Speak to five different businesses and you’ll get five different definitions of ‘sustainability’. For us at Waste to Wonder, the best definition is ‘making things last’.
Of course, that applies to the furniture and equipment that we save and redistribute every day. But it also applies to energy and resources we consume, and the planet we call home.
What does sustainability mean to you?
How you address sustainability will vary from business to business, industry to industry. Your focus might be on products or services that are inherently good for the planet. Or you might try to bring sustainability into your daily practices in other, less direct ways.
Trade, industry, farming, manufacturing, construction, waste management – these are the sectors where the way you use heat, light, agricultural land, or natural materials makes a huge impact on the planet.
But what about less resource-intensive sectors like offices and retailers? If you don’t have heat energy or fossil fuels to cut back on, how do you do your part?
For the vast majority of our clients and partners, protecting the planet revolves around:
1. Waste reduction and recycling. This means firstly cutting down on waste (e.g. going paper free), secondly reusing things (e.g. crockery and glass instead of plastic cups/cutlery), and thirdly recycling everything you can (e.g. seperate bins or partnering with TerraCycle). If you can’t reuse something, could someone else benefit?
2. Creating second life products. Rather than shipping your products in plastic, can you ship them in boxes your customers can reuse? Instead of disposable packaging, can your tubs or bottles turn into something else once they’re empty? Could you create a circular system where your customers send their packaging back to be refilled?
3. Buildings management. This involves the intelligent management of heating, lighting, computing, and electricity. This might involve switching to sensor lights, LED bulbs, or more efficient heating systems. Simple things like keeping doors closed can help too.
At which point does sustainability come in?
Huge focus is placed on managing waste at the end of the chain. But it’s imperative that we look at the entire lifecycle of our products. Prevention is better than cure. Sometimes, some radical out-of-the-box thinking is needed to completely reevaluate how we do business.
Although responsible disposal is important, we need to start right at the beginning: at the raw materials we use, where they come from, and the people, animals, and natural environments they either benefit or hurt.
Because everything is connected, if it’s hurting one of those groups, it’s likely hurting all of the others in some way.
What does being carbon neutral actually mean?
Being carbon neutral means offsetting as much carbon as you produce. Everything we do that involves fossil fuels (heating our offices, fuelling our vehicles, producing plastic) has a carbon omission (or footprint).
Some emissions are unavoidable. To be carbon neutral, a company needs to remove carbon from the atmosphere in other ways. This might be switching to renewable energy, supporting conservation or anti-deforestation projects, or planting trees.
Of course, it’s much harder if you don’t own your business premises. You can’t just go ahead and plant a mini forest in the carpark or install solar panels on the roof. But carbon neutrality always starts with reduction – how can you reduce your waste, consumption, and energy outputs in order to get closer to that zero.
Your impact on consumer behaviour
A 2021 study by Deloitte has shown that a third of consumers go out of their way to choose more sustainable and ethical brands. 28% stopped purchasing through certain brands because they were concerned about their sustainability policies.
61% had cut back on single use plastics in 2021, and 45% had bought more locally produced goods.
When those who hadn’t adopted a more sustainable lifestyle were asked why, 22% cited a lack of interest. This means 78% of consumers are interested, there are just roadblocks in the way, like perceived expense, lack of information, and lack of belief they can make a difference.
This is a huge consumer group that’s ripe for converting. The way you speak about your practices (and how prominently on your website and across all of your communications), the better equipped your buyers are to make good choices. Education should form a key part of your marketing activity. Your message can’t be buried in a back page of your website or a huge PDF policy that no one will bother to download. It has to be first and foremost, engaging, and easily accessible.
A few more terms to be aware of, and how to use them
Biodegradable: This means something can be broken down and returned to the natural environment, like plants. However, many plastics claiming to be biodegradable actually last much longer than stated, and result in microplastics ending up in our soils and seas. The term is often used to make products and companies seem more eco-friendly than they are. Instead, try…
Bio-based: This simply means something is made from natural fibres like hemp or seaweed rather than plastic.
Environmentally friendly: this is a vague term that doesn’t qualify exactly how something is safe or kind to the environment. The same goes for…
Eco-friendly: try using more specific terms like carbon neutral, 100% recycled, or sustainably sourced.
Green: this is another catchall term for ‘environmentally friendly’. But it doesn’t have much substance, so beware of…
Greenwashing: where companies either pretend or infer their practices are sustainable.
Sustainability in your business will soon be a non-negotiable rather than a nice-to-have. To continue building confidence in our green credentials as an economy, we need to standardise our language so that our customers, and clients have more understanding and can make more informed decisions.
Nearly 60% of young people are “very worried” about climate change. These generations are our future consumer bases. Showing them we care is best for business as well as best for the planet.
Speak to us at Waste to Wonder for a simple but highly effective way to reduce your office clearance waste, offset your carbon footprint, and do wonders for those in poorer nations who otherwise go without.
Are you looking for an ethical clearance provider?
We are office clearance specialists for socially conscious businesses. If you have an upcoming clearance project in the UK or Europe that you would like to see benefit communities, please get in touch to see how we can manage it for you.