When it comes to burnishing your company’s brand and cleaning is footprint, the efforts center on reducing, reusing and recycling nearly every material in the shop. That’s a key point that ISS’ head of global sustainability Dan Gilbert made at Environmental Leader’s conference in a session held Tuesday on corporate sustainability.
The ultimate aim, he said, is to create “zero waste,” which can mean eliminating anywhere between 90 percent and 100 percent of what it is that your company is putting into landfills. The last 10 percent, he emphasized, is where the real work is. To get there, businesses should be measuring and managing their waste streams, and reporting their progress at least on a quarterly basis.
“What is the cost of recycling versus putting it in the trash,” Gilbert told the audience, at the conference held in Denver, which continues through Thursday. “If you save money, your corporate leadership is more likely to get behind the initiative.”
While many sustainability efforts require an upfront investment in time and resources, they build rapport in communities and among customers. Some examples:
Computers would be the worst thing to toss in the landfill, says Gilbert. That’s because they have an “encyclopedia of metals” that can leach into the ground water system. Other things that businesses can recycle include office supplies, office equipment, boxes, shelving and racks. Furthermore, cement, asphalt, wood, carpet, pellets and drywall can be recycled or reused.
The companies that accept those items might pay the corporate donor for the materials that will ultimately go into new products. If a mobile phone is built from recycled parts, it prevented waste from going into the landfill and it has created a perfectly good use of still viable parts.
Companies with in-house cafeterias, furthermore, can compost their food waste rather than ditch it in the trash.
“Food waste is heavy and it breaks down and creates methane,” says Gilbert. Instead, it can be composted and that enriches the soil. Things like plastic scraps, tableware and coffee cups can also be eco-friendly — meaning they are biodegradable and can be turned into compost.
Every business can take steps to be more environmentally friendly. One of the quickest ways to do so is to create separate bins for the recyclables and the real trash — but not to mix the two. Doing so, says Gilbert, could taint the bottles, plastics and papers. And a “single-stream” deposit in which everything goes into one bin is better than having different ones for different items.
As for the businesses that have to invest in the the bins: “It’s hard enough to get them to buy one, much less four or five of them,” says Gilbert. A central place to put all recyclables is therefore the best solution. Having trouble finding a vendor to pick up such items? Start with the company that picks your trash, Gilbert said. And if that doesn’t work, get on line and look for one.
He points to a Utah State University audit that found 20-40 percent of the stuff that goes into the trash could be recycled.
Your company should be asking, “what did we recycle and what did we dispose of,” says Gilbert. “And get it down to a level of visibility,” and moreover, educate the employees about why these efforts are being taken.