Waste management: ‘Forget the carrots, we need to create sticks’

10 Mar 2023

ISB Global CEO and founder Chris Williams. Image: ISB Global

ISB Global’s Chris Williams discusses how waste management legislation has changed over the years and his company’s current focus on the developing US market.

Like many sustainability practices, waste management has become a more mainstream topic in recent years with businesses and governments focusing more on the circular economy.

Research collaborations have launched in Ireland to improve the efficiency of recycling, while companies such as MyGug are finding creative new ways to turn waste into energy.

But the focus on waste management hasn’t always been there, according to ISB Global founder and CEO Chris Williams.

Founded in 1999, this software company shifted its focus toward the environmental and waste management sector in 2005. In recent years, the company has launched a platform to automate all the processes of waste management for businesses.

But Williams told SiliconRepublic.com that the company experienced “ups and downs” for years, with a combination of the 2008 crash and a lack of interest among potential clients.

Williams said that in 2005, “we were the IT guys at the back of the hall” when attending UK waste exhibition events like RWM.

“When you spoke to folk and said it’s going to be a couple hundred thousand for software, they’d say ‘we’d rather buy a truck, we’d rather put 3 more accounts payable clerks behind a desk’, so you could really see that in the early stages of our career,” Williams said.

Fast forward to the present day and the UK-headquartered company has clients in multiple countries, with offices in South Africa, Pakistan and the US.

Williams said there was a shift roughly five or six years ago when pressure began to grow from the public and private pressure on “all industries” to think about making waste management more efficient.

The waste management software company has seen the benefits of this new focus, expanding its team by 350pc since 2018 and growing its annual revenue to £8m, with a forecasted revenue growth of 20pc year on year.

A shift in legislation

Williams said that governments have begun to look at waste management more seriously in recent years, particularly at last year’s UN climate change conference, COP27.

At the previous conference, COP26, Williams said there was less mention of waste management practices, with the focus being on renewable technology such as solar energy.

“Luckily at COP27, there was a very small breakout group that started talking about better waste management practices and the impact, the whole movement from that linear model to that circular model, keeping stuff out of landfill, started to finally gain a bit of traction”.

When asked about why companies are focusing more on waste management, Williams believes one factor is that stricter rules have been introduced.

For example, regulations were introduced last year which require 1,300 of the largest UK-registered companies and financial institutions to disclose climate-related financial information on a mandatory basis.

Ireland brought an act into law last year that allows levies to be introduced on all single-use packaging, while giving local authorities the power to use tech to tackle illegal dumping and littering.

The Government said these measures aim to move Ireland towards a more circular economy by keeping materials active for as long as possible.

“What we’re seeing is that the accounting institutes are driving more disclosure requirements, more reporting requirements,” Williams said. “We see that legislators are finally waking up and saying … forget the carrots, we need to create sticks now, if this is not aligned, you’re in trouble.”

Looking to the future

Williams said ISB Global is currently focused on expanding in the US, which he described as a “developing market from a waste management perspective”.

In 2019 the SAP-partnered company bagged a large US waste haulage and recycling company as a client. Following this, Williams said ISB Global began a project to re-write its existing software onto a new low code platform, to help offer the “scale, security and brilliant user experience the sector was demanding”.

The company has reported positive progress in its US expansion, as Williams said its two biggest clients have swapped from using “50 different software solutions” to the two products being offered by his company.

Although Williams said he is positive about the future in terms of climate, with new legislation coming in across the world, he believes there is still more to be done in terms of waste management and promoting a circular economy.

“I think we’re going to struggle to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees,” Williams said. “We’ve got trillions and trillions of dollars of commodities that we’ve buried in a hole in the ground. Cardboard, paper, metals, rubber, and I think there’s an element in this that says, the circular economy just naturally has to start to kick in, because we are running out of some of those resources.”

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic