02: Sustainability, Innovation, and Circular Solutions with Bob Alvarez of Shapiro
In episode 2 of The Vox Verba podcast, we delve deep into the world of sustainability with special guest Bob Alvarez, the President and CEO of Shapiro. Explore the inception of Circular by Shapiro, a groundbreaking initiative shaping the circular supply chains of tomorrow. Discover how this unique division is not only optimizing byproducts for manufacturers but also simplifying and unifying data to drive meaningful impacts. Bob shares insights into the challenges, misconceptions, and the journey of Circular by Shapiro, offering a glimpse into the future of sustainable practices.
1. Introduction to Vox Verba Podcast and Guest (00:01.462)
2. Circular by Shapiro Inception (01:48)
3. Shapiro's Background and Role in the Market (03:23)
4. Differentiating Factors of Circular by Shapiro (08:57)
5. Driving Mission of Circular by Shapiro (13:23)
6. Primary Services and Products (15:55)
7. Shapiro's History and Journey (19:47)
8. Proud Moments and Achievements (24:53)
9. Common Misconceptions or Industry Myths (29:36)
10. The Foundation of Circularity (31:53)
11. Questions and Concerns from Companies (34:14)
12. Closing Remarks (41:30)
- Circular by Shapiro
Hello, welcome once again to the Vox Verba podcast. I'm your host, Andrya Allen. And here at Vox Verba, we journey into the stories behind the individuals that power some of the most remarkable initiatives and organizations across the globe. Today, we're diving deep into a topic that's not just important, but critical to the future of our planet, sustainability. And to guide us through this enlightening exploration, we have a very special guest today.
I am excited to introduce Bob Alvarez, Robert Alvarez, but affectionately known as Bob. He is the president and CEO of Shapiro. Bob's at the helm of redefining leadership of sustainability. He is leading a pioneering team. He is playing an instrumental role in the creation and launch of Circular by Shapiro, a groundbreaking initiative dedicated to sculpting the circular supply chains of tomorrow.
This isn't just about business. It's about sustainability and environmental stewardship, envisioning and creating a sustainable future for us all. With a solid foundation in biology from Knox College, Bob's commitment to sustainability isn't just professional, it's deeply personal. Beyond professional achievements, Bob cherishes a 31-year journey alongside his wife, Patty.
and he takes pride in guiding their two children, Ricky and Audrey, into adulthood. A nature enthusiast at heart, whether it's fishing, hunting, or hitting a golf ball, Bob finds solace and inspiration in the great outdoors. Bob, welcome to Vox Verba. It is a true honor to have us with you today.
Bob Alvarez (01:44.872)
Well, thank you for having me, Andrea. It's a pleasure to be here.
To kick off our conversation, I would love to hear more about Circular by Shapiro. Could you tell me about its inception and the driving force behind that?
Bob Alvarez (02:02.16)
Yeah, Circular by Shapiro is a new division we launched on September 6th, 2023 of this year.
Bob Alvarez (02:16.86)
It was born out of a gap in the marketplace. And what we saw was a lot of people thought about the need for data. And we also saw that people needed solutions. And we saw people needed services. And then it dawned on Shapiro, who is a 119-year-old company,
and infrastructure that could facilitate the integration of those three kind of disparate initiatives in the marketplace and offer a combined solution to take care of the needs of our clients and future clients.
That's incredible. Could you provide a brief introduction about yourself and the role that Shapiro, well, Circular by Shapiro really, plays in the market that you support?
Bob Alvarez (03:23.748)
Yeah, you know, Shapiro was and is a metal recycling company and has done that for a very, very long time, as I mentioned, 119 years. It also is a very entrepreneurial organization that tried a lot of things. And what we discovered is a lot of the experiments
that we didn't even know we were doing as experiments have turned out to be services and solutions in the marketplace that can really help our customers achieve their sustainability goals. We tend to operate kind of in the alley where the things leave the plant. We handle byproducts. And that.
hasn't been optimized in a lot of locations for a long time. And there's been a lot of innovation. There's a lot of solutions that can be deployed there. So for us, it's a space we're familiar with, an infrastructure that we have, and we recognize that it was rich with a ton of data.
that could help people report on their sustainability metrics or their ESG scores. And we found that to be very interesting and to our customers for sure.
What type of markets would you say that Circular by Shapiro supports?
Bob Alvarez (05:13.776)
Well, we're definitely entrenched in manufacturing. But I don't know that our long range is limited by that. Short term, what we've done for a long time has been manufacturing. But really, we kind of follow the problem wherever it might be. And
like the challenge of solving some of the hard things. You know, there are materials that are easy to repurpose or easy to avoid going into the waste streams and other materials, not so much.
Thank you. You know, every company, every organization and new product or service has its own North Star, a way that it finds itself being guided towards the right path. Can you share what the driving mission of Circular by Shapiro is?
Bob Alvarez (06:22.512)
Yeah, you know, I think Shapiro strives to be a people centric organization that's intentional about that. And our team's purpose is to make the planet better together. And for us, making the planet better is about making meaningful permanent impacts. And
together is really vitally important because no one entity is going to do it alone. It's about radical collaboration, collaborating instead of competing. So that's our purpose. Our vision is defined a little differently. It's what that purpose looks like fulfilled in the future. And for us, it's the avalanche of waste is reduced or eliminated.
And what guides us is two core obsessions. One is being data-driven. And in a 119-year-old company, implementing a data-driven mindset is a challenge unto itself. And also we like to provide an exceptional experience, both for our team members and for our customers.
That's what we obsess about. And the behaviors that kind of lend itself to delivering these things are to pitch in, which is all about teamwork and collaboration, to find and fix the hard stuff. There's lots of easy things to do, but our customers need help with the hard stuff. Our employees need help with the hard stuff. And our last one.
which is really interesting in a 119 year old company is we're never going back, we're moving forward. So that's our North Star, what it looks like fulfilled, and the things that drive us to get there.
Thank you, Bob. How incredible to hear that and the transformation and the way you fulfill your mission. When we think about Circular by Shapiro's services and its offerings, what would you say sets Circular by Shapiro apart from others with maybe similar offerings?
Bob Alvarez (08:57.784)
I think what makes Circular by Shapiro unique is that today we are servicing customers in Canada and Mexico and from coast to coast in the United States. And we don't have locations in every one of those areas.
So our model facilitates using the best available supply chain. And that is wrapped in an umbrella platform to collect the data and make it available to our customers. And I think that makes us incredibly unique in that if a customer has 10 locations across the country or in Canada and Mexico,
They can reduce a ton of variability in their data by working with a company like Circular, who puts the same programs in every location, maybe different partners, but the same nomenclature, the same information flowing through in the same format, all customizable to what the customer wants. So I think that makes us a great team.
a really unique partner. And I often think that people dismiss the importance of the service in this model. They really are hyper-focused today on the data and they should be. They're also very hyper-focused on solutions. How do I keep this out of the landfill or what have you?
But the service provider could be a very exciting partner in eliminating a lot of that, because they can transfer best practices from one location to another. And again, a lot of the data challenges for our customers is then the variability of how data comes to them. And we take that out of the equation.
Thank you, Bob. For this next question, you touched on it, or I heard a bit of the answer in your previous answer. But I'm curious, let's talk about who is the most impacted by your work with Circular by Shapiro. Who finds the most value in what you have to offer? What I heard earlier was,
someone with 10 locations, right? So that's an example. Who finds the most value and what Circular by Shapiro has to offer?
Bob Alvarez (11:46.952)
Well, if I understand the question correctly, I actually think the value is felt by our team members and being able to make an impact by our customers and maybe having an area that's not their primary focus managed by somebody that is.
emerging as an expert in that area and I think our partners also benefit. So it's really a stakeholder model and you get a lot of a lot of parties benefiting and realizing value from this.
Thank you. As we get deeper into discussing what is Circular by Shapiro, could you spotlight some of your primary services and products?
Bob Alvarez (12:50.604)
Yes, I think that's a canvas that's just starting to be filled in. I think it's a long way from being a finished painting. It's a journey for sure. Obviously, we handle the typical byproducts of manufacturers, metal, cardboard, wood, plastics, and glass.
But other needs in the circular economy are emerging. People want closed loop. They want maybe parts harvested. They need to be sure that stuff gets destroyed, particularly in military circumstances or warranty type stuff. Some of our customers desire zero landfill or waste energy solutions.
Many don't have the expertise to spec out the equipment that would best serve them in optimizing the supply chain for reduced carbon or less trips somewhere. And we do all of those things, plus offer the consulting, the training, and
the equipment leasing to enable these solutions in the marketplace. So that's some of the things that we do. Every, every location, even in a homogenous organization with multiple sites doing the same thing is going to have some level of customization to it. Um, there's not really.
here's a solution, apply it universally everywhere. People have different availability of square footage to work with. And there's those kinds of challenges. And as we build up our body of work and that experience, we're understanding those things. So those are some of the things that we're currently doing.
Bob Alvarez (15:10.84)
everything I previously mentioned we have in place somewhere. And the other thing that's emerging out of this is hard stuff, things that people have a very difficult time recycling and they don't want to send it to a landfill, but today they don't know what else to do with it. We actually have a team working at Shapiro on Find and Fix the Hard Stuff. And I'm real excited about that team because
You know, we're going into areas to find solutions that have been industry-wide issues for a long time. And we'll see what we do, but I have a lot of confidence in the people associated with that team.
That sounds like very comprehensive, circular supply chain services. And as you're offering these, along the way, services, products, and the way you offer them often evolves, and the things your customers need evolve. Branching out for someone that might come to you for circular related services, are there?
secondary or complementary services that circular by Shapiro or even Shapiro as a larger organization offers that you'd like to share.
Bob Alvarez (16:35.208)
Of course, I think one of the unique areas out there is in machine shops today. They use cutting fluid. And I've been to a lot of machine shops and every one of them has been battling cutting fluid loss, going out the door with their chips.
housekeeping issues or even environmental issues in the parking lot. And we developed a patent pending fluid recovery system that helps those CNC shops get a good percentage of their cutting fluid back. There'll always be some clinging to the chips, but we've developed that. I see that as one.
of the things that a company like Shapiro who wants to fix the hard stuff kind of uses its innovation muscle to get at. Other areas that I see kind of as areas to evolve in is this whole closed loop.
Bob Alvarez (18:00.436)
getting things back, I think end of life, extended producer responsibilities are all areas that we're preparing for engaging with and having solutions like the fluid pump for. All wrapped again in the data. Every transaction we do is a valuable piece of data.
and we have that in a platform. And if our pilot goes really well, the traceability will be another level higher because we'll be using blockchain.
Bob Alvarez (18:51.408)
Our web portal has a pilot going on right now with machine learning and AI to inform our customers on how they could optimize their process even further and where they're leaving opportunity on the table. Those are all in development in our tech group right now. And we'll keep you posted as they emerge out of their experiments.
Incredible. Yes, please do. This, it falls naturally into the next question. Circular by Shapiro has its own history and journey. We did talk a little bit about it at the beginning, but I'd love to know how would you tell the story of Shapiro's history and its journey to where it is today?
Bob Alvarez (19:47.74)
Yeah, I think what makes it a really interesting story is that Shapiro, although it's a hundred plus years old, a lot of the team members are not from this industry. And in 2018, an industry vet with 30 plus years in the industry joined our company. And Judy,
brought up the idea of pursuing adjacent services in sustainability with our embedded infrastructure.
Now I'm sure in her 30 year career, it's not the first time that she mentioned it as an opportunity. And we were very, we were very much novices at the time. And what we heard was sustainability services.
Bob Alvarez (20:52.832)
But we heard her and we got started on this journey in 2018-2019. And in 2020, after starting that journey, and I believe we were able to hear it because, one, we're very entrepreneurial, but two, the creativity of this team.
saw potential where maybe others didn't see it. Don't want to handle trash, don't want to do this, don't want to do that. We looked at it much different because we weren't from the industry. Well, in 2020, we did our very first project. We also won an international sustainability award on our very first.
project. So we were pretty much validated right out of the gate with what we were doing, but it all started with an industry veteran bringing the opportunity to us to consider. And since then, the evolution and the teams kind of embracing that.
moving us toward a more purpose-driven organization has been nothing but transformational. Shortly after that, we started up an innovation center, also in 2020, but later in the year, to kind of build out some of the technology and build out some of the innovations, like the fluid recovery process, and to work on our
own internal sustainability. And they've done a really nice job. It's in a very rural area east of Springfield. And then I think the journey continued. You know, we started to understand the value of data. And we went to work on our platform and launched a new web portal.
Bob Alvarez (23:12.856)
And this web portal is what we'll be doing the artificial intelligence in. We added sustainability metrics to that, some scope treat three calculators to that this year. Um, and then we codified all of this in 2022. Uh, we kind of moved from sustainability services to
Bob Alvarez (23:41.24)
And then in January of 22, we got organized around our purpose, our vision, our obsessions, and our strategy evolved into launching this division, which we did this year in September.
Congratulations, what a journey.
Bob Alvarez (24:06.045)
The team behind this is just absolutely remarkable in their commitment to what we're trying to do and how we're trying to do it. I wish I could say everything was smooth sailing, it's far from it, but everything, the team has never lost conviction or passion about pursuing it.
When you think back over the journey so far, you know, I know you launched recently, but even in, you know, those earlier conceptual days, could you share a moment that you felt really proud of that stands out in your mind, either a moment of yours or a moment of your teams that you'd like to share?
Bob Alvarez (24:53.04)
Yeah, I don't think there's one moment. I think there's a lot of moments of when the purpose is connecting with one of the team members or resonating in the marketplace with a customer or the joy they have when we help them fulfill a solution. So I think they're ongoing.
very, very frequent. And I think it's the evolution we're under. I don't know that I can pick out one singular moment. If there was one that would be close, I think it's when we took the learning from 2018 through 2022.
and realized that we always knew what our purpose was. We just never knew how to articulate it. And we figured out how to articulate it as making the planet better together. I would say that's as close to a single event as any. And it's certainly a transition point going forward. But again, I think, you know, whether it's a...
a team member coming back and talking about how we could do this at this particular location and make this kind of impact. I think it's people connecting with it thrills me more than anything.
Thank you for that.
You know, every industry comes with its own set of challenges. What acts for you and for your team? What acts as an anchor during hard times?
Bob Alvarez (26:42.109)
Bob Alvarez (26:52.168)
Well, I think I'm going to answer that a couple of different ways. The first is habits and experience work against innovation and opportunities. Um, I think that the market, the world, everything around us is more ambiguous and not ever going to be less ambiguous than it is today. And I think we become impatient.
with the ambiguity and we lose sight of the opportunities that might be in that ambiguity. So that's on one level, it's those things. It's the fact that with all of this noise out there, yeah, there are all kinds of uncertainty and things that we don't understand, but they're just full of opportunities to pursue.
And it's really hard. It almost operates against human nature, but that's a challenge. The other thing, I think, is that people view sustainability as costly. And it might end up having cost associated with it.
But in a good number of the projects we've done and first passed, the savings have been rather substantial because the area we operate in hasn't been optimized in a very long time. Now, it doesn't mean that the hard things that people have to solve or those kinds of things aren't going to come with costs. We understand that, but it does...
I always believe we ought to make whatever impact we can make first, then work on the next hardest thing, and then we'll eventually get around to the hardest ones. But let's take, let's, I forget what the farmers say, but let's, let's take the low-hanging fruit and move on.
I agree. You know, when you know an industry really well, you start to see common misconceptions or potentially industry myths. Have you seen any common misconceptions or industry myths? You did reference one just a second ago. Are there others you can think of?
Bob Alvarez (29:36.324)
Yeah, I think people might view this industry as just interested in recycling or just interested in the metal.
Bob Alvarez (29:54.768)
not really interesting and being part of the ecosystem. And I think that's changing. I think, you know, I think we're in a really good position as an industry to make this impact. I think it's gonna take some creativity. It's gonna take some risk taking, but generally speaking, the industry has been
recycling and on the at least on the periphery of sustainability for its entire existence if it hasn't been intimately involved. Maybe the motivation is evolving but it's been doing it for a very long time. So other than that I really don't know that there's any misperceptions. I mean it might be
related to the organizations focused and what they're trying to achieve. But for us, we see it linking up really well.
Excellent. It did make me think of a picture I've seen on LinkedIn in the circular industry, and I may describe it wrong. I'll have to put it in the show notes and send it to you later. I'm going to try to describe it. It's a picture, a drawing of someone pulling in a Trojan horse. And I think inside the picture says something like, companies trying to become circular. And then inside the Trojan horse's
I can't recall, maybe recycling or waste management, but the concept is that it's not real. It's a trick, Trojan horse scenario, right? But what I hear you saying is that it is the foundation and the beginning and this core part of circularity and sustainability.
Bob Alvarez (31:53.636)
Yeah, I mean, you know, we read and hear about all of the green washing and all of the things going on in the marketplace. And I think that kind of lends itself to some skepticism about the motives. You know, I think
I think the generational changes in the workforce are going to have a big impact on this competition versus collaboration dynamic. And when it does, I think some of that kind of...
concern might be reduced. You know, I think there are companies out there that really want to make a difference. And, you know, in our environment today, as divisive and as many different opinions as there are out there.
At Shapiro, we believe there's one thing that's not really up for argument, and that is the earth can't sustain what we're harvesting from it. There are studies by several organizations that suggest that we'll need one and a half earths by 2050 to keep at this rate of consumption. If that's the case, we have to find a way to...
be more resourceful with the resources we already have and utilize them to their optimal levels. And I think that's what the companies like Shapiro are trying to do and Circular is our vehicle for doing it.
Bob, in the time that you have been, you know, in the early stages of Circular by Shapiro through your launch, are there any common questions or concerns that you hear often from companies that are either actively involved in sustainability or circular initiatives or are on the edge and are curious or don't really know how to start?
Bob Alvarez (34:14.528)
Yeah, you know, I think the world is really, really tough on manufacturers today. They have challenges coming at them from every direction, from the supply chain, from the labor market, from regulations. And you know, how do they do it all?
It's a miracle what they achieve on a daily basis. I know in our operations, you know, the demands on a plant manager and his team or her team are immense. And so, it's, I think the really biggest problem is how do you find the time to take advantage of something that's not pressing, that's more opportunistic, that could be more, could make some impact.
when you've got all these other fires burning around you. And again, that's what we try to offer, but at the same time, the questions are, I don't even know what they're asking me to achieve. How do I do it? It could be that basic. And then you have people at the tip of the spear knowing exactly what they want. And so you...
I would say it's not one question, it's being able to deal with the continuum of where people are on their journey and being able to assist at every part of that journey with them. And, you know, we've been at it for a while now, so we've dealt with a lot of different parts of that journey at Circular.
That's awesome. It's great that you guys can offer that experience, the solutions that you've developed and your existing infrastructure to meet people based on the complexities and differences of their current needs.
Bob Alvarez (36:17.168)
Yeah, I mean, like I said earlier, almost every scenario is customized. I mean, there's just no rubber stamp here.
So we have two more questions. In this second to last question, let's go deeper. As deep as we can go, this is gonna be a hard one. If you could define one singular strength of circular bishapiro, what would you say that is?
Bob Alvarez (36:55.792)
You know, I've been thinking about that quite a bit. You know, certainly we could talk about the solutions or we could talk about the data or we could talk about the service or we could talk about the technology. But I thought about what those four things might actually do. And it's kind of going back to the future.
It's about reducing variation. It is about simplifying things by making them more uniform, thus making them more repeatable and more reliable and easier to assimilate, easier to report on. And I think that's what we offer is a way.
for a single location or a multi-location company to get uniform, consistent information that they can use in the form of insights to drive impact.
It's incredible. I'm hearing to simplify their approach to, we wanna say to sustainability or circularity, but really it's two at all.
Bob Alvarez (38:21.228)
Well, you know, I think we operate in a niche area, the location or in the alley or inside the plant where it makes sense. And who knows where that'll take us on our journey. But I do think it's about allowing them to focus on what they do best because we're optimizing the other area for them.
Excellent. Bob, okay, I have one more question. We've had such a great conversation today. We've covered so much and thank you for being open and sharing so much about Circular with me. As we close our conversation, is there anything that we missed that is important to cover today?
Bob Alvarez (39:09.668)
Yeah, I may have alluded to it, but I think it's important to recognize that this is going to take, for us to make the meaningful impact and that permanent meaningful impact that we desire, it's going to require, I think, the coordination of numerous stakeholders. It's not going to be any one
solution. So I do think that there's a role for people to kind of segment their operations and segment their business and partner with people that can coordinate certain areas of it and optimize it for them because this is a big, big challenge. And it's nonstop.
in every rock you turn over, there's an opportunity to fix something or make less of an impact or to think about it different or design it different. And so how do you break something that big? You eat the elephant one bite at a time. And I think, you know, that's partially what we're attempting to do is we're taking one bite out of that.
in an area for our customers.
One bite at a time.
Well, Bob, thank you so much. Thank you for your time, for your insights. The Circular by Shapiro brand is unique and valuable. And what we're gonna do is take today's conversation. We're gonna have a follow-up about what your story reveals and discuss what resonates behind Circular by Shapiro. For anyone that's listening today, if you're interested in Circular by Shapiro services, if you're interested in sustainability solutions,
or anything you heard about from Bob today, check out circularasaservice.com or shapirometals.com slash sustainability. Again, Bob, I enjoyed our conversation so much today and we'll have to check back in to see how Circular is going and what impact it has made in the future.
Bob Alvarez (41:30.384)
Well, thank you, Andrea. And I just have one funny thing to tell you. As you know, November is no-shave month, right? No-shave November. I have to start in October so I don't have to shave in November. So, pardon my five o'clock shadow, but I'm starting on my no-shave November.
That's great and it is camera worthy.
Bob Alvarez (41:55.822)
Thank you so much, Bob. Thank you everyone for listening. And we'll see you again in the next episode.
Bob Alvarez (42:04.284)