Using gratitude to fuel innovation and environmental stewardship

Back in my early 20s when I was just starting out in business, I found myself sharing a drink with one of the leaders in my industry. We were in Washington, D.C., for a national conference and meetings with the Environmental Protection Agency. I remember asking him a simple question, and his response has fueled our business and my personal life ever since.

I asked, “What’s the most important business lesson you’ve learned?” and without missing a beat, he said with his thick Tennessee accent, “Scott, that’s easy. If you ain’t growing, you’re dying.”

Three invisible killers and overcoming them

Over the next 15 plus years, I’ve come to realize that three things prevent growth: complacency, negativity and fear. These are the invisible killers that will strangle vitality. My weapon of choice to overcome those and to fight for growth is to begin in gratitude.

Both in business and in life, take time to be grateful; ask the question, what do we appreciate most? What do we recognize as having great value? What do we respect and treasure? What are the resources that we’re fortunate to have? When we’re in a state of gratitude, it’s nearly impossible to feel negative.

Then, appreciate those things by adding value to them. Identify problems that are threatening or stifling their ability to grow and thrive. Look out to the future and ask, what’s at stake? What will happen if we don’t address this problem? And, what’s possible if we are able to solve this? If clear and compelling enough, vision will overcome complacency and fear.

For our company, especially in the early days as we helped pioneer the recycling of mercury-containing lighting, we recognized that we were fortunate to have customers who believed in doing the right thing environmentally. They were fighting for recycling even before it was regulated because they cared about our environment. They wanted to recycle their waste instead of landfilling, and we wanted to help them with that.

But, we needed to find ways to help them overcome the obstacles to recycling that they faced, and most importantly, to make it easy for their organizations to recycle.

Finding a solution

The initial problem we overcame was that of storage space for the lamps. Fluorescent lighting is essentially fragile glass tubes filled with gas. We developed a system called the Bulb Eater® to safely crush spent lamps into steel 55-gallon drums, which serve as storage containers until full and then shipping containers for the trip to the recycling facility for processing.

Pre-crushing the lamps reduces the needed space by 80 percent and makes packaging the lamps easy, efficient and even fun.

We then developed a nationwide network of approved recycling facilities to make it easy for our customers to get their full drums of crushed lamps picked up and recycled in any area. Developing the machine and recycler network has helped more than 10,000 large locations recycle well over 40 million lamps.

Actively expressing gratitude and appreciating our customers’ efforts continues to play a role as we use systematic surveys and intentional conversations with customers to appreciate the progress that we’re making together and to identify areas of further growth.

This has led to additional products and a variety of services that we offer throughout the country. These “Simple Sustainable Solutions” help our customers protect our environment in ways that are tracked and reported, so we can celebrate what’s working and continue the cycle of gratitude fueling further innovation and environmental stewardship.

Please join us in celebrating Earth Day on April 22.

Scott Beierwaltes is CEO of Air Cycle Corporation, delivering “Simple Sustainable Solutions” for organizations to responsibly manage their lighting, batteries, electronics and food wastes. He’s passionate about helping people and having an environment future generations can enjoy. Visit for information.