2020 year in review: TRUE

Celeste McMickle

As 2020 came to a close, the TRUE team reflected on the unwavering efforts of the global zero waste community and the challenges that lie ahead. Waste affects every part of our communities. It degrades our environment, causes undue burdens on underprivileged communities, releases toxins into nature and our bodies, contributes to climate change and costs business and municipalities billions to manage. With warnings that global solid waste generation is expected to reach 3.4 billion tons annually by 2050, the challenge we face can seem daunting.

But we remain encouraged by the growth we saw from the TRUE community in 2020, as more and more organizations around the world continue to engage with TRUE and take steps towards zero waste and the circular economy. We are inspired by steadfast engagement from companies such as Colgate-Palmolive, Cisco, Grainger, REI, NY Power Authority and many others, who have demonstrated a commitment to zero waste through their participation in TRUE. We were thrilled to see LinkedIn announce a major commitment to zero waste this year, pledging to achieve TRUE certification for all of their campuses by 2025 and work toward a circular economy. This is leadership.

Individual action is as important as ever, but corporate involvement is critical to achieve the change we need, and USGBC members and partners are leading the charge.

Demonstrating zero waste leadership globally Despite the pandemic, projects throughout the world continued to pursue TRUE certification in 2020. To date, over 250 projects and more than 110 million gross square feet of space have registered or certified with TRUE, covering 38 U.S. states and 17 countries. In the last three years alone, TRUE projects have diverted an estimated 1.65 million tons of waste from the landfill. At an average cost of $55/ton to landfill municipal solid waste in the U.S., this represents an estimated potential savings of more than $90 million dollars.

Some of the outstanding certified projects in 2020 included:

  • Westbourne became the first TRUE certified restaurant, achieving TRUE Gold and a waste diversion rate of 91%. As a fundamentally community-oriented and mission-driven business, they recognized the need to tie sustainability and zero waste practices into every aspect of their business. Using a collaborative approach between staff, stakeholders and local consultant Foodprint Group, the team was able to develop a waste reduction system that achieved all their goals.
  • Battery Park City Authority achieved TRUE Gold at their multi-use facility in lower Manhattan. As a waterfront community with public parks and green spaces that are core to its character, preserving the environment is a priority for Battery Park City. Pursuing TRUE helped BPCA to define, enhance and measure their sustainability objectives, with an overall diversion of 90% and plans to pursue certification at more of their facilities.
  • Platinum certified Posty Cards is the first printing facility to achieve TRUE. With a corporate commitment to sustainability including using 100% renewable energy and responsibly sourced paper, it was only a matter of time until they zeroed out waste. Posty works to eliminate waste before it occurs and incorporated this approach into their operations from manufacturing to packaging.
  • Titan America’s Roanoke Cement Company and Pennsuco Cement Complex both achieved recertification at higher levels than their original certification. Roanoke was recertified TRUE Gold with 98% diversion, and Pennsuco was recertified TRUE Platinum with 97% diversion. TRUE has helped Titan with their commitment “to be one of the most economically, environmentally and socially responsible providers of construction materials.”
  • The Milo’s Tea Company is vigorously pursuing their goal of being a national leader in sustainability. They have become a zero waste manufacturer, dramatically reduced water consumption, sourced 23% of energy from renewables and reduced their packaging. In 2017, they began an aggressive approach to reducing trash and increasing recycling. In 2018, they went from two waste collections per week to just one pick up every month and recertified to TRUE Platinum in 2020.
  • The Bailey Company is a family and woman owned forklift dealership headquartered in Nashville, T.N. Over the past ten years, the company has established itself as a market leader in sustainability by installing solar panels at seven facilities, converting all lights to LED, creating a strong recycling program and donating to local environmental nonprofits. After developing an in-house zero waste program, the company was awarded TRUE Platinum in 2020.

In 2020 GBCI issued 33 TRUE certifications and 4 TRUE precertifications, representing over 10 million square feet and positively impacting the 33,610 occupants at these projects. This included the first certified projects in Missouri, Connecticut, Tennessee, Idaho, Brazil and South Africa.

Zero waste champions

These projects are brought to life by an incredible community of zero waste professionals and committed organizations who make up the TRUE community. This includes people like Alexandra Leader who, along with her team at the New York Power Authority, have registered 29 projects in New York to pursue TRUE certification across their entire portfolio, becoming the first utility to pursue TRUE. It includes emerging leaders like Allyson Tombesi with Titan America who completed the Pennsuco Cement Complex’s TRUE Platinum recertification and collaborated with the TRUE team on an event which garnered press from the cement industry. And it includes long time zero waste champions like Ryan McMullin and Denise Braun who, in addition to leading zero waste efforts of their own, have successfully ‘gamified’ circularity, and brought their innovative Zero Waste Boardgame to Greenbuild 2020.

Learn how these leaders are working toward a zero waste future

We are also thankful for the efforts of companies like Great Forest, an East Coast-based consultancy offering TRUE certification for their clients. Great Forest is walking the talk and recently registered their own headquarters located in Harlem, NY with TRUE to gain additional insight and experience to bring to their clientele. And of course, Chumash Casino Resort, was recognized as a 2020 USGBC Leadership Award recipient at Greenbuild for their outstanding efforts in zero waste. As the sixth largest Native American gaming operation in California, managing waste is a critical function for the resort, Tribal Ownership and the community. Since 2004, the resort has reduced its total waste stream by more than 4 million pounds per year and increased recycling from 6% to 90%, established a food donation program to support local seniors and developed a public education campaign highlighting best practices for the community. Finally, by engaging with partners such as SWEEP, Circularity in Action, Clean Seas Coalition, RILA, National Recycling Coalition, U.S. Composting Council and more, we were able to not only put a stake in the ground for zero waste but to drive critical changes in policy, infrastructure and education.


TRUE Advisors are zero waste professionals who are integral in helping facilities achieve TRUE certification and are experts in supporting and implementing zero waste policies and programs across companies. In 2020, we surpassed 1,000 professionals in 43 countries who have achieved the TRUE Advisor designation from GBCI. To further support and encourage this learning, we published a TRUE pilot credit recognizing projects that have TRUE Advisors as principal participant(s) of their project team.

GBCI awarded 348 new TRUE Advisor credentials in 2020.

Virtual events and education

Continuing to build the capacity to implement TRUE is critical as we seek to drive the transition to a circular economy. We doubled down on our efforts to grow a trained work force in 2020 through a robust educational program including hosting 36 live webinars and the inaugural TRUE Town Hall, launching a TRUE Advisor study group and publishing 13 TRUE educational courses, case studies, a home zero waste audit toolkit and almost 20 articles.

Throughout the year, the team also hosted a series of TRUE virtual events to convene this network of professionals in conversation on topics including: Compost for urban areas, zero waste for the urban environment, zero waste design to certification, the zero waste hierarchy, zero waste for hospitality, TRUE spotlights on the manufacturing and beverage industries, zero waste supply chains and maintaining zero waste during a pandemic.

We continued doing a deep dive on each TRUE credit category through our TRUE Core Concepts Series. Panels of project team members and industry stakeholders presented on Zero Waste Purchasing, Recycling, Redesign, Reduce and Reuse.

Introduction to TRUE was presented around the world to groups including the U.S. Green Building Council’s Market Leadership Advisory Board members and audiences in the United Arab Emirates, Southeast Asia, Colombia, Mexico, and India.

Tailored tools for a growing community

A key focus this past year was to further evolve and adapt the TRUE rating system so that we can ensure it has the greatest impact and utility. Recognizing that the certification needs of organizations are varied, we expanded our offerings to include precertification and recertification.

COVID-19 response

The global pandemic presented a variety of challenges to TRUE project teams and to the industry as a whole. Many facilities participating in TRUE altered or halted operations for the safety of their staff. In addition, certain parts of waste management infrastructure became unavailable and additional waste streams have been created as safety protocols have increased globally. Our efforts to respond to the pandemic focused on providing industry-specific resources and process adaptations, with the goal of steadying the ship for project teams while focusing on the health and safety of all people involved in waste management and certification activities. We remain committed to helping project teams adapt and to promoting the health and safety of waste management workers. In 2020 we took the following actions to support our clients:

  1. Adapted certification process: We immediately amended the TRUE certification review process to postpone or suspend the on-site assessments and offered remote audit and assessment procedures where needed.
  2. New TRUE Safety-First Pilot Credits: We released TRUE pilot credits to promote best practice requirements to support the health and safety of custodial and waste management workers.
  3. Flexibility for affected projects: We developed solutions and adaptions to help facilities continue their pursuit or maintenance of TRUE certification despite operational impacts of the pandemic.
  4. Guidance Resources: In a series of articles, we compiled and shared resources offering specific guidance on best practices to make health and safety an even stronger priority, and outlined how the TRUE Rating System inherently provides avenues to address the COVID-19 crisis with health & safety risk reduction.

The transition to a truly circular economy will require us to challenge everything we’ve been taught about waste and begin viewing our ‘trash’ as a resource or commodity rather than something to simply discard. The zero waste community knows that many wasteful practices stem from a lack of designing for circularity and are the result of inefficient business practices. Managing resources to eliminate waste is an operational challenge for which TRUE provides a comprehensive framework to address.

Solving this challenge together will take hard work, but the benefits to human health, natural ecosystems and the global economy are worth the effort.

We look forward to continuing this important work with you in 2021!

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