As a leading provider of full-service, sustainable disposal and recycling solutions with a national footprint, Clean Earth works with customers to find ways to make it easier to recycle, repurpose, reuse—or in some cases safely destroy—the hardest-to-treat wastes in the country.
The Clean Earth company that exists today was formed following two large acquisitions by Harsco Corporation, a global market leading provider of environmental solutions for
industrial and specialty waste streams. However, Clean Earth is not simply a combination of two businesses—it is a reimagination of legacy Clean Earth, acquired in June 2019, and Stericycle’s Environmental Solutions business (ESOL), acquired in April 2020. The two companies were combined to create the new Clean Earth, a leading provider of hazardous and non-hazardous waste solutions with an increased scale and geographic reach that did not exist before. The acquisitions mark the next step in Harsco’s transformation into an innovative environmental solutions company.
Clean Earth has already made a considerable impact on the industry in the year and a half since it was acquired, with many new environmental solutions launched across the company since 2018. More than 80 percent of Harsco’s revenue today comes from environmental solutions, inclusive of that from Clean Earth, compared to just 60 percent less than three years ago. Harsco’s goal is to ultimately derive more than 90 percent of the annual revenue from environmental products and services and anticipates that the revenue from the Clean Earth division will likely exceed that of Harsco’s largest division, Harsco Environmental (which serves the global steel and metals industries), within a few years.
Today, Clean Earth is a leading provider of full-service, sustainable disposal and recycling solutions with a national footprint, including 24 treatment, storage and disposal facilities (TSDFs), 92 worksites (including TSDFs), 3,300 employees and nearly 900 trucks making 500,000 stops a year serving more than 90,000 customers. Their portfolio of technologies and services touches nearly every industry that generates waste including retail, manufacturing, industrial, healthcare, energy and infrastructure markets. Clean Earth’s service area is coast-to-coast in the U.S, including Hawaii and Alaska, delivering high value to customers with a national footprint and a single focus on doing waste right. Clean Earth sees space in the market for a company really focused on client needs and having facilities close to their operations across the country.
As a leading environmental solutions provider, Clean Earth manages recyclables such as manufacturing by-products, scrap packaging and non-viable inner packaging, commodities and shipping containers. They work with customers to find ways to make it easier to recycle, repurpose, reuse—or in some cases safely destroy—the hardest-to-treat wastes in the country.
Says David Stanton, Senior Vice President and Group President of Clean Earth, “It is still too hard to properly reuse or safely dispose of tough-to-treat materials, and we can fill that void. Certain aspects of waste in our world are well-managed, but there is a tremendous amount that is not, including universal and hazardous wastes. A portion of the waste that comes to Clean Earth is still new and needs to be treated differently. Batteries, solar panels, phones, products, such as nonstick cookware, that use per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), and many others are encroaching on our everyday lives. Our goal is to be the company that can single-handedly manage all types of waste. We work with some of the largest retailers and manufacturers, as well as individuals with cabinets full of household hazardous waste. Many consumers know enough to understand that they should not throw these products in a regular trash can, but it is not easy to identify how to properly dispose of the materials. We are arming organizations and individuals with the tools to make it simple. If we make it easy enough, more waste will find sustainable outlets.”
Navigating Through Challenges
While everyone continues to be impacted by the state of the economy due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Clean Earth’s operations were deemed essential early on when the states recognized what the company has known for a long time—employees are essential and are the most valuable assets. Clean Earth operated all of their sites throughout the pandemic, with more than 80 percent of employees working onsite and many working remotely or otherwise limiting exposure to the virus. “Our employees have navigated through this crisis as safely as they can while showing up to work every day to service our customers. I cannot thank them enough for their hard work during this difficult time,” says Stanton.
Thankfully, Clean Earth has experienced very few cases of COVID-19, and any positive cases have overwhelmingly come from outside the workplace. This is due to a number of precautions the company took early on to support the health, safety and wellbeing of employees, customers and their families and friends, including launching their HarscoCares COVID-19 Global Principles, which covers best practices for face coverings, social distancing, handwashing, site screening, working from home, business travel and other precautions.
The business impact has varied depending on customers’ operations and related waste streams. Some of their retail accounts like grocery stores had their needs soar, while other retail accounts shut down for two or three months and their work with them came to a complete halt. The overall impact was a 10 to 15 percent decline in total volumes due to COVID slowdowns. Clean Earth is seeing a recovery in all of their sectors and regions to pre-COVID levels, but the pace of the return is different due to the nature of the different industries, their demand and where customers are located, as some areas across the nation have experienced more outbreaks and longer lockdowns, such as California.
Despite the size and scale of this pandemic and the persistent headwinds faced with each passing day, Clean Earth made significant progress throughout the year on all of their key strategic and operational initiatives. “Integrating two companies into one during a global pandemic is a bit like building an airplane midair. But against this challenging operating environment, we took proactive measures such as evaluating vendor partner qualifications, analyzing truck routes for top efficiency, and internal audits of processes and technologies to find their maximum potential to control costs, optimize spending and enhance our overall financial flexibility. We work hard to control what we can and mitigate what we cannot, which has led us to a year of tremendous value-creating opportunities and a seamless integration that is almost complete.”
Clean Earth has also worked very closely with a wide variety of partners to ensure their customers have access to solutions, so they do not have to rely on China and offshore companies. Fortunately, China’s rule banning imported waste has had a low impact on Clean Earth, as most of their waste does not fall under the large volume plastics or materials grouping that China now regulates for import.
Employee Care, including a commitment to safe workplaces, is one of the Core Values of Clean Earth, and they have a strong track record in safety and compliance. While their incident rate is consistently on par with others in the industry, they have a goal to be a leader in safety and compliance. “Our safety program was recently recognized by the ConstructSecure Gold Safety Award, which is presented to companies that register a safety score between 85 and 95 percent in the Safety Assessment Program. We achieved 91 percent,” says Stanton.
Clean Earth is also proactively engaging in five key activities this year to continuously improve upon safety and compliance
1. Safety/Compliance Visit Program: Senior leadership members visit and review four sites per year as a demonstration to employees on their commitment to safety and compliance.
2. Improved Training Programs: The Environmental, Health and Safety (EH&S) Team launched a series of trainings to ensure that employees understand hazard identification and policies.
3. Improved Communications: Clean Earth is sharing how they are doing by releasing internal monthly reports on their EH&S metrics.
4. Accountability: Each person is accountable for safety in two key ways:
• Their own personal safety and how they act in the workplace
• Proactively building a safe environment for the company
5. Zero-Tolerance: The company has a zero-tolerance policy for non-compliance.
Clean Earth’s proactive safety initiatives have enabled them to significantly improve on safety metrics by about 40 percent this past year. “We are targeting another 20 percent improvement in 2021 for at least a 60 percent improvement in safety over two years. It’s a big lift for us, but when it comes to safety and compliance, goals can never be too lofty. There is still a lot to accomplish, but I am very pleased that we are making great progress,” comments Stanton.
Community engagement has always been important to Clean Earth for the simple fact that they want to be a positive contributor. With ESOL on board now, Clean Earth is being introduced to all of the communities that they are in, and the company strives to contribute more than 10,000 hours of employee volunteer service within community organizations. Stanton points out, “Every location in which we operate across the country can expect higher levels of engagement from us. The company’s philanthropic efforts, its community engagement, transparency, governance and commitment to sustainability enabled us to be recognized as one of Newsweek’s America’s Most Responsible Companies this year. We are absolutely committed to supporting our employees where they live and work and will continue to do so.”
Clean Earth’s most recent challenge is the company integration. Combined, the acquisitions of Clean Earth and ESOL are nearly a billion dollars and the biggest acquisitions that Harsco has ever made. Clean Earth has completed a brand launch—which is challenging in its own right—while servicing customers, without interruption, in the middle of the pandemic. “I am most pleased with the fact that, during a pandemic, we have been successfully integrating ESOL into Clean Earth, achieved the savings we anticipated through synergies and operational initiatives, and contributed meaningfully to Harsco’s top- and bottom-lines. There is more work to do, no doubt, but we are off to an excellent start. Many of us have not seen each other in more than a year, and yet we’re able to build something incredible in the middle of it. The team has done a remarkable job of making it happen. I am incredibly grateful to Clean Earth’s 3,300 employees because we could not have executed this integration this well without the help of everyone at every level. Every person at Clean Earth is a contributor, and I appreciate all of their work.”
Clean Earth is also looking at new initiatives that represent tremendous upside for the business and most importantly, their customers, including a new program, or concierge service, called Fullcircle. This is a new Advanced Waste Lifecycle Program, which carefully and strategically analyzes waste before it even happens. From initial product concept to lifecycle completion and everything in between, the goal is to provide solutions that eliminate all the waste, recycle as much as possible, and build a scalable program for their customers focused on zero waste (see Clean Earth’s Fullcircle Program: Planning for Growth sidebar). “We think we can double the number of clients taking advantage of Fullcircle. Some will be our existing clients looking to move the needle on sustainability, and some will be new accounts,” says Stanton.
Clean Earth has strong, close relationships with existing Fullcircle customer accounts, and even through the crisis, has been able to maintain progress on their sustainability objectives and maintain the success of the program. Some of the Fullcircle program’s most outstanding successes so far are those that customers found the most valuable. One example of this is bringing clients to zero waste to landfill ahead of their anticipated timeline through developing alternative processing, optimizing logistics and container solutions, and offsetting increased expenses through the customized recycling and reuse solutions that their specific waste or by-products required. “This is huge. We have not had material travel in reverse and going to landfills because of urgency, a facility closure nor a lack of trucks,” Stanton points out.
Clean Earth has also achieved an annualized value of building recycling solutions. As one example, in 2014, the majority of a particular customer’s wastes were being disposed of traditionally, with less than 25 percent of its by-products being recycled. Fast forward to 2020, approximately 98 percent of that client’s material is being processed within a technology that is considered recycling. Of the total amount, about 65 percent of their material is considered reuse, repurpose or alternative use that is a step above waste-to-energy.
The Next Steps
Harsco has executed six major transactions in the past couple of years and is still extremely busy with the Clean Earth integration. The company plans on hitting the pause button before jumping back into M&A, particularly amid a pandemic. That said, Clean Earth will not be a complete business without some tack-on acquisitions in the future. With Harsco and Clean Earth aligned both strategically and philosophically, everyone is laser-focused on providing the best possible service and innovative environmental solutions to their growing network of customers.
Stresses Stanton, “The attitude of the entire team during this tremendous transformation has become even more positive, optimistic and hopeful. We have a new leadership team in place, and I am impressed with their entrepreneurial thinking and enthusiasm and how this filters down to our entire organization. Everyone is proud of the fact that every day we keep materials out of landfills and incinerators, making the world a greener place and a better place to live. With the new Clean Earth, we have brought together something that feels good, and it permeates throughout the whole organization.” | WA
For more information, call (800) 815-3770 or visit www.cleanearthinc.com.