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Making an Impact – Urban Impact Recycling Inc.

By Helena Bryan
BC Business, December 1, 2007

It’s 11 a.m. as I climb the steep steps into the cab of one of Urban Impact’s distinctive green-trimmed, front-loading trucks. Driver Jay Goodburn, 25, has been on the job for six hours already. He tells me cheerfully that he leaves his home in Surrey at 4:15 a.m. every workday to be at Urban’s 1.2-hectare facility in Richmond before dawn, where he picks up his route sheet and does a quick safety inspection of his truck.

By 7 a.m., when I’m just rolling out of bed, he’s been at it for two hours, manoeuvring his big rig in and out of downtown Vancouver’s narrow lanes and back alleys to pick up mountains of waste paper and cardboard. His pre-dawn forays, he says, allow him to finish his route anywhere between 2 and 4 p.m. and avoid the crush of both rush hours.

I am relieved to see that Goodburn looks bright-eyed, alert and very much at home behind the wheel as we head out to do the Richmond route. It’s here in the cracked leather seat of Goodburn’s front-loader, the hiss of air brakes drowning out the tinny AM radio, that I begin to appreciate why Urban Impact, with its pothole-filled yard and its modest double-wide standing in as an office, is one of B.C.’s best companies to work for.

First off, Goodburn tells me the company’s employee package gets a big thumbs up: a monthly carbon credit for staff who ride a bike, take a bus or car pool to work more than three-quarters of the time; a health benefit for employees who don’t use their sick days; profit sharing; an RRSP program; flexible schedules; and, for the truck drivers, a carbon-friendly four-day work week.

Oh, and there’s also the above-market or on-par wages, which owner and operations manager Rod Nicolls will tell me later are a result of Urban’s automation. “We’ve taken what we save on labour and put it into the guys’ pockets. Then they can have fun in their lives, have the car, the Xbox, that vacation. In return, they’re loyal and they work hard.”

There’s something else too. Nicolls and co-owner and general manager Nicole Stefenelli treat their employees like family. (I’m told later by driver Fraser Johnson that when Nicolls found out that some of the guys were frequenting the Money Mart for loans, he put a stop to it by advancing them the money himself and then allowing them to pay it back by working an extra day.)

Like doting parents, Nicolls and Stefenelli have a knack for recognizing the unique strengths of all their underlings. Take Goodburn, for instance. He’s not without social graces, but he’s a man who prefers to work alone, more at home in his machine than in any social circle.

He navigates this hulking piece of metal around town, hoisting hefty recycling bins in seconds, all the
while pulling and pressing a bewildering array of switches and checking the view in both sets of side mirrors. Goodburn likens what he does to playing a video game, adding that there are “bigger consequences if you screw up.”

But there won’t be any screwing up. Stefenelli and Nicolls knew that when they hired Goodburn five years ago. Just as they knew that Sue Ragona, who came to Urban in 2003 after 18 years out of the workforce, would turn out to be a first-rate administrative assistant. And that formerly self-employed Theresa Ralph, who started in 2001 as one of only 12 employees, would be cracker­jack at managing accounts receivable. Ralph has since added software programmer to her job description.

“We’re all made to feel important,” Ragona says. “Everyone feels successful at what they do. Nicole and Rod are interested in how to make our jobs better. And they’ll make it happen.”

And why not? After all, what wouldn’t you do for family?