How Costa Recicla and Sealand Americas boosted recycling in Panama: a case study of business, social & environmental impact
By John McCormick & Sabrina El-Chibini
Sealand Americas, a differentiated ocean carrier in the Americas, together with the company’s dynamic non-profit partner Costa Recicla, catalyzed an office recycling movement in Costa del Este, Panama. Based on a transformative community involvement (TCI) approach,[i] the partners engaged stakeholders in generating an innovative solution to a societal problem, resulting in measurable business, social, and environmental impact (below). The following case study identifies the critical success factors of this office recycling program that is moving corporate involvement with the Costa del Este community from a transactional to a transformative place.
Identification of a community problem
Panama City has a serious garbage issue and little to no recycling capability. In 2010 about 3,600 tons of garbage ended up in landfills in the city every day and the problem has only increased since then;[ii] only about 2% of waste material is recycled.[iii] There is a lack of awareness within the community about the need to recycle and no long-term plans are in place to address the issue.[iv] However, two things have happened in Costa del Este, a suburb of Panama City, that have the potential to impact the way in which the community addresses the challenge of recycling.
The first was in 2015 when a group of young people in Costa del Este formed Fundación Costa Recicla, a non-profit foundation with the objective of creating the first green community in Panama by encouraging recycling in local communities. Using only volunteers, a few recycling centres were set up in Costa del Este and education sessions informing citizens on how to recycle and the societal benefit of recycling were held throughout the community. The program was an immediate success with approximately 10,000 visitors to the recycling centers in 2016 and 300-400 tons of waste recycled. Plans are now in place to expand with a new recycling plant and an ability to recycle 5,000 tons per year by 2022.
Coincidentally Sealand Americas, with a large office in Panama, launched an extensive community program in 2016 inspired by Sealanders and aligned with three of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, including Goal 13, Climate Action.[v] This ongoing program is designed to empower and support local communities and employees in working together to solve problems.
Seven Sealanders, now known as “The Green Team” and “The Green Heroes”, formed a team with Costa Recicla to design, deliver, and engage colleagues in the implementation of the program. Alongside it, an impact study was conducted by The Collaboration Vector Inc. (TCV),[vi] Sealand Americas’ design, implementation, and research partner for the community program at large. The approach included the following key elements:
Proactive engagement of relevant stakeholders (Sealand Americas' management, employees, and Fundacion Costa Recicla).
An outcomes-based model (proposal included measurement of the quantity of waste recycled and assessment of the business and social impact of the program through employee surveys).
An evidence-based model (success of the program would be judged on quantifiable impact parameters).
One unanticipated benefit was the immediate onboarding by Costa Recicla of two additional companies that share the office space with Sealand Americas (Damco and Maersk). All three companies participated in Sealand Americas’ pilot program that began in January 2017 after an employee training session provided by Fundación Costa Recicla. To measure program impact, internet-based surveys of Fundación Costa Recicla and Green Team members were carried out before and after the program so that pre-program expectations could be compared with actual program performance. In addition, employees from all three participating companies were invited to respond to a survey after the completion of the pilot study.
Over the 3-month period, 0.4 tons of waste were recycled consisting mainly of paper (54%) and cardboard (41%). From a social perspective, all the Green Team members, who were intimately involved in the planning and administration of the recycling initiative, agreed their participation resulted in a high degree of personal satisfaction, fulfilled a need to serve local communities and provided a solution to an important community problem.
The potential wider societal impact of the recycling program was also apparent in survey responses from the larger group of office employees. The majority reported that the recycling program prompted them to begin recycling and to encourage others to recycle suggesting that the office recycling initiative may have long-term societal implications.
The experience of the Green Team members also resulted in a significant business impact with respect to Sealand Americas. All agreed that the program provided them with valuable experience in developing effective team work skills and that Sealand Americas' commitment to communities contributed to a positive company culture and increased their level of satisfaction in working for the company. The vast majority of Green Team members reported feeling inspired to build a long-term career with Sealand Americas and would recommend the company to others as a good place to work (in relation to the company’s community involvement). Interestingly, none of the Green Team members had previously done volunteer work. The enthusiasm for the program was apparent from comments provided by employees.
Survey responses allowed an assessment of the perceived community impact of Fundación Costa Recicla. Both Green Team members and all employees had positive opinions of the activities of Fundación Costa Recicla. All Green Team members (and > 75% of office employees) agreed that Fundación Costa Recicla’s activities have a significant impact by raising awareness of environmental challenges, providing local communities with information on ways to protect the environment, and play a significant role in initiating recycling programs in those communities. Based on their interactions with Fundación Costa Recicla, 100% of Green Team members and 66% of office employees indicated they would be willing to volunteer for the non-profit organization.
The business park management company where the Sealand Americas' office is located learned about the program and its impact and is now in discussions with Costa Recicla to support the expansion of the non-profit’s programs to companies in a neighbouring building. In addition, the program in the Sealand Americas' office is now permanent and targeting aggressive recycling levels for future evaluation. A large and celebratory team activity is planned at Costa Recicla’s plant for all Panama office employees.
Green-Team Recycling Awareness Campaign:
“The Green Heroes”
The greatest challenge reported by Costa Recicla during the pilot phase of the program was the improper cleaning of materials and the disposal of materials that could not be recycled. Costa Recicla and the Green Team used creative means to educate employees on proper recycling methods, including the production of two “home videos”, within which they starred as “Super Heroes” who made their way through the office to share, in a fun and heartwarming way, proper recycling methods.
The team produced newsletters to report on progress and to provide useful facts and resources to educate and further engage colleagues. Also, the evidence-based nature of the initiative, with an assessment of impact, identified elements of the program requiring revision to ensure continued and enhanced recycling capability. For example, the employee survey responses suggested that more special events might be required
to publicise the recycling program and regular training sessions would ensure that all employees are aware of the program and its wider societal impact. Based on the learnings from the pilot program, Costa Recicla’s advice to companies wishing to implement a successful recycling program is to intensify office-wide educational campaigns, and include creative contests, rewards, and incentives for those who recycle properly.
Critical Success Factors
Critical factors that led to the success of this pilot program are summarized below. These, proven here, also define generic elements required for any meaningful partnership between key stakeholders that is aimed at solving problems.
This case study is witness to the creative value of empowered employees, the leadership potential that can be unleashed, and the influence that young leaders can have on colleagues to effect positive change. This is a story about teamwork and collaboration around a uniting societal goal that blurred the lines between corporation, non-profit, and community and that translated in wins across the board. This case study demonstrates how a well-designed transformative approach to a community problem, incorporating assessment of impact, can provide the foundation for initiatives that result in profound community changes.
The Collaboration Vector Inc. (TCV) is a consultancy firm and implementation partner to changemakers who are seeking mutual growth for business and society. TCV originated an evidence-based approach to building community programs that moves stakeholder engagement from transactional to transformative™, delivers multi-dimensional business and social impact, and differentiates your Corporate Social Responsibility strategy. Our team of dedicated strategists, business professionals, and researchers provide strategic planning and design, stakeholder engagement, partnership facilitation, business and social impact measurement, program evaluation, reporting and impact communications services. We are wholeheartedly committed to results.
©The Collaboration Vector Inc. 2017. All Rights Reserved.
[i] 1 El-Chibini S. Transformative Community Involvement: What it means, what it takes, what it gives. (2016) https://www.thecollaborationvector.com/transformativecommunityinvolvement.
[ii] Central American Data.com. Golden Garbage.
[iii] Costa Recicla
[iv] Market Survey: The Panamanian waste sector. The embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Panama. February 2016.
[v] United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. 17 goals to transform our world. 2015.
[vi] The Collaboration Vector Inc. https://www.thecollaborationvector.com/.