Charles Schwager is the Chief Compliance and Ethics Officer of Waste Management. Tom Fox describes his role as “one of the most unique CECO roles in compliance around”. Charles, Tom, and Valerie Charles discuss what Waste Management does differently, how the company managed the two major crises of 2020, and why more data may not necessarily be better.



Looking at Compliance Holistically

Charles explains that all departments at Waste Management work together to build a holistic compliance culture. “We are all partnering together to create a very strong and comprehensive culture of compliance and ethics, so we try not to have one area where it’s strong and others where it might be different. We really do try to make it collaborative, holistic and [there’s] a lot of teamwork involved that goes into that,” he tells Tom. Many of their 50,000 employees work on the field, and Charles explains how they foster a “two-way communication loop” for these team members using technology.


Handling COVID and Social Injustice

Tom asks Charles, “… you asked your compliance team to look at reporting data and perhaps see if there were some new or different insights you might be able to gain from that data. Could you describe the process you and your team went through?” Charles responds that their workforce is reflective of American society, so the two major issues that defined 2020 – COVID and the social justice movement – were reflected in the calls coming through their helpline. “When we saw that, we decided to create a special triage process around that so we could get out in front of that as quickly as possible, knowing that if it happened in one place it could be happening in others,” Charles remarks. He describes the tracking system they put in place to handle both crises. “We were fortunate to be on top of our helpline and utilize it in different ways like that. And the technology worked well for us to have visibility and be able to react to those things.” he points out.


Structured Collaboration

“I’m a believer in structured collaboration,” Charles remarks. Cross-functional and cross-departmental teams at Waste Management work together to keep up-to-date with compliance. Everyone needs to work together, Charles emphasizes: “it’s only as good as everyone working together and getting that buy in…” The leadership has to want it as well. Their company’s strong compliance culture is proof of this. For Charles, operationalizing compliance means getting everyone actively involved.


Using Data

Charles tells Valerie, “We really focus on a strong ‘Speak up, Listen up, Follow up’ culture.” He sees increased reporting as a natural result of their focus on building a vibrant compliance culture. Valerie asks his thoughts on whether data analytics will transform compliance in the future. He responds that it’s a good skill set to have in your organization and that he is always thinking about how to use data. However, he argues, “If you really don’t understand the data, it can create situations where people extrapolate or make conclusions that… are faulty.” 



Charles Schwager on LinkedIn

Waste Management