A conversation with recycling pioneer Tom Szaky, CEO of Terracycle
Key Takeaway: Tom says getting consumers’ to change their behavior “to be more sustainable” is like riding a bicycle uphill. What businesses should be doing is building sustainable solutions into their products and services that make it easier for the consumer to make sustainable choices–riding the bike downhill.
In this episode of the Purpose Inc. Podcast, host Michael Young speaks with Tom Szaky, founder and CEO of Terracycle. Tom is an eco capitalist; he has built a business devoted to eliminating the idea of waste. TerraCycle has a range of recycling solutions for businesses and municipalities that focus on hard to recycle waste streams.
Tom began the conversation by stressing that capitalism is neither good or bad. And that there are “rules of the game” and most people are taught that capitalism serves shareholders. If we were to expand our focus and definition of capitalism – those who run businesses – then it can become a more balanced force for good.
When we focus on shareholder profits, many externalities are not accounted for like the cost business activity on the environment or society.
“And if those are not accounted for then we’re not really fully accounting for profit or the costs of our profit and we’re running in this great game in a way that our eyes aren’t wide open,” he said.
If we think longer-term, we will expand our thinking beyond just laws enforcing accountability. Tom added that purposeful capitalism, social capitalism and eco-capitalism are synonymous in that they all describe capitalism focusing on factors other than just profit.
What’s exciting, he said, is that schools are now requiring classes on sustainability and ethics, emphasizing what capitalism can be and do for good.
On COVID-19, Tom explains that the world “is objectively breathing better” because industry has been forced to slow down. And once we shift our focus from ourselves and our own safety, we will see the world has benefited from the pandemic-induced break.
On the topic of his latest book, The Future of Packaging, Tom shows how consumers have a power equal to that of industry. We consume blindly, not realizing that purchasing fuels producers to make more products available to serve the demand that purchasing creates.
In tying sustainability to the circular economy, Tom explains that the latter is all about regeneration — things recycled and made from recycled materials. And the key transition from a linear economy to a circular one, he stresses, is energy – renewable energy like wind and solar. The difficulty with this is that we are accustomed to convenience, affordability, features and benefits, and sustainability is “hardly even there.”