OPINION: Over recent years, discussions about ESG have grown considerably. From swathes of lofty carbon-neutral targets to emerging investigations into ‘greenwashing’, never has business sustainability been so high on the agenda.
And in 2021, the government announced the planned introduction of new sustainability disclosure requirements (SDRs) that will require all major corporations in the UK to deliver far more rigorous climate reporting.
This change will create an integrated framework to bring together sustainability reporting and require a higher standard of sustainability consideration for businesses across the country. It reflects a renewed emphasis not just on making ESG commitments, but actually putting in place the real measures to reach those targets.
Just talking about sustainability isn’t good enough – it won’t wash with the public, or the government. Businesses must be prepared to take action.
That’s why Axil Integrated Services recently commissioned independent research into the progress businesses are making towards reaching their sustainability targets, and the challenges they are facing along the way.
The findings are surprising. Just 24% of the companies surveyed have a clear path to achieving their sustainability goals, and only 26% have an ESG plan in place.
That’s not to say that most businesses don’t want to the right thing. Our research shows that, despite good intentions, businesses struggle when it comes to putting the right processes in place.
In other words, it’s about moving from knowing what to do, to knowing how to do it.
It’s hard to understate the impact waste has on the environment.
According to the Office for National Statistics, commercial and industrial waste accounts for roughly a fifth (19%) of all waste generation in the UK. That’s more than every household combined and is only set to increase.
When it comes to meaningful action towards ESG plans, a considered approach to waste management will have a significant impact.
That’s why the government has already indicated that it intends to work with regulators and local authorities to encourage more action across the waste hierarchy to prevent waste from ending up in landfill. By 2035, it has committed to an ambitious, but achievable, 65% municipal recycling rate.
Businesses have a clear role to play in meeting this target. One way they are acting on these commitments is with zero-to-landfill policies.
This can feel like a grand ambition. And without a rigorous plan in place, zero-to-landfill targets can, and do, fall by the wayside. But businesses that are prioritising their waste management processes are seeing encouraging results.
For example, the London Electric Vehicle Company (LEVC) is working to achieve a zero-to-landfill policy by considering waste management across the full spectrum of its business activities (see quote below).
“Sustainability and protecting the environment has been a cornerstone of LEVC’s growth strategy over the last five years. From our roof to our roots, our factory and all its processes have been designed to be green, meaning that our vehicles are both sustainable and sustainably built.”
Marketing & communications director at LEVC
A holistic strategy means considering every aspect of waste production, allowing a business to back up their ESG targets with real, impactful action.
It’s about your customers
Of the most important factors for companies looking to make sustainable improvements, consumer attitudes towards sustainability ranked as the top priority. In fact, 40% of businesses point to growing customer expectations as the main driver for change.
And, according to Deloitte, nearly three-tenths (28%) of consumers claim to have stopped purchasing certain brands or products because they had an ethical or sustainable concern about them.
Doing the right thing isn’t just a moral decision anymore: it’s a business one.
Businesses that can prove they have a serious commitment to managing their waste will retain the loyalty of their ever-more discerning customers.
And customer loyalty will inevitably lead to more impactful, longer term economic incentives for your business.
A change of perspective
Treating waste sustainability relies on a circular economy: one that prioritises the recycling and reusing of products, parts, and materials, instead of needlessly disposing them.
This allows for less wasteful business practices, recouping on important profit margins. And according to research by REBus, recycling activities that contribute to a circular economy could deliver a potential gross valued added gain of £77 billion to the UK economy by 2030.
But more can be done. From our research, less than half (48%) of UK companies say they receive recycling rebates – a powerful financial incentive that should be capitalised on.
Even simple changes like this can have a positive environmental impact because they encourage a more strategic approach to producing and managing waste.
We must treat waste not as a burden to dispose of, but as a valuable resource that can provide significant benefit to businesses when properly managed.
In doing so, we can back up our sustainability ambitions with real, meaningful action, and make the environmental change we all need to see.