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Inside B.C.’s Top Employer: 1-800-Got-Junk

Brian scudamore low-res

Brian Scudamore, founder and CEO of 1-800-Got-Junk



In the world of junk removal, it’s easy to think of Brian Scudamore as the Rumpelstiltskin of rubbish. Sure, he’s not hunched over with a long beard, like the fairy tale hero who spun straw into gold (no, he’s 44 and clean-shaven), but the founder and CEO of 1-800-Got-Junk has transformed more than two decades’ worth of commercial and residential debris into a multi-million-dollar international empire.


And since he began as a two-man operation in 1989, this humble leader has created the world’s largest junk removal company, operating in North America and Australia, without resorting to greenwashing. Instead, his attitude of environmental responsibility and commitment to employment best practices has earned 1-800-Got-Junk countless business awards, including this year’s Top B.C. Employer.


While some major trash haulers in Metro Vancouver faced tens of thousands of fines last year for dumping recyclable items, 1-800-Got-Junk confirms that 61.3 per cent of its collected junk gets reused or donated. And within five years, Scudamore hopes to boost that figure to 75 per cent. To date, the company has diverted more than 2.2 billion pounds of waste from landfills.


During a telephone interview, Scudamore readily admits that he doesn’t strive to position his Vancouver-based company as a top eco-leader. After all, his operation doesn’t calculate its carbon footprint and roughly half of his fleet of 1,100 trucks runs on gas, the other on diesel.


But he has investigated electric trucks, deciding against them so far because the sizeable network of servicing required is not yet available. Scudamore believes that since electric vehicle technology has still not progressed far enough, a switch right now would be too risky business-wise. And experiments on 10 vehicles with alternate fuels, such as biodiesel, have proven too difficult to maintain, he says. The company is currently trying out propane, which burns more cleanly than gasoline. 


“We’re not trying to lead by being a green-aware business,” he says. “We’re running a business by being environmentally responsible.”


1-800-Got-Junk works with national charities, such as Habitat for Humanity, Goodwill and the Salvation Army, as sources of re-use for its junk. The company’s 200+ franchises track whether local junk is recycled, reclaimed, reused, converted to energy or winds up in the landfill. An external environmental audit, conducted every two years, helps the company follow its impact on the environment and adjust procedures accordingly.


“We’re the only company that rigorously measures what happens to its junk,” says Scudamore. “We’re incredibly metrics [business statistics] driven.”

blue wigs loading truck 1 800 Got Junk low-res

Who says the junk business is no fun?

His company is a customer of Richmond, BC-based Urban Impact, a leading recycling company that strives to divert as many materials as possible from landfill. It provides services such as on- and off-site shredding and zero-waste solutions.


But 1-800-Got-Junk needs to do a better job of communicating to residential customers, who comprise three-quarters of its business, where their junk is going, Scudamore says.

When people see his trucks carting off large furniture or other materials, for instance, they might wrongly assume that these items are destined for the landfill.


Instead, they often end up at places like Urban Waste, where people hand-sort everything for potential recycling, and to Urban Wood Waste Recyclers, Canada’s largest recycler of construction and demolition debris, located in Vancouver and New Westminster.


“Urban Wood Waste has the highest [landfill] diversion level in Vancouver and one of the highest in the country,” Scudamore says. “About 99 per cent is reused and recycled.”


Similarly, large items that 1-800-Got-Junk obtains, such as refrigerators or mattresses, are recycled; the metal is melted down and re-used. The freon in fridges is removed so that it won’t pose environmental hazards while BC Hydro’s buy-back program recycles old, working fridges for payment.


By the end of 2016, Scudamore hopes to be running a paperless operation. On a personal level, the father of three has traded in one of the family SUVs for a more compact, fuel-efficient option, a Fiat 500.


Beyond 1-800-Got-Junk’s environmental record, it’s the people side of the business that sets his company apart, says Scudamore. When hiring, he looks for genuine passion about his company’s vision and goals; it’s one of the company’s core values besides integrity, professionalism and empathy.


“Peoples’ values are to their core,” he says. “We are a people company. We live by it.” He adds: “I love seeing people develop and grow in the company. That’s what fires me up the most.”


After winning top-employer status in B.C., Scudamore instructed a committee of people from six company departments to identify an area that made the company less than the best. Their answer? The three-week paid vacation. After looking this over with his finance team, the CEO decided to replace it with a five-week paid vacation.


1-800-Got-Junk has received accolades for its profit-sharing plan, available to all employees, and its support of new mothers, who receive maternity leave top-up payments (to 75 per cent of their salary for 19 weeks) and flexible work arrangements, including telecommuting and flex time, once they return to work.


Scudamore has received recognition as one of the Globe and Mail’s Top 40 under 40, and a Small Business Best Bosses Award from Fortune magazine. In 2012, he became a CEO Hall of Fame Lifetime Achievement Inductee with Chicago-based Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization.


The founder of 1-800-Got-Junk will be one of the high-profile entrepreneurs to appear Sept. 29 as a panelist at INSPIRE, an event at Vancouver’s TELUS World of Science sponsored by Small Business BC.

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September 22, 2014 at 1:49 pm Comments (0)