John D. Rockefeller once said: “Next to doing the right thing the most important thing is to let people know you are doing the right thing” and this statement holds true for the UK waste management sector. The environmental and commercial benefits of recycling and effective resource management are pretty much universally recognised but there are additional opportunities that we often fail to develop.
One benefit that is often overlooked is the potential for organisations to build brand value through their environmental endeavour. Businesses often go to great lengths to develop systems that will both control their waste management costs and improve their environmental performance. But the majority still fail to leverage the opportunity that this presents to differentiate themselves from their competitors and to develop a new and engaging dimension to their brand.
M&S are one of the best exponents of this in the UK but the reality is that you don’t need to be one of the UK’s biggest and best known retailers to do it. Businesses of any size can take an approach to developing their waste and recycling plan, which sets out to generate as much environmental brand collateral as possible. I am also confident that any business open-minded enough to set this as their primary objective will, by default, end up with the most commercially and environmentally sustainable solution possible.
To really develop this potential, we need to review how most waste management systems are procured. Most of us now look at waste as a valuable secondary resource and not as something we simply throw away. We recognise this material has both a commercial and environmental value and will play an increasingly important role in building more sustainable supply chains. But when it comes to procuring new waste services the reality often fails to reflect this ambition. There certainly hasn’t been the same level of innovation in the procurement of waste and recycling services that there has for other ‘higher profile’ services. Tender processes are still driven by pricing waste in the most unimaginative way e.g. cost per bin per lift.
The problem really starts when businesses take the position that they are just going to review or replace an existing service. From this point on the whole process becomes extremely limiting. It immediately focuses attention on operational detail rather than the desired outcomes and how the business may utilise those outcomes to its benefit. The reality is that the only way to take a significant step forward and to secure sustainable value is to change our mind-set. We need to get away from immediately focusing on services and implementation and to start by think about what we would like to achieve. In doing this we can start to think about some meaningful and challenging objectives, which will enable us to deliver real change.
Taking a starting point of wanting to deliver as much brand value as possible is just one way that a change in thinking can help us take a more holistic and effective view of how we manage these resources. This in turn will hopefully encourage contracts that support the development of genuine partnerships and innovation, which are capable of delivering improved environmental performance and substantially lower costs over the lifetime of the contact. Still further, if we can avoid material ever going in to a bin then perhaps it never becomes waste and by default we’ll view and manage it in a far more positive fashion.
The Investors in Zero Waste scheme recognises good practice in the field of sustainable resource and waste management. Visit the website for more information.