The discussion around sustainability and taking greater responsibility for the waste we generate has become much louder in recent years. However, the conversation has been primarily driven by consumers concerned about their carbon footprint – until now.
This year’s World Economic Forum – which took place on 21-24 January in Graubunden, Switzerland – showed that waste management has become a global, high level issue, with business leaders seriously considering the way in which they can cut their commercial refuse.
Climate concerns are a critical issue
Climate change was a central discussion point at the 2020 World Economic Forum, with young activist Greta Thunberg calling out big business for failing to protect the world for the next generation. Additionally, General-Secretary of the UN, Antonio Guterres, warned that “humankind has declared a war on nature and nature is striking back in a very violent way,” in light of the recent Australian bush fires.
But speakers at the conference weren’t just recognising climate change as a critical issue; they were looking at ways in which we can address our behaviours, to reduce the impact of human activity on the environment.
Business plays a big role in protecting the environment
Following the event, analyst McKinsey & Company put together an interesting review of the World Economic Forum, in which they noted that leaders’ attitudes to the impact of business on climate change has shifted even in the last twelve months.
Kevin Sneader, global managing partner at McKinsey, shared that he had spoken to many company bosses about their attitude to the environment, noting “the leaders I spoke with are thinking about the problem in new and creative ways. They are taking a clear-eyed look at what is driving their carbon footprints, beginning to quantify the cost of inaction, and asking how they can accelerate positive change in a way that fits within their core business agenda.”
In fact, the World Economic Forum unveiled some new initiatives to help the corporate sector exercise greater environmental responsibility, including UpLink, a platform for entrepreneurs to suggest solutions to climate damaging behaviour, and plans to restore, conserve and grow one million trees across the world.
Positive change starts from within
But while the cutting-edge solutions outlined at the World Economic Forum might seem light years away for the average CEO, there is plenty that business of all sizes can do to increase sustainability in their organisation.
Many companies have already launched waste-cutting initiatives, including:
- Becoming as paperless as possible by digitising paper forms and systems
- Increasing the number of video calls to reduce travel emissions
- Allowing employees to work from home once a week to save commuting miles
- Making sure all electrical equipment is turned off when not in use, and that lights are routinely switched off in communal kitchens and meeting rooms when empty
Additionally, business leaders are encouraging employees to look at their own behaviours, to cut down on waste and make sure any refuse produced is disposed of correctly.
Every recycled item counts
One of the most powerful things that companies can do to impact climate change is to get staff using less environmentally-harmful packaging, such as single use plastic, and make sure that no recyclable items are put into black bag waste.
Repak research, commissioned in Ireland, found that if every person recycled one more plastic item a week than they currently do, 250 million more plastic items would be recycled rather than thrown into waste each year in Ireland alone. If every person worldwide followed suit, the global environmental impact would be significant.
Company bosses can lead this trend by providing separated recycling and general waste bins on their work premises, and also appointing members of staff to encourage recycling initiatives involving all team members.
Combining personal responsibility with effective waste management
In addition to making recycling commonplace in the workplace, businesses can support better waste management protocol by ensuring that all commercial refuse is disposed of correctly.
While local authorities arrange the actual collections – either through their in-house team or outsourcing collections to a private provider – as pillars of the community, company bosses can work with council representatives to ensure they have an effective commercial waste management contract in place.
Equally, if things aren’t going according to plan, businesses should put pressure on local authorities to reach a rapid solution – in order to keep rubbish off the street, being disposed of or recycled in the correct manner to provide the most sustainable solution possible.
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