The Value of Values: from a conversation with Joe Fusco, Casella Waste Systems

Casella Waste Systems is changing how people think about waste. Another company goal is to empower all employees to be great. How does a business redefine its industry, empower its employees and make money all at the same time?

Through visioning processes and conversations at Casella Waste, led by Joe Fusco and others, members of the organization started thinking from 10,000 miles out. The company looked to India and China, seeing a large number of people moving into the middle class. They realized the finite nature of the world’s resources, and the business opportunities that present themselves with the realization that what is thought of as waste are actually resources. Formerly any byproduct of a business was carted away to a landfill. Scraps of lumber/plastic/metal, packaging, food byproducts, all went to essentially the equivalent of a cemetery to be buried. “Resources are precious, even plastic,” enthused Joe. “We needed to figure out how to use resources that we have been placing in cemeteries.”

To get there, John Casella, chairman and CEO of Casella Waste Systems, fully supported Joe’s efforts to empower employees starting with values. Using a strategic planning process, the company decided upon basic company values such as “Service” “Constant Improvement”, and “Responsibility”.

To deepen the business‘ commitment, coupon books were printed (see below), empowering employees to explore and use these values. A Constant Improvement Coupon, for example, allowed an employee to fix any problem for a customer or the community up to $250. The initial reaction from the CFO ”bordered on panic”, however the actual change for the bottom line was positive.

“Getting people in the company talking about values gets them to talking about the future. It facilitates our business leading the evolution of the waste industry,” noted Joe. Fifteen years ago, the waste industry was in crisis, similar to where the publishing industry is today in 2011. Redefining “waste” as “resources”, Casella led the evolution of the industry.

“It is about organizational change,” Joe reflected. “It was an industry making money by filling landfills. The new paradigm is to think of waste as a resource. Recycling is a relatively new industry. We now have farmers using organic digesters to create energy, an entire new industry for them.

“It is also about leadership development, how we treat each other, how we talk about difficult things, how we institute cultural change. Often meetings are filled with people trying to grasp their emotional needs. We try to develop leaders who don’t care who gets the credit; we try to develop people who can start solving problems. Are we going to put energy into getting emotional needs met, or into solving problems? We want business meetings to focus on the best possible solution for a problem. That is the goal of our leadership development program — get people away from engaging in extreme personality issues, get them to focus on a solution to the problem at hand.”

Joe studied with, and now partners with, the Bell Leadership Institute in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. His goal question for Casella’s leaders: “How great are you at making the people around you great at solving problems? An employee’s job is to solve the problems of our customers. . .thus we need to enable employees to be great.

“There is a shortage of these people in the world, those who can make others great problem solvers. We tell our leaders, ‘Your job is to make everyone you touch today great, including our customers, because of the way you do your job.’

“We develop leaders whose job it is to create a place to take chances by making money and doing something that is really good, socially responsible, even though we don’t use that word. People look to define themselves by what their company DOES. People who come to work don’t want to bleed for a spreadsheet. They want to bleed for something they feel passionate about, such as doing good for the world.”

Casella Waste Core Values: 

Mission  Every day we help create better people, businesses and communities by helping them to protect and enhance our environment and natural resources.

Vision  Our long-term vision is to build a highly sustainable and profitable company by transforming traditional solid waste streams into renewable resources.

Integrity. We thrive when we do the right thing. We believe there are enduring principles for everything we do and we strive, in our deeds, to meet or exceed those standards.

Innovation. We prosper when we learn, understand and improve. We invest deeply in creativity, autonomy and the willingness to take risks and embrace change. We look for opportunities to improve everything we do, from our everyday operations to reinventing the way the world manages its resources.

Service. We win when we help others. We are willing servants. We are sensitive to needs and are eager to be a resource to everyone around us, being generous with our time, talent and energy.

Teamwork. We’re more effective when we work together. Our impact is consistently stronger when we respect, support and view each other as partners and value our diversity of backgrounds, insights and opinions.

Responsibility. We succeed when we balance our freedom to act with a sense of accountability. Our work bears the greatest fruit when exercised within a framework of disciplined boundaries, and with an urgent sense of purpose and ownership.

Trust. We excel when we assume the best in each other. Mutual respect and an open, honest environment mark our interactions with others. We acknowledge each other’s contributions, we practice active listening, and we deliver on our promises.


Julie Lineberger


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