The Sustainability Journey: It is not so hard, really

Sustainability is new, complicated and like any other journey at the outset looks daunting. It can also be an adventure which will broaden your understanding of the world we live in and change some of your ideas fundamentally. It all depends on how you approach it.

There is no doubt that implementing sustainable practices in a business is complicated. It involves changing business operations and mindsets. The operations may be the easier of the two. Getting people to change old habits is harder.

Sustainability is the new business buzzword in recycling and it may seem daunting but in honest truth, it’s all in the mindset.

To take a topical example; imagine a small, textile mill which for years has been selling quality garments into a niche market. The business is successful and has a good reputation. The problem is some of the clients are starting to ask where and how the products are made.

Fortunately, it is not as bad as those businesses which grow the material – say cotton – in one country and then send it to another country – say Vietnam – for manufacture. Only to import is again. None of those practices are sustainable in terms of anything except cost. The use of water for growing and dyeing and the carbon footprint incurred in the transport is horrendous. And contrary to sustainable principles.

Nevertheless, the textile mill has a problem which is affecting its market and which it needs to do something about. THE CEO decides to become more sustainable and so the journey begins. The first problem is where to begin. The mills looms are old, energy inefficient and costly to replace. He decides to defer that until the economy has improved.

The material the products are made of come from farms where he suspects the labour is treated badly, has inadequate housing and poor working conditions and are paid the bare minimum. These farmers have, however, been loyal suppliers and have contributed to the success of the business for many years. That is another fight best left until later.

Overthinking sustainability is what we (at Smart Waste) have found to be the biggest obsitcale to sustainability

In desperation, the CEO hires a consultant who takes the business on a path, which takes time and may or may not yield results. Frustrated he gives up and defers the entire process. The starting point is usually simpler – manage what you can control.

A major problem with implementing sustainable practices – in our experience –, is that the party involved either overthinks it or tries to do it all at once. A better approach might be to develop a plan, set realistic goals and undertake the journey at a realistic pace. It is all about the implementation, which is where a lot of companies come unstuck.

The things which the CEO can control are the marketing, the practices and culture of the staff and the waste management. The first priority should be to change the culture of the staff. This requires training the staff and getting them to understand the need and urgency to change the company culture to one which is more sustainable.

This is, in itself, a journey involving providing the information in a usable format, having someone spend time training staff and obtaining their buy-in. Goals will need to be agreed upon together with a timeline. Once the goals start to be achieved champions will start to appear and a culture of sustainable practices and thinking will start to take root.

Waste management is in itself an evolving field. What was not recyclable last year can now be reused or recycled. The whole process, starting with generating the minimum waste, changing materials and packaging, collecting and measuring the results have become more scientific. The results can be seen in lower landfill costs, increased recycling and a smaller carbon footprint. Which translates into greener credentials and an independent certification for stakeholders. This is a more sustainable business.

There is no single solution, however, there are well-proven solutions and strategies. If implemented with the correct mindset there will be results. You may take a wrong turn or two but if you stick with it you will shortly be on a more sustainable path.

If you need some advice you can always call Smart Waste, we have helped others along the way.

Recycle Reg
Smart Waste

Picture: Shutterstock