INSPIRE is the AMCS Thought Leadership Forum where we invite guest contributors to share their perspective on the topics that are shaping the future of our industry in areas as diverse as cloud services, cyber security, sustainability, advanced recycling, green logistics, and renewable energy. Learn more about INSPIRE here.
Our 2023 series is focused on digital transformation and we are delighted to share our conversation with Dr. Vikram Mansharamani from March 30th, 2023. Dr. Mansharamani joined Evan Schwartz of AMCS for an invigorating Q&A session. The topic was Global Recycling Trends – Navigating Challenges and Seizing Opportunities based on his ISRI report Global Trends and Implications for Recyclers, available here.
This blog shares select points from the full conversation that you can watch here.
The following topics are key global recycling trends.
Technology transforms climate support and the evolution of your recycling business
Automating data collection and simplifying analysis drives real-world efficiency. For example, routing solutions reduce the carbon footprint of a fleet. Using predictive data and analysis improves equipment longevity. Mobile integration simplifies processes, adds efficiencies, and reduces paper usage. Technology helps counter the loss of institutional knowledge by automating processes and improving training as staff transitions occur.
Scarcity of source materials for the supply chain drives increased recycling
Resource scarcity is a considerable obstacle. The cost of logistics, energy, and financing limits organizations’ ability to always buy virgin materials. It’s an economic advantage to you and your customers to reduce dependency on imports or exports and increase the use of recycled materials. The goal is to better control the source, availability, and price of supply.
Evolving global dynamics lead to important questions we need to evaluate
Dr. Mansharamani’s opinion in 2016 at ISRI Las Vegas was a burgeoning rivalry with China. In the 2022 report it became clear to him (and others) that China is indeed a rival in the entire resource chain. This forces us to explore each of our businesses and markets and ask: Is this rivalry a net negative for recycling? A net positive? How does it impact various parts of our sector? Does it create new opportunities to compete?
An opportunity in power production and electrification
Not yet a convert to the current approach to EVs, Dr. Mansharamani is open to the possibility that EVs could happen in two steps: Availability of electric vehicles now, then, over time, evolving energy production methods to better control carbon. He believes this reality may change business models – and open opportunities. For example, Toyota in India started acquiring auto recyclers. Could we imagine a world where EV car manufacturers who need raw materials recapture them through business acquisition or in partnership with regional recycling partners?
New strategic partnership possibilities
Strategic partnerships among companies with various core competencies are essential, because no one company is good at everything. Let's use a hypothetical EV manufacturer example. The EV maker is a car company, and they likely don't want to be a recycler. As a forward-thinking recycler, you’ve already put the technology and the processes in place: safety, compliance, audits, community responsibility. This creates the possibility of a partnership to feed material back to the EV manufacturer, expanding your business.
Framing Environment, Social, and Governance (ESG) in an historical context
Dr. Mansharamani frames ESG in greater historical context. The pendulum swings between “we need to focus on shareholders and shareholders only” (leaning toward the Milton Friedman perspective) and “we need to focus entirely on stakeholders and shareholders are one of them” (leaning toward one current interpretation of the ESG perspective).
Dr. Mansharamani suggests that a tradeoff between the two is the wrong way to think about it. His perspective on the correct way is that those with short-term metrics see these two points of view as a tradeoff. He posits it’s not a tradeoff between the two extremes – that any profitable business that endures for decades must think about its employees, the environment, and governance. They wouldn't endure if they didn't.
ESG requires data and analysis
ESG goals require us to collect data, to collect analytics, and to think consciously about the message and the narrative behind the data. Having access and tracking that data in the most efficient way possible is critical.
If ESG is a desired or demanded principle for your customers or regulators, companies must stop looking at it as compliance drudgery and look at it as a brand building opportunity. If your constituents understand you invest in the environment from the way you operate to the products you produce, you're going to increase revenue. It’s not a trade-off.
“Planning” versus “A plan” – A big difference in mindset
Scenario planning is planning while considering multiple future states, not a single outcome. It’s a framework to navigate uncertainty. The key is not to get stuck on any one future. As a simple example, corporate budgets usually mention a very specific growth estimate. That hides uncertainty. Don’t say you're going to grow 10% -- say you’ll grow between 8% and 12%. Embrace that uncertainty, even in our own internal reporting.
By building scenarios that account for uncertainty you will appreciate the levers and how and when one should act differently in managerial decisions over time. In contrast, working to a plan may blind you to both sides: both being unprepared for bad things and being blinded to potential opportunities. With a planning mindset you can better navigate uncertainty by deciding what is useful in all scenarios.
Change in metals recycling is about mindset
The discussion talked about climate change, electrification, inequality, and some of the social pressures that are coming. It broached the U.S.-China dynamic. We added in technology, data, and digitization topics. Some could see these realities as a threat to our industry.
And yet, each one isn’t necessarily a threat: It’s about mindset. You need not brace; challenges are opportunities and it’s all about how to approach change. For example, EVs. You could think they are a threat – “I'm a traditional auto recycler! EVs are not my specialty!” But what if you invest a little bit? What if auto companies don't really want to be recyclers, but just want materials? What if your business gets ahead of that, and other competitive and market curves? Will you lead, or be left behind?
Within every risk is an opportunity
Many in business are averse to change. Yet change is a constant. Many of us are averse to uncertainty. Yet uncertainty is a constant. Dr. Mansharamani suggests that what is most important is not whether change is happening -- it's about mindset and viewing change through the lens of risk and opportunity.
Watch the full video recording of the AMCS Inspire webinar here to learn more.
AMCS is attending ISRI 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee on April 17-20. You can book a meeting with us at the show here.
You can reach Dr. Mansharamani on social networks at @mansharamani and on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/vikrammansharamani/ Evan Schwartz can be reached at [email protected] and https://www.linkedin.com/in/evan-schwartz-live/
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