Lift and Shift: Finding Efficiencies to Improve the System and Advance Sustainability Faster

May 11, 2022

A summary of the final panel at SPC Impact 2022


The final morning of SPC Impact 2022 focused on Lift and Shift strategy implementation. Lift and Shift is a business strategy of moving a service or operation from one department or environment to another without stopping to redesign the service or operations workflow. When applied to sustainability, Lift and Shift becomes a philosophy of making sustainability improvements organization-wide by evaluating what teams are good at and leaning into those strengths to improve the sustainability of their contributions, rather than a dictation of sustainability practices from a disconnected leader. In the final panel of the morning session, we heard from Charles David Mathieu-Poulin from TC Transcontinental and Allison Lin from Mars about how their organizations have skipped re-engineering a solution and took advantage of the Lift and Shift ideology. We have pared down and clarified the key themes of the discussion below. 

Theme 1: Seek out collaboration 

The first theme that showed itself on the panel is the power of collaboration. Collaboration is key to lifting and shifting because it enables both learning from others and sharing what is working already. The first area of collaboration the panel discussed was on collective agreements and policy. 

Within the area of policy, Lin specifically called out the ongoing efforts to negotiate the UN’s international treaty on plastic waste. Within the international community, there is a lift and shift occurring in taking what worked well from the Paris Agreement first, before iterating new approaches from the shortcomings of that previous agreement. Another area of policy Lift and Shift, called out by Mathieu-Poulin,  is using Canadian policy on EPR and curbside recycling programs to help inform the development of EPR programs in the United States. 

The second type of collaboration covered in the panel was cross-industry collaboration. Specifically, Lin and Mathieu-Poulin both referenced the need to collaborate with technology, data, and artificial intelligence experts to help solve ongoing problems in plastics recycling. Some examples of lifting and shifting what has been developed for other industries is the use of artificial intelligence to help MRFs to get to the capability of a “perfect sort” of recyclables. Another example would be integrating the existing current technology that is being underused to enable the collection and use of more data. An example of underused technology that could be better integrated into data collection systems is using optical sorters along with artificial intelligence to develop real-time bale specs. Collaborating with academic researchers and the tech industry to Lift and Shift existing solutions into the waste management space is a priority if the recycling rates are going to improve. 

Theme 2: Open up the conversation around sustainability to everyone

The second theme of the panel discussion relates directly to the social or relational aspects of translating success in one area to another. The concept of Lift and Shift is achievable only if the people who are working in those areas are included in the discussions around both where change is needed, and what solutions are working elsewhere in the organization. Lifting and Shifting requires an openness to listening to the input of different people who work on various teams of the organization, and truly valuing their input and experience.  

Both Lin and Mathieu-Poulin were clear that diverse teams are a core component of the Lift and Shift strategy. Diversity and inclusion are vital to Lift and Shift as the foundation of the philosophy is that different teams with diverse experiences and skills are needed to discover what actions are possible. Diversity in who is included on teams and in decision making is necessary to make sure the widest possible set of possible improvements are considered or attempted. As Mathieu-Poulin summarized, “I think we need to start talking about the fact that having a diverse group of people around the table in general usually brings better outcomes.”

When considering diversity, it is important to consider both diversity in the lived experiences and identities of the team members and diversity in the positions within the value chain of the organization people occupy. All stakeholders need to be included, not just official supply chain members. Lin specifically mentioned informal waste pickers as an example of a stakeholder group in the value chain that is often ignored when considering recycling improvements. She emphasized how important it is that the people working in the informal waste sector are engaged when the strategies in the international treaty on plastic waste are negotiated and plans for recycling improvement are implemented— especially in developing economies where improvements in the recycling infrastructure could mean the removal of a livelihood. How can these vital but informal members of the current supply chain be included in future developments? 

Theme 3: Integrate Sustainability Data and Reporting 

The final theme of the panel was the power of making sustainability a part of everyone’s job, rather than just the sustainability team’s jobs. Both panelists observed a difference in who is reporting and answering questions about sustainability data in their organizations. Data about sustainability progress used to be reported out from the sustainability team exclusively. However, one example of Lift and Shift in practice is the inclusion of these metrics for other business units as well. Individual business units are taking ownership of sustainability efforts in their area, and they are reporting that information out alongside other data relevant to their function. To summarize Lin’s perspective on sustainability data and reporting, not only is the CSO (Chief Sustainability Officer) responsible for knowing and explaining the strategies for sustainable business practices, but all of the other “Cs” [CEO, CFO, COO, CTO, etc.] have to know it too.

Listening and learning from others’ experiences is the foundation of Lift and Shift. For opportunities to bring this philosophy into your organization’s efforts in meeting sustainability goals, consider attending SPC Engage 2022 in Montreal.