Earth Day has an image problem. This venerable holiday bears a patina of tree-hugger and righteous scout, somehow not exactly in step with the times. Part of the problem may be the notion that anything that could be done in one day is woefully inadequate in the face of daunting environmental problems that loom on every front. Yes, we need to plant trees – but we’re cutting them down at a rate of 15 billion a year. Is Earth Day enough?
When it comes to waste, nobody wants it. The whole idea of trash is “let’s get rid of it,” and “I don’t want to think about it.” When salvage and recycling enter the scenario, the result may be less trash, but it’s never no trash. What is left is left because it is of lesser value and even less desirable.
“Growth” is every company’s goal—including Arrow’s. But it’s also a word that can send shivers down the spines of the sustainability-minded. When growth means increasing consumption, materials and energy spend, I’m not gleeful about the g-word. So you can imagine my delight when an IDC analyst proposed growing economically by tackling waste.
Here in Arrow’s Value Recovery business, we refer to our specialized recycling partners as our “downstream.” We take assets that cannot be repaired or refurbished or have no viable new life in their form as assets per se, and we break them down. First we harvest usable parts. Even if a laptop cannot be repaired, for example, chances are its power supply is just fine. From there, we separate materials into commodity types ready to send to our certified partners, which reclaim materials that can in turn become part of a supply chain to be used again in new products.
I don’t know any people who talk about needing to recycle their car. You can sell your car, donate your car, or trade it in. Few have storage options that allow them to just hang on to the old one when they get a new one. And we don’t expect garbage collectors to pick it up if we leave it on the curb.
Every sports fan knows you can’t score if you don’t have control of the ball. Now, imagine a game with thousands of balls in play, and you only win if you get all the balls through a single goal. More and more balls continue to enter the field. Some balls start to fall apart after a while and get kicked aside, but you still have to get them through the goal if you’re going to win. There is no time-out. In fact, there are very few rules at all. Balls come onto the field from all directions at any time. You have to get them all through the goal.
When problem areas touch each other and are entangled in a manner that requires consideration of all the interdependencies in order to find real solutions, the word of the day is “nexus.” Nexus simply means a coming together, but in the world of sustainability, it’s used to highlight the need for systems thinking, the need to consider all the angles lest your solution in one dimension exacerbate a problem in another.