels and the like. I think that’s the next frontier. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Do you message in Milk-Bone’s marketing? I don’t have any pets right now, but is it messaged, all the great work you’re doing with regards to recycling and your holistic waste management program? MIKE JACKSON: It’s messaged in our corporate social responsibility brochure. That is a public document. We try to put the information out there like that right now. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And it’s on your website, which I’m on. For our listeners out there that want to learn more about all of the great work Mike and his colleagues are doing at Big Heart Brands, they can go to Remember, Big Heart Pet owns Milk-Bone and many other great brands. You can support these great people that are doing more to make the world a better place. Thank you, Mike, for being a recycling rock star. You are truly living proof that green is good.

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