Commercial and industrial activities generate close to a quarter (24%) (1) of the UK’s total waste, or nearly double that of households. If you’re hoping to limit your environmental impact, it’s therefore vital to tackle waste at work with even greater enthusiasm than at home.
Even if the environment is not your primary concern, there’s a strong business case for reducing waste. Research (2) suggests that waste could be costing businesses as much as 4% of turnover, though many routinely underestimate its impact on their bottom line. What’s more, evidence is mounting (3) to show that environmentally conscious companies actually perform better, as they tend to galvanise employees and consumers more effectively.
Fortunately, waste can often be substantially reduced with little or no investment. But where to begin? The following five tips should get you started building a waste management policy that’s better for both the environment and your business.
Measure Your Waste
Evaluating your current waste output is a vital first step in identifying opportunities for improvement. There are many different approaches, but it’s worth repeating that perfection is the enemy of progress. If you’re struggling to find the right metrics, begin by measuring the basics: your total landfill and recycled waste output. You can measure these by weight or container size, e.g. the number of filled bags, just remain consistent.
When to measure will depend largely on how waste is collected from your premises. For many businesses, counting totals on a single collection day will be easiest. If you rely on a number of collection days for different materials, count at regular intervals, such as every week or month. Again, consistency is more important than method – the aim is to establish a baseline against which to measure changes.
Try monitoring for a few periods before taking action, tweaking as necessary to improve consistency and accuracy. The type of goals you can set will be defined by the data you collect – the more detailed your data, the more precise your goals can be. If you choose to start simply, measuring just total landfill and recycled waste, then your goals will focus on reducing overall waste and increasing the waste recycling rate (4).
Whichever metrics you choose, remember that much will depend on interpretation. For example, a drop in the waste recycling rate could mean that staff are failing to recycle as effectively, or it could mean you have reduced overall recycled waste. On the other hand, an increase in overall waste might be simply an indication of growth in your wider business. For this reason, many companies opt for more dynamic KPIs, such as waste productivity (revenue/waste) or waste per employee, as opposed to raw data.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Once you are armed with some data, how should you set about defining goals and procedures? The manta above is a step-by-step guide. Perhaps even more useful is the EU’s waste hierarchy, as seen below. The hierarchy ranks waste management options in terms of sustainability – the aim is to ‘move up’ the hierarchy, dealing with waste at the earliest possible level.
The first consideration should be your purchasing guidelines. Waste output correlates directly to purchasing decisions, forming a percentage of your original resources. Efforts should be made to reduce packaging on all purchased items, either by pressuring your current supplier or, if the option is available, by switching supplier altogether. This can have an immediate and sizeable impact on waste output.
However, packaging should not be your only concern – target products that are durable, concentrated, reusable or recyclable. Recyclable options are available for a wide array of goods, from computer equipment to printer ink and even employee storage lockers (5). Though it might seem unnecessary to buy recyclable furniture or lockers, smart purchasing now will have an observable effect on your waste output five, ten or twenty years in the future.
As well as prevention, the reuse and recovery levels of the hierarchy can lead to large cost savings. One popular example is to reuse shredded scrap paper as a packing material, reducing waste and saving money on difficult to recycle materials like polystyrene.
If you’d like in-depth guidance on putting the waste hierarchy into practice, Wrap have put together an extremely useful tool that generates tailored advice (6).
Support Your Staff
The third stage of any effective waste management policy is to get your staff on board. Start by setting out clear procedures for waste disposal and ensure every employee is aware of your goals. Schedule regular training days and be sure to add waste disposal initiatives to the induction of all new staff.
In most cases, simply advertising your procedures will not be enough – steps must be taken to encourage compliance, even enthusiasm for your scheme. Making staff aware of their current waste disposal output, and any progress being made, can go a long way in building support. Avoid publishing raw data; instead, simplify the information into an easily digestible format, such as a league table or goal thermometer.
It’s also worth rewarding individual employees or departments. Any savings made from disposal costs or purchasing decisions should be passed on, promoting and celebrating the commitment of your staff. Define the rewards on offer from the outset to maximise engagement.
Lastly, make each process as simple as possible. One area in which this is particularly important is bin placement. Recycling stations that are too far away or too time-consuming to use will be ignored. Placing a recycling bin at every workstation is especially effective; otherwise, make sure clearly labelled and colour-coded recycling bins are located close to the source of waste, such as near printers and in break areas. Cutting down the number of landfill bins, or removing personal bins altogether, will also make recycling stations more attractive and send a strong message.
Turn Waste into Profit
With a well-established reduction and recycling policy in place, it’s time to examine some more exciting waste opportunities (yes, such a thing exists). Companies of all sizes are finding inventive ways to turn waste into cash. Sadly, there is no one-size-fits-all approach, but a willingness to see waste as an opportunity, coupled with a good dose of creativity, can often lead to some surprising new revenue streams.
For example, GreenCup, a supplier of high quality office coffee, found that they were producing a sizeable amount of waste coffee grounds, which was costing the company a great deal in collection costs. After thinking creatively, they discovered that coffee grounds make fantastic compost, which could be sold to garden centres. Repackaged and re-branded, their waste now generates an income.
Of course, few businesses produce heaps of coffee grounds – though all sorts of organic waste can be turned into compost – but everyone can learn from GreenCup’s approach. Opportunities to up-cycle are especially common where you have a large amount of one waste product, especially if this requires costly collection, so be on the lookout for such items.
Even if you can’t transform waste into a marketable product, it’s worth investigating whether you could reclaim energy from it. Companies like Wood Waste Technology manufacturer waste to energy systems, such as wood waste heaters, that could cut your energy costs substantially. In some cases, the government’s Non-Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (7) may even help you meet the cost of installing renewable heat technologies.
Finally, and by far the simplest option, is to seek out a waste materials exchange. A materials exchange turns the old idiom one man’s waste is another man’s treasure into a profitable proposal, providing a platform to sell waste materials to other businesses. Find a local exchange (8) or list items online at sites like WasteWeb (9). Some goods, such as scrap metal, can go for hundreds or thousands of pounds per tonne.
Let the World Know
The last and most important step is to let the world know what you’re doing. Demonstrable environmental concern represents real value to customers: back in 2013, Cone Communication’s Green Trend Tracker found that a record-high 71 percent of consumers consider the environment when they shop.
Furthermore, if you’re operating internationally, increased environmental concern is a global phenomenon: Tetra Pak found last year that in India, China and Turkey, more than 60% of those surveyed look for environmental information on the beverage products they buy, or more than double that of the US or UK.
In short, publishing your results can help you outshine the competition and impassion customers. It’s this more than anything else that makes an environmental conscience profitable – not to mention that you’ll be saving the planet. The best approach is to publicise the milestones you’ve reached, rather than your actual results, as this will prevent backlash from variations in performance.
Last of all, sharing your results can help you attract the best young talent. According to the Deloitte Millennial Survey 2016, a staggering 87 percent of young workers believe a business should be measured in terms of more than just its financial performance, with a significant number citing the environment in particular. A successful and well-publicised environmental policy, incorporating effective waste management, can therefore do a great deal to ensure the ongoing success of your business.
About the author: Tom Brialey is the owner of Action Storage Systems, a specialist supplier, installer and stockholder of storage systems to suit warehouses, stockrooms, stores, garment hanging and in addition markets a wide range of lockers for secure storage of personal effects.
For further information about Action Storage Systems please visit: www.action-storage.co.uk