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Credit: Photo: Tracy Lynn Deis

Veolia Environmental Services “delivers value-added services that protect people and improve the environment.” The City of Chicago Department of Environment contractor can't protect people from the consequences of their behavior, but the company can control its response.

This gentleman is a landlord who says he pays for refuse pickup twice a week. Fed up with evidence to the contrary chronically blocking their garages, neighbors beg to disagree.

One snapped and posted this image to her Facebook page. A Facebook friend forwarded it via Veolia's Facebook page asking the company to please police rolloff carts more aggressively because, while extreme, this isn't an unusual sight in city alleys.

Noting that “we certainly don't want this gentleman taking compaction into his own hands anymore,” Veolia asked for an address. Our source's response included links to both Veolia and her friend's Facebook pages so these two people —complete strangers — could quickly and easily send and receive the offending location.

This exchange transpired within 1 hour and 19 minutes. Exactly. No one has to separately document who said what and when because the Facebook platform (like Twitter's) automatically includes the time with each posting.

I doubt Veolia is the only company that uses social media to improve service for its customers. Whether you embrace or revile this new mode of communication, it's potent. Whether or not a result of these websites, studies show that e-mail is being used less frequently. (For more information, pick up Sherry Turkle's book, Alone Together.)

A couple years ago, Chicago contracted with CDM to determine how much garbage residents and businesses generated that year (7,299,174 tons) and how much of that never gets to a landfill (45%). Those are impressive numbers. I don't know how the city shared these results, or its strategy for increasing the diversion rate to 57%. But think how much more powerfully any agency, working with a social media-savvy contractor, can communicate service challenges and solutions, include constituents in the decision-making dialogue.

All that takes time and expertise few agencies can afford. Shouldn't such expertise be a value-add your contractors provide?

- Stephanie Johnston,
Editor in Chief