Our commitment to environmental justice and community outreach started a decade ago with the implementation of our Community Outreach and Environmental Justice Policy. Today, the policy continues to guide our community engagement worldwide, including via investments that dramatically reduce emissions from our operations.
To a large degree, we are dealing with siting decisions of the past land use planning that did not consider cumulative impacts. Today, we are experiencing a present-day reckoning with a legacy of overburdened communities and environmental injustice created in its wake. The reality is, there are far too many who have no choice but to see, feel, and smell the impact of industry every day.
While many of the decisions were made long ago, it doesn’t mean that we are forced to accept the status quo and ignore the mounting concerns of community stakeholders. Rather, as the current owners and/or operators of these facilities, we have a responsibility to listen and act on our recognition that, for too long, communities across the United States have been disproportionately burdened with industrial processes. Society needs to figure out how to continue vital sanitation practices and place a proportionate emphasis on what can make the most difference for those most impacted.
Waste management is often overlooked by the majority of society. The “out of sight, out of mind” thinking is a convenient escape from the realities of dealing with sanitation amidst a population that continues to grow. For those who live in local communities, ignoring society’s waste and related impacts is not possible.
As community members, we need to be part of the solution. The communities we serve matter to us. They are where our employees and their families live, work and play. It begins with establishing open lines of communication between site owners and their community members, working together to arrive at real solutions with tangible, near-term benefits.
We must engage with residents both “inside the fence” and “outside the fence.” In addition to hosting our own events like open houses and facility tours, we also must show up and participate in the events the community finds important.
In addition to engagement, we have also set a goal to implement emissions reductions projects, specifically in Environmental Justice communities. Even before setting our goal, we proactively invested $90 million in state-of-the-art emissions control technology at our facility in Newark which has resulted in drastically improved environmental performance of the facility — reducing some emissions by more than 90%. While WTE facilities are small contributors of emissions in these communities, we recognize that it is important to reduce emissions where we can, however, we also believe that all emissions, from all sources in the community, must be considered and addressed, starting with the largest sources first as they represent the greatest opportunity for measurable improvement.
Responsibly addressing climate change
The science is clear: human activity is leading to global climate change. Addressing this challenge will require multiple solutions and will affect every part of our economy. In the waste sector, the world needs to get out of the business of landfilling biodegradable wastes. However, managing those wastes will require other facilities, including anaerobic digestors, composting facilities, and WTE, all of which have impacts. Going forward, we need to ensure that those communities that historically faced a disproportionate burden are not asked to take on more than their fair share moving forward, even in the name of addressing climate change.
While we’ve seen emissions from our facilities decrease nationally, we recognize that the impacts of climate change remain eminent. We are committed to ensuring any actions we take to mitigate climate risks do not adversely impact disadvantaged communities. To do so, we’ve developed strategies to encourage partnership with communities to create strong alignment and create change.
Our role in communities
The role we play in communities goes beyond that of just partnership, but extends to collaboration, integration, and alignment. Our goal is to contribute to the communities where our employees live and work. We also proudly support the local economy by providing employment opportunities.
We live and work in diverse communities. And we are committed to taking action so that our workforce better reflects their rich diversity.
Our workers are often residents of the communities in which our facilities operate. Sixty-seven percent of our employees live within 15 miles of their work site. Our employees and contractors who live in the communities we serve play a vital role in supporting community development and the local economy.
Covanta Provides Economic Opportunity to Communities
Facility expenditures can range from contractor time to replacement part orders. While cost is a consideration when selecting a vendor, we also emphasize the importance of spending in our local communities. Based on an analysis of 11 facilities over 3 years, 22% of our total spend is from local vendors (within 50 miles of a facility).