Clean Harbors is about more than just water

Kelly Dawson
January 16, 2018
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For some time now, it seems like we’re living in a multi-hyphenated world.

Creatives, for instance, are no longer tied to one label. An actress can also be a writer, producer, and director. The same also goes for businesses: Amazon can be an online retailer as much as it can be a television and movie studio. The more interconnected the world gets, the more hyphenated it becomes. And while we can think of plenty multi-hyphenated examples in the pop culture sphere, we bet that you probably weren’t aware of a big example in the sustainability field: Clean Harbors, Inc.

Sure, Clean Harbors, Inc. doesn’t have the same recognition as some other multi-layered companies, but it performs various necessary tasks so that other businesses can thrive. Clean Harbors is responsible for industrial maintenance, recycling services, waste management, and emergency spill response — yes, that’s a lot of hyphens — and it’s called upon by the majority of the Fortune 500 companies when such needs have to be met. For more than 30 years, Clean Harbors has established itself as a link between business growth and environmental safety. As the world’s greatest industries become ever more conscious of their impacts on the world, Clean Harbors is an example of how to balance awareness with productivity.

Consider Clean Harbors to be the crew behind the curtain: this brand ensures the optimal operation and well-being of others, and in so doing, it is the leader of energy, environmental, and industrial services in all of North America.

Stand under my umbrella

Most people are somewhat familiar with hazardous waste. We can recognize the hazmat suits, the large drum containers, the slicks of variegated muck in water. And maybe we’ve even noticed waste materials in doctor’s offices or hospitals or wondered how behemoth factories are repaired year after year. What we may not be as familiar with is the interconnected chain behind the more attention-grabbing events and the things that fix or prevent such problems or tragedies. That’s what Clean Harbors is all about, so let’s get acquainted with what it is and what it does.

Clean Harbors, which was founded by Alan McKim in 1980 and incorporated in 1987, currently has about 12,000 employees and an annual revenue of about $2.8 billion. It’s based in Massachusetts but has a network of more than 400 service locations that handle things like waste disposal, parts cleaning, and emergency response requests — those outposts are based in areas where potential issues can arise, like waterways. The company also owns about 50 waste management facilities across the continent, too.

But that’s a quick overview of what Clean Harbors is. Now let’s talk about what it does. In order to describe everything under this multi-hyphenated company’s umbrella, we’ll start by breaking it down into its five distinct parts: technical services, Safety Kleen environmental, Kleen performance products, industrial and field services, and finally, oil and gas field services.

Give us the dirt

Ok, now let’s briefly talk about each of those distinct parts. Clean Harbors’s technical services can be described as everything that has to do with responsibly getting rid of hazardous and non-hazardous waste. And what does it define as waste, exactly? Well, that’s a good question. “Waste” is a broad term that covers typical garbage, industrial wastewater, airbag disposal, paper shredding, explosives management, fuel blending, drum waste, and more. Basically, it’s anything a company or a consumer wants Clean Harbors’s fleet of trucks to pick up and toss out in a thoughtful manner. The company’s various facilities handle each waste product, as harmless or harmful as it may be, and disposes of it in the most environmentally friendly way possible.

Safety Kleen, which was acquired by Clean Harbors in 2002, is the largest re-refiner of used oil and parts cleaner in North America. This part of the company collects used oil (about 200 million gallons of it per year) and processes it into new products that can once again enter the marketplace. It also recycles cleaning solutions, like the all-purpose ones used in your home, and provides waste and vacuum services to companies in the automotive and manufacturing industries. Its performance products are along the same lines: they’re high-performance, energy-efficient oil items for consumers or companies.

The last two aspects of the company — industrial, field, oil, and gas services — are exactly what they seem. The oil and gas services are primarily for companies within the energy industry, for which Clean Harbors provides help handling fluids, support for drilling operations, overseeing seismic activity, and even recruiting workers when needed. It also provides waste treatments, too, of course. Lastly, the industrial and field services sector responds to everything related to the production and management of industrial companies like refineries, paper mills, and chemical plants. This can be anything from chemical cleaning, decontamination, and emergency response.

Though the company has a vast portfolio, there are three things that run through them all: safety, sustainability, and accountability. Since Clean Harbors is working with programs big and small, from neighborhoods to corporations, the need to get it right is high. And for the last three decades, Clean Harbors has been highly influential in the ways in which all other businesses should approach their bottom line in response to their natural surroundings.

Wipe the slate clean

Given that hazardous materials are at the crux of Clean Harbors’s business, it has been developing ways to capture and dispose of the waste in a responsible manner for the last 30 years. Its techniques have ranged from the innovative — like how to properly handle, package, and dispose of laboratory chemicals — to the simple. One of Clean Harbors’s most basic objectives is education: sharing ways that anyone can dispose of waste without harming the environment. This happens through customer outreach and employee training. In early December, Clean Harbors was recognized by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for its program to create a safe culture at work through various learning and relationship-building exercises.

Considering that most of what this company does is already sustainable, it’s interesting to see how it continues to raise its own standards. Environmental processes take place across the whole of the company, from responding to 6,000 emergencies in a given year with cleanup and resources — including Hurricane Sandy, September 11, and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill — to thinking of ways to use products in even more efficient manners. For instance, the company’s fuel blending operations, which oversee the collection of discarded paints and solvents, now can be used as an energy source in cement production. This gets rid of the need to use coal or other fossil fuels. The company hopes to increase its reach, processes, and overall production while continuing to decrease its footprint. Such programs will touch every corner of Clean Harbors, producing even better products that won’t disrupt the air, ground, or water it once touched.

In a world where everything seems to have more than one focus, Clean Harbors appears to be yet another part of the hyphenated crowd. But its ultimate goal is singular: it simply wants to make the environment safe from the products that people are bound to produce. As the company mindfully disposes of waste, creates recyclable products, and safeguards communities, it showcases a commitment to a better future just by its core mission alone. And maybe action is the noblest label after all.

There are more than 250 companies in our combined portfolios, and they are all making amazing advancements. From names you know, like Tesla, to those little gems you haven’t heard of yet, like Xylem, we want you to know all about what your holdings are up to. These ‘deep dives’ will help you understand what you’re invested into and how your dollars are making the world a better place.

Clean Harbors, Inc. is part of our Zero Waste portfolio.

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