Published March 26, 2019

This is the third in a new series of interviews with NRC members. The purpose is to provide insights into materials management programs and practices of member municipalities, businesses, and service providers.

Cliff Fleener is Corporate Director of Environmental Responsibility for Valmont Industries. In this role, he is responsible for supporting all Valmont Business Units worldwide, including over 86 manufacturing facilities across 25 countries. He is also responsible for developing and implementing enterprise-wide Environmental Compliance, Risk Management and Sustainability strategies, programs and standards. Cliff explains some of Valmont’s most important improvements here.

NRC:  Your programs have improved the waste reduction and recycling rates dramatically in the last 3 years. Can you talk about that?

CF:  2018 Valmont’s North American Operations has been able to reduce the volume of waste to landfill by 33% from its 2016 baseline year.  This has saved the company over $100K in 2018.

NRC:  What was the impetus for making these changes in the first place?

CFAs a global company, we are constantly working to ensure that our manufacturing practices are sustainable.  One way we accomplish this is through waste reduction and recycling.  Not only does this result in sending less waste to landfills, it also helps save the company money.  This added benefit is a good incentive to continue finding other ways we can become even more sustainable.

NRC:  What were the most difficult aspects of implementing the program and how did you handle them?

CF:  Our program is grass roots led and our sites have a lot to do each day.  We have tried to make recycling easier for our sites by sharing best practices, creating tools and bringing in third parties like the NRC to share expertise.

NRC: Were there any unexpected barriers?

CF:  The biggest barrier we find is identifying vendors to take our recyclables.

NRC:  Were there any unanticipated benefits?

CF:  Our younger employees have a strong interest in recycling and their enthusiasm has helped to build support for other aspects of our broader sustainability initiative.  Getting steel out of landfill volumes has also improved scrap recycling rates which is also good for our bottom line.  Younger employees seem to gravitate to recycling and that helps with retention as well.

NRC:  What have you done to engage division managers and their employees?

CF:  Valmont’s Sustainability Award launched in 2017 and really spurred friendly competition and interest across many levels of our business.

NRC:  What are your next big challenges or concerns going forward?

CF:  Finding markets for some waste materials like finer glass resins and wood.

NRC:  Do you have any advice for other manufacturers trying to improve their programs?

CF:  Focus on the cost savings and get your shop floor workers engaged, they have the best ideas that can help your program succeed.  I also urge anyone interested in improving their recycling programs to leverage local or state wide non-profits that can help, like the NRC.

NRC:  What do you think is the single most important thing to do or place to start when implementing a change in one’s business?

CF:  Understanding your audience and presenting your argument in a language that resonates with solid facts and benefits spelled out.  Patience and persistence is a must.

NRC:  If you had the power to change anything in the external infrastructure of materials management, what would you do?

CF:  Make it easier to find markets for recyclable materials.

NRC:  Why did Valmont join NRC?

CF:  NRC has an enviable stable of talent that was able to help us frame our program and give us valuable training in the area of recycling.  The NRC staff’s keen knowledge of recycling has been especially helpful to us in establishing our sustainability program. 

Thank you very much, Cliff!