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We operate in more than 50 countries around the world. If your country is not on the list, please refer to our global contacts.

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News
waste-blog-464

Waste – hero or villain?

It’s 2020 and a New Decade; sustainability is top of mind for many organisations. Imagine if businesses removed their commitments to recycling from annual reports? Ian Baxter, Managing Director of ISS UK Waste Management provides thought-provoking insights on the role of waste management
There can be little debate around the overall increase in awareness of climate change and impacts upon the natural environment. The announcement by Collins Dictionary that their word of the year for 2019 was ‘climate strike’ was confirmation that the topic of sustainability is in transition from an area of specialist interest into part of popular culture.  

A survey in Autumn 2019 by Ipsos Mori confirmed that climate change is a concern which occupies the minds of around 80% of the workplace*. Such is the change, that even our current Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has recognised that he cannot afford to be pictured with a disposable coffee cup or water bottle.

It’s an undeniable fact that most of the products we want are derived from some type of source material. We either continue to find and deplete new natural materials, or (re) use what we have. If we take the latter route, the question then is; Do we rely on mining old landfills or do we manage existing and future waste streams more effectively and use the resulting material more sensibly?

At ISS we have the privilege of an extensive data warehouse which allows us to measure the weights of waste per capita across our client estates and various sectors. Over several years we have seen the waste benchmarks for offices drop from a high of 8.5kg per FTE per week to a more typical 3kg. Some workplaces have changed so dramatically through the adoption of digital technology that they now generate as little as 1.5kg of waste per FTE per week. It’s safe to say, that the zero-waste workplace is within our collective grasps which is of course a positive contribution towards the powerful challenges, but is this what our clients and their end-users really want?

The facilities management market finds itself in the crosshairs of client environmental strategies as across our industry we influence goods purchased, infrastructure installation and maintenance, services delivered, and workplace experiences. Each of these areas of activity have in some way a consequential impact or benefit to our client’s environmental performance and in this current climate, to their brand internally and externally. Clients who enjoy the benefits of large-scale integrated outsourcing find themselves in an easier position to enable their environmental strategies as they are dealing with one organisation on the surface who are more readily placed to collaborate. 

In terms of waste, it has pivotal role to play in workplace engagement as it is the most accessible aspect of the climate change narrative from a day-to-day perspective; therefore an aspect of service delivery which represents an opportunity for employees and organisations to demonstrate awareness and commitment to sustainability.  And this leads to the debate of whether to focus on recycling using circular economic principles or to prioritise the elimination of waste. 

Take away the circular recycling solution and replace it with a zero-waste solution and of course you remove that conscious individual act of positively contributing towards the climate emergency.  The growth of Awareness Days/Weeks such as National Recycling Week are testament to the growing desire by individuals and organisations to be part of the sustainability solution.

Current thinking blends both zero waste opportunities with waste solutions which are transparent, circular, and enhance the workplace experience for all employees. Transitioning spend from waste disposal and linear recycling to sustainable workplaces which support circular economy and empower positive workplace engagement is a key priority. Achieving this transformation is certainly not an overnight process but it enables organisations to confidently demonstrate a commitment to sustainability whilst balancing some of the more traditional needs of the workplace. Two key areas which are being tackled to enable the desired outcomes are simplification of the wastes by streamlining solutions such as food and drink, and of course supply chain with the wider adoption of reverse logistics and stricter governance of suppliers.

Back to the initial statement/question; If organisations were to remove their commitments to recycling from annual reports, would they risk an adverse judgement? Perhaps the question should be: “Do we need to perpetuate the generation of the right kind of waste to provide the opportunity for positive action and representation of organisational values? And what are the alternative metrics which demonstrate commitment to sustainability and achieving net-zero?”

Measurements of success continue to develop with a gentle balance of recycling, circularity and minimisation being developed within individual organisations, but this is proving an area of positive progress. Above all else though, and most importantly, organisations are developing solutions which are reflective of the sentiments being generated around climate change - and of course climate strike – giving the workplace an opportunity to positively contribute and be reassured that their employer is working towards being net zero.

*Ipsos MORI survey

First published in i-fmnet.com: https://www.i-fm.net/comment/waste-hero-or-villain

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