What does it take to plan the largest attended event on the PGA TOUR? We interviewed Michele Grossman, Managing Principal with WM’s Sustainability Services, Lisa Gordon, Director of Brand Marketing and Steve Neff, VP of Strategic Accounts on their responsibilities and impacts the Waste Management Phoenix Open (WMPO) has for the company, employees and customers.
What is your role in organizing the WMPO?
I manage the team that leads the sustainability aspects of the event, as well as initiatives like the Council for Responsible Sport Gold Certification and UL Environment’s “Zero Waste to Landfill” claim validation. I also write the annual WMPO Sustainability Report. My team started benchmarking sustainability in 2010; that is, tracking water use, fuel used for transportation, generators and leaderboards, electricity, waste — everything you can think of. Each year our goal is to have a more positive impact on the environment and community than the year before.
I manage all of the marketing and branding for Waste Management — everything from our advertising on The Golf Channel and CBS to the on-course branding, such as signage, water features, tent-top logos, etc. I also manage and organize our Executive Sustainability Forum, where on the first day of the tournament we invite high-level executives to discuss hot topics in sustainability.
My primary responsibility are the contract negotiations with the PGA TOUR and many of the players. In addition, Project Manager Marcos Ramos and myself are directly responsible for developing, organizing and implementing our key events during the week to ensure our customers and prospects understand our commitment to sustainability. It is amazing how many customers are transformed during the week.
What does the WMPO mean for WM?
The event is a showcase to over 500, 000 fans who attend during the week of the tournament and for the millions of fans watching at home. Together, our message is clear — we can accomplish what no one else in our business can and that is 100 percent diversion of material generated at the largest professional golf event in the world. Other than a Major tournament, the Waste Management Phoenix Open is the most talked about and most viewed golfing event. No matter where we travel, golfers and non-golfers alike immediately recognize our name.
What are some of the things WM is doing to green the event?
Since 2010, the WMPO has purchased 100 percent renewable energy from the local utility. So the electric golf carts run on alternative energy, which helps to reduce our carbon footprint. Since water is so important to this desert community, we take the water used by caterers for cooking and cleaning and use it again in the portable toilets. We work closely with everyone who creates signage for the event to ensure it is made of sustainable materials and can be recycled or composted. We’re also reusing 88 percent of the signs from last year.
Lastly, our Zero Waste Challenge is that all of the waste generated is recycled, composted, or used in waste-to-energy facilities, and we work with vendors to make sure they understand our goals and only use products and materials that can be composted or recycled at their end-of-life. Less obvious, but just as important, we follow ISO20121 standards for sustainable event management and report using the Global Reporting Initiative framework.
What does it take to plan the WMPO?
Five months before each Waste Management Phoenix Open, we establish a planning team that includes representatives from marketing, corporate communications, operations, sustainability services, sales and outside agencies. I manage the weekly calls with this team and coordinate action items across each of the departments.
What are the benefits of servicing sporting events?
Impact. The sporting venues we service throughout North America impact hundreds of thousands of spectators each year. Once they see what we can do, these fans recognize how WM is the “go-to” company for services that make a positive impact on the environment.
What’s something new WM will be doing for the 2014 tournament?
We are very excited to have Zero Waste Stations along the course. They’re made out of 40-yarder dumpsters — the ultimate reuse story! Attendees can ask questions about the Zero Waste Challenge while dropping off their cans, plates, cups, etc. Local volunteers will separate the waste into recycle or compost bins.
This year we are launching #greenestshow, which is a branding and social media campaign that will show the work we’re doing to turn the “greatest show on grass” into the “greenest show on grass.” We’re also launching an employee recycled art contest in which WM employees can make art out of everyday waste materials. The winner and a guest will receive a trip to the 2014 WMPO.
Tell us about the award you won for the 2013 WMPO?
Waste & Recycling News created the Rosie Awards to recognize women in the recycling, waste and sustainability industries who inspire greatness with their leadership, work ethic, vision, creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship. I am so proud to be a 2013 Rosie Award winner and feel particularly fortunate that WM allows me to follow through on what others might consider to be whacky ideas. The main recognition was for the Zero Waste Challenge and our 97 percent diversion rate in 2012.
What do you think all employees should know about this event?
The sustainability initiatives we showcase at this event are a differentiator for the WMPO and for Waste Management. The best practices we learn directly transfer to our customers, and we will work just as tirelessly to increase sustainability for them, as well as differentiate them from their competitors.
The Waste Management Phoenix Open is a very impactful way for us showcase ourselves as North America’s leading environmental solutions provider. We know from research that two-thirds of our target audiences feel more favorable about Waste Management after having seen (or attended) the WMPO. It’s a lot of work, but it’s definitely worth it.
As a result of our sponsorship, more citizens and corporations know us as the leader in practical environmental solutions. We’re a trusted company that set an unrealistic goal to divert 100 percent diversion of materials and then achieved it in just four years. Not only that, we helped 500, 000 fans understand how they can have a great time watching world-class golfers and still respect the environment.