You cannot disrupt the status quo if you are not willing to do everything differently. From day one, we have sought to do business differently than any of our competitors. That is why in 2012, Rubicon was one of the first companies to become a Certified B Corporation – a clear signal of our intention to do business in a responsible, sustainable, and ethical way. Since that time, Rubicon has built a talented team and a people-centric culture. Passionate, idea driven, globally aware and socially minded, Rubicon’s people are incredible, and whatever successes we achieve are due to their collective efforts, creativity and energy.
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Our mission to end waste is the fuel for our success. Today, waste is a clear and present danger to our environment, economy, security, and health. The collection, burial, and burning of waste is an environmental disaster, creating poisons and toxins that may be with us for centuries. Every generation leaves behind a legacy. Ancient Rome left behind engineering marvels including the first major forms of urban sanitation. We risk making our own legacy a thick layer of garbage and waste, covering vast spaces of both land and ocean, choking life out of the soil, water and air. Is that what we want?
At Rubicon, we want to leave a positive mark on history with environmental innovation, industrial transformation, and market-oriented solutions – all targeting the problem of waste. We are going to do everything in our power to reduce the amount of waste going into landfills, to create far greater incentives to recycle, to build and deploy systems to make it far easier to recycle, and to create a truly circular, free market economy.
If we get this right, we may not solve all of the globe’s environmental problems, but we will solve one of the biggest and most costly ones. And we will demonstrate that the United States can and will lead on this issue.
We also hope to save our economic system from one of its worst features. For most of early human history, waste was an afterthought. Waste existed, but humankind often reused or recycled as much of it as possible. Most people lived in a circular economy, wasting little and squeezing value out of their resources. They could not afford to waste a thing.
The Industrial Age changed that approach to consumption. Today, along with vast growth in prosperity and living standards, we have an industrial-scale level of waste creation and waste disposal. We have been dealing with this industrial-scale waste the same way for roughly 300 years of global industrial activity. It is ripe for disruption and ready for new approaches.
Our insight – one of our first – was that the digital age will help us defeat this legacy of the industrial age. Today, with digital tools and platforms, we can accelerate the return to a circular economy, promoting recycling and producing the economic benefits associated with waste reduction, all while using free market-based approaches and solutions.
We began our work by analyzing the status quo and considering the logical alternatives. There are currently two ways to make money from waste. One is by setting up the equivalent of a utility, where big corporations and big government agree to a one-size-fits-all approach, charging businesses and households to haul away their waste and bury it. That is how most of our competitors make a profit.
The other is a free market-based, dynamic approach: cooperate with others and innovate to help people reduce or reuse more of their waste – and inspire a new generation to build on our progress to bring about the end of waste as we know it. This is Rubicon’s approach.
We are educating and informing customers about how to improve recycling. We are empowering smaller haulers who are incentivized to reduce landfill use. We are building a digital platform and Internet of Things-enabled waste system for city governments and other municipalities to use to manage their own waste streams.
We have helped them transform their solid waste fleets into roaming data collection centers capable of collecting a swath of real-time data on waste and recycling efforts, not to mention community insights, including potholes, vacant homes, and graffiti.
We have already begun to see the results of what we believe will be a revolution in city services: More efficiency, less downtime, fewer government funds, and perhaps most important of all, savings on taxpayer dollars.
In all of these approaches, we are shifting the focus from making money from the collection and burial of waste to reducing waste, increasing recycling and using less landfill space.
But so much work is yet to be done – and Rubicon looks forward to contributing to these discussions and inspiring others to get more involved. As a society, we have to solve the problem of a surplus of recycling materials and weak demand for those materials. We will have to figure out how to pay for the infrastructure, write the rules of the market, and build the systems. We have to solve the problem of who bears the burden of cost for collecting and processing recycling materials, and who gains the value? We have to solve the problem of scale: After all, waste on an industrial scale is not going to be eliminated by recycling on an artisanal scale.
For too long, these ideas were dismissed as dreams. Today, through our efforts, we are making real progress. People across the ideological spectrum agree that waste deserves more than a utility-based, one-size-fits-all approach.
I’m proud that we’re offering more than that – we have always deserved better than the status quo when it comes to waste management. People should expect better waste capture, smarter waste systems, and a lifetime of value from everything we produce.
I should add that my personal passion for Rubicon and its mission stems in part from my faith in America. Our country is a leader in virtually every dimension of technological progress. But on the environment, we are more of a follower – and it does not have to be that way. When China told us it would no longer take our recyclable materials, that was a wake-up call.
We are a nation that knows how to solve big problems when we set our minds to it. Waste is a big problem, and we should not wait for someone else to try to solve it. We should do the work, we should use innovation and free markets to drive transformation, and we should build a stronger, more resilient economy in the process.
I believe that out-of-control waste weakens us as a nation. We may all create waste, but only some of us bear the weight of waste’s ill-effects. Our nation’s poorest and most vulnerable members are most exposed to pollution from waste. Therefore, reducing that impact, and ridding our world of waste, is to me, an act of fairness and moral justice.
We have good reason to act. For a decade, we have been pursuing real solutions. I look forward to highlighting Rubicon’s sustainability accomplishments in our annual Environmental, Social, and Governance Report (ESG) report, and I cannot wait for what we accomplish next.