Northstar Recycling Remains True to Core Values
What Goes Around …
Noah Goodman scrolls through photos on his smartphone, searching for a picture of a whiteboard.
It was taken before he and his brother, Seth, opened Northstar Recycling, and showcases the first step they took in establishing their company: Creating a set of core values.
The list includes, “We Do First Things First”; “We Count on Each Other for Help”; “We Do Our Personal Best Today”; “We Do the Next Right Thing”; and “We are Impeccable With Our Word.” But the final item, which is underlined and was written in capital letters, reads “WE HAVE FUN!”
It’s a principle they both subscribe to, and although making sure employees have a good time at work is hardly a priority for many business owners, these partners attribute their accelerated growth and success to the combination of these core values and the atmosphere they have carefully crafted in their East Longmeadow facility.
They say it has helped them attract graduates from prestigious schools such as Princeton — they actually have five Ivy Leaguers on the payroll — as well as employees from large urban centers such as New York City, who joined their firm because they want to work in a place where their well-being is a primary consideration.
In fact, that premise recently earned the company accolades when Fortune magazine ranked Northstar Recycling as one of the top places for women to work in the U.S.
Teresa Chamberlain graduated from Lehigh University last year with a degree in environmental engineering and environmental studies and moved from Ohio to work at Northstar. Her story, and remarks, are typical.
“It’s a relaxing, professional environment,” said the client development executor, who takes a proactive stance in her job. “I’m not micromanaged and because the responsibility to get my work done is my own, I am empowered to do things well.”
The Goodmans told BusinessWest that Northstar is filling a need in the marketplace, and has experienced phenomenal growth. “Four years ago, we had 11 employees. Today, we have 34,” Noah said. “We’ve grown so quickly that we are doubling our space in January and taking over the entire 8,000 square foot building we are in.”
The interior of their space also reflects attention to detail. The entranceway is dominated by a soothing, 9-foot waterfall with Northstar’s logo imprinted on the rock surface beneath the flowing water. The ceilings are lofty and a hallway with an arched faux metallic-patterned silver ceiling leads to spacious offices and a break room, which is kept well stocked with free food and snacks.
There is a picnic area outside with a barbeque grill and patio tables with umbrellas; they are installing a horseshoe pit; employees are treated to a meal each week at the local Coughlin’s Place restaurant, can bring their dogs to work, and get free haircuts, courtesy of their employer, at Ace Barber Shop in the building.
And of course, they have their own composter. “We are a zero- waste-to-landfill office,” said Noah, explaining that Northstar’s purpose is to create recycling programs for national manufacturing firms and other businesses, and materials they deal with include cardboard, plastic, metal, wood, and organics.
“We partner with companies and manage their recycling, because they typically have environmental goals they have to achieve by a certain date and time,” Seth noted.
Noah explained that the company’s clients can’t find outlets for their raw materials, so Northstar does that for them in a way that creates a revenue stream, an important goal in addition to achieving sustainability and their environmental goals.
It’s an arena Northstar not only excels in, but one in which it is pushing the boundaries of what can be accomplished (more about that later). It also makes sure the recycling takes place as close to the manufacturing firm as possible.
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“We’re always looking to reduce the distance where materials are recycled; a lot of things today are being sent to China and India in overseas containers,” Noah explained. “Recycled paper is the largest item exported out of the U.S. by volume.”
As a result, they work hard to find local recyclers wherever their client has a facility. “We make it as easy for the manufacturer as possible,” Seth said. “We coordinate everything, including the containers they use and the trucks and trailers that transport materials.”
The Goodman brothers are fifth-generation entrepreneurs. “Our great, great grandfather was a peddler in Western Mass., and he and our great grandfather had a scrap metal recycling company on Ferry Street in Springfield,” Seth explained.
Their father and uncle joined the business in the ’60s, but changed its focus and turned it into a private paper-recycling firm. “It grew to be one of the largest paper recyclers in New England, and we both worked in the business for 20 years,” Noah said, adding that these experiences helped them develop strong work ethics and they “did every job there that anyone could do.”
However, five years ago the brothers developed a different vision, and made the decision to branch off on their own. “We felt there was a real need to help companies reduce what they were putting into landfills and increase what they were recycling,” Seth recalled.
Noah told BusinessWest they realized that U.S. companies had begun to take sustainability seriously and knew that large Fortune 500 firms didn’t have the expertise to meet stringent standards, which require them to reduce their carbon footprint as well as the amount of material they put into the trash.
They said the U.S. produces more than 50 millions tons of waste every year (more than any other country in the world), and more than half of it is dumped into landfills, contaminating water supplies and polluting the air with dangerous amounts of methane gas, which is 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
This factual information, coupled with their shared values and relationship — “we’re best friends and very much in tune with each other; we communicate openly and honestly and defer to whoever is the most passionate about something, which means there is harmony at the top,” Noah said, — led them to launch Northstar Recycling in 2011 with 11 employees.
Their core belief was simple: Waste has value, and it is damaging to the planet and financially irresponsible to send reusable resources to a landfill. And from that their mission statement was born — to help businesses recycle more and send less to landfills.
“We felt we had the experience and know-how to help companies and saw a huge future in it,” Noah said.
But before they started, they spent time designing the culture of their future workplace.
“We wanted to create a workplace where people felt emotionally safe; where they could speak up openly and have their opinion heard and considered,” Seth said. “We also wanted our employees to have fun and care enough to really want to help us succeed.”
The brothers each have three young children, and because spending time with them is a priority, they felt it was only fair to provide employees with the same luxury.
“So, if someone has to leave work for a family issue, the first thing we ask is: ‘Is everything OK?’ and the next is ‘What can we do to support you?’” Seth said.
“Every decision we make day-to-day is in line with our core values — they are what and who we are as human beings,” he went on. “It’s also what drives our business and our culture, which are the foundations for our success. We have a great strategy and execute really well, but we couldn’t do it without our values; the people who work for us really want to see us succeed because of the environment we’ve created.”
In addition to those in East Longmeadow, the company has three employees in New York, two in Philadelphia, and one in Cincinnati.
However, everyone is brought to East Longmeadow on a quarterly basis, and after working together, they enjoy a fun-filled evening activity.
“We’ve staged a scavenger hunt in Springfield; a square dance with a professional caller and country western band; a team-building event; and a painting party,” Seth recalled. “And every year, everyone goes on a two-to four-day trip. Last year we saw Broadway shows. We have also gone to Mohawk Mountain (in Connecticut) to go horseback riding, and our sales marketing team (which goes on different trips) has gone to a dude ranch in Montana, skied in Jacksonville, Wyoming, gone white water rafting in West Virginia, and visited South Beach in Miami.”
Noah said the perks are important. “We want our employees to be happy, because if they are happy and healthy, they are more productive. So although we do have hourly weeks, we aren’t clock watchers,” he noted. “And everything that has happened in the last four years has exceeded our expectations.”
Seth said that when Northstar goes into a company for the first time, it conducts an initial assessment, which includes looking at areas where trash is generated.
“We typically find they are throwing away material that is recyclable,” he said.
At that point they assign two teams to work with the client. One of their primary roles is to find outlets for material that is being discarded, but could be diverted. Items often include stretch film, plastic strapping, and cardboard, which is frequently not all recaptured, even if attempts have been made to recycle it.
A Northstar team also creates a set of internal standard operating procedures for the client, because in many instances even if the company has established these measures, they are not efficient or inclusive enough.
“We have people whose sole job is to work at manufacturing sites to continuously improve their recycling programs,” Seth said.
The Goodmans are proud that their business has a positive impact on the environment and say the potential for growth is unlimited.
“There is a lot of opportunity because many companies have set goals to be more environmentally proactive. In fact, one of the nation’s largest fast food chains told all their suppliers if they want to continue to do business with them, their manufacturing facilities have to be ‘zero waste to landfill’ by a certain date,” Seth told BusinessWest. “Our business is being driven by large consumer-product companies throughout the country.”
Clients are visited on a frequent basis, and in addition, the home team constantly looks for new, innovative ways to recycle items traditionally considered non-recyclable. Success stories include selling textile scraps to a company that is using them to make bow-and-arrow targets.
“We also work with a large pet food manufacturer who used to send all its wet scraps to a landfill; now they go to a composter,” Seth said, noting that Northstar’s employees think creatively or out of the box.
“We research everything scrap items could possibly be used for, and are creating markets where there weren’t markets before,” he went on. “For example, we have a client that produces the film used to package coffee; it’s made of three layers of plastic and one layer of metal, and the scraps were going into the trash. But we found a company that turns them into a reusable packaging product.”
Noah said it’s a plus when consumer product firms can state in advertisements and literature that they are a sustainable company and all their manufacturers are zero waste to landfill.
“Northstar becomes a resource for these major corporations, and in many cases they refer their vendors to us; if they are having trouble meeting their goals, we can help,” he noted. “They realize they can devote a lot of time, energy and resources to the issue or bring their problem to us as we have a proven track record of getting the job done.”
The Goodmans are proud of their company and what they have accomplished.
“When we began, we realized there were not enough nimble companies to help national corporations reach their goals,” Noah said. “There was a void in the market and we bet our financial livelihood on the belief that we could fill it, which we have done.”
They are also happy to continue their family tradition of entrepreneurship.
“Our company is located in East Longmeadow and our family has been in the area for five generations, so we’re proud to be able to help revitalize the business community in Western Mass. and are really excited to be bringing new jobs to the area,” Seth said. “But it all goes back to our core values.”