2020: The year we redid the “re”

Departments - Waste Watch

August 12, 2020

In the solid waste industry, there are a lot of “re” words in our occupational vocabulary: reduce, reuse, recycle, renew, recover—the list goes on. Over the past several months, as the COVID-19 pandemic has changed almost everything about work and home life, a lot of us are using other “re” words on a daily basis. We’re “relearning” how to get our work done and accomplish our daily activities while dealing with a new reality. This relearning includes changes for many of us such as educating our children at home and reorganizing the responsibility of caring for family members both in and out of the home. We’re “rethinking” how we prioritize demands, as our previously delineated times for work tasks and family or personal needs blur throughout the day and week. And for many of us, as these changes have forced us to adjust our pace and our worldview, we’re “refocusing” on things like mental health, social justice and the impacts our busy lives have on both ourselves and our planet.

Although we miss seeing our colleagues and friends, attending raucous Girl Scout meetings (in my case), and gathering together for relaxing restaurant dinners, many of us have found that we’re enjoying spending less time commuting and rushing to activities and obligations. You’ve probably heard folks saying they don’t miss bumper-to-bumper traffic and are enjoying how they’re now afforded time to get to know their family members better. (It’s me—I’m “folks”.)

At GBB, our team-based approach to clients and projects has necessitated that we reconsider how we collaborate during the day and across distances. We have been reviewing as an organization how to adapt to being a staff of consultants who are now all working remotely. Before COVID-19, many of us would routinely telework, of course, but not to this extent. We’ve been reexamining how to best manage each day so that we provide seamless service to our clients while also allowing our people to manage and cope with the demands of life outside of work. Similar to the inventory many of us are taking of our personal lives, we’re reflecting on our role in the world. We reaffirmed our commitment to nondiscrimination, while also exploring how we might do our part to recognize injustice and repeal systematic oppression.

We have found that our clients are also doing a lot of review and introspection. Over the past year, we’ve seen many local governments evaluating their operations and programs for both impact and value. Even amid the economic slowdown, this has continued or increased over the past several months as some organizations are viewing the shock to their systems and the “new normal” as the right time to consider (or reconsider) major facility retrofits or programmatic changes. The approach seems to be, “if everything is going to change, let’s look at whether we should redesign what we’re doing while we’re at it.”

This widespread reevaluation is not only a way to breathe more resilience into programs, it can also help encourage fundamental changes in how we operate. Resilience is about flexibility, adaptability, and, often, even complete transformation. Resilience isn’t about remaining steadfast and static; it’s about having the capacity to absorb and rebound from these shocks to the system and keep functioning. We need to employ strategies that are contrary to typical operational thinking—strategies like increasing redundancy and reserves and preserving resource efficiency—so that we can avoid reaching critical, and potentially damaging, tipping points. We need to reduce our risk of succumbing to the stresses of this new normal.

Striving to be more resilient, while simultaneously working to mitigate risk, is a balancing act that requires careful consideration of potential unintended consequences, budgetary impacts, and the sustainability of our operations and precious resources. And while trying to strike this balance will be a challenge for us all, it is also an opportunity to build back—or rebuild—better social, economic and communal security. Together, we can recalibrate our ability to handle whatever may be in store for us next.