Posts Tagged ‘Sustainability’

Roughly this time last year, our business blog started to talk about the concept of zero waste, and highlighted the opportunities that moving to a zero waste society can create for businesses across Scotland. As we reach the final stage of the transition period I want to follow on from where that blog left off and talk about the exciting opportunities that the Scottish Government’s Zero Waste Plan creates for businesses.

The Zero Waste Plan highlights how we all have an important part to play in creating a zero waste society. It outlines how there is a need to maximise resource efficiency by reusing and recycling more things more often and it shows the environmental and economic advantages that can be created by promoting a Greener Scotland. Sustainability focuses on meeting the needs of today without compromising the needs for future generations, and the Zero Waste Plan outlines how a win win scenario can be created for businesses that look to reduce their costs by becoming more resource efficient.

Recent research shows that if Scottish businesses put some simple waste reduction measures in place, then there is the potential for them to save about 1% of their annual turnover.  That would equate to over £2 billion if all of Scotland’s businesses took the same approach. Iain Gulland, director of Zero Waste Scotland, said: “Businesses must overcome the perception that going green adds cost – the opposite is true. Those companies that have addressed their environmental performance with even small changes have measured savings in their bottom line.

Zero Waste Scotland is the delivery body that has been put in place to help deliver the Zero Waste Plan and help promote waste reduction behaviour across Scotland. This provides a wide range of advice for a variety of different groups including communities, individuals and businesses. There is a vast quantity of advice and assistance available to those businesses that are looking to take initial steps in promoting resource efficiency, as well as for those who are progressing nicely along their journey towards a more sustainable business.

The new Zero Waste Scotland website is full of information for both large and small businesses looking to reduce their waste and use resources more efficiently. Don’t take my word for it, check it out yourself.


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Arguments are useful, but only when resolved. Nothing is achieved in the middle, where bad feelings fester and compromise remains a distant island, invisible over the horizon. Only once agreement is reached, hands shaken and documents signed can the parties relax and begin to plan for their future.

Strange Bedfellows - but they get along.

This is as true in life as it is in business but it is in business that we often find the biggest arguments: those which impact on the wider community. Competition in business does not necessarily make for happy bedfellows and agreement can be extremely hard to reach as self-interest overrides the common good.

Happily we have evidence of a fine example of sharing: the Global Packaging Project (as reported in Packaging News). The project not only involves some of the biggest businesses on our planet but it is also for the purposes of protecting our planet, which is extremely positive. The businesses have got together in Toronto to thrash out the preliminary details of an agreement which will see them use shared language to describe how their packaging affects the environmental sustainability of their business. This is good news, not just for the companies, but also for the rest of us who will no doubt come to understand some of this language and therefore be able to compare the companies’ performance and make informed purchasing decisions. It really is remarkable to think that businesses throughout the world are recognising that the future of their business requires them to share knowledge, reach agreement and utilise new ways of thinking to survive and thrive in the 21st Century. How refreshing.

Let’s hope the agreement can be reached swiftly and the business’s energies can be directed towards making sure they not only use the language, but embody it in the way they operate.

What will change?

Big brands, retailers, manufacturers, suppliers and other organisations are discussing how to describe and define their packaging throughout the supply chain. This will change the terms they use and the way businesses up and down the supply chain have to think about the packaging they use. It will allow companies to measure their suppliers in a consistent, objective way. It will therefore also allow us to measure the businesses and make decisions about where we spend our hard-earned money.

You can find out more about current packaging initiatives on our Positive Package website.

Who’s involved:

Asda, Carrefour, Giant Eagle, Hannaford, Harris Teeter, Kroger, Marks & Spencer, Loblaw, Metro, Migros, Pick’n Pay, Royal Ahold, Safeway, Sam’s Club, Sobeys Inc, Supervalu, Target, Tesco Stores, Wal-Mart Canada, Wal-Mart, Wegmans

Beiersdorf, Campbell, Coca – Cola, Colgate – Palmolive, Conagra Foods, Danone, Fritolay, Freudenberg, General Mills, Inc, Glaxosmithkline, Heineken, Henkel, Johnson & Johnson, Kellogg, Kimberly-Clark Corporation, Kraft Foods, L’oreal, Mars, Mccormick & Company, Inc, Nestle Group, Pepsico, Procter & Gamble, Reckitt-Benckiser, Sara Lee, Sc Johnson, The Jm Smucker Company, Unilever

Packaging Converters & Material, Suppliers
Arcelormittal Packaging, Alcan Packaging, Ball Packaging Europe Holding, Crown Europe, Dow Chemical, Dupont, Exxonmobil Chemical Films, Mwv, Novelis, O-I, Owens Illinois Inc., Sca Packaging, Sealed Air Corporation, Tetra Pak

Aim, Canadian Council Of Grocery, Distributors, Europen, Fcpc – Pacc, Flexible Packaging Europe, Fmi, Gma, Gs1 Canada, Gs1 Global Office, Gs1 Us, Igd, Pac, The Consumer Goods Forum, The Sustainability Consortium, The Sustainable Packaging, Coalition, Wrap

Center For Sustainable Entreprise, Development, Environmental Clarity, Green Blue, Mckinsey, Quantis, Rochester Institute Of Technology, University Of Manchester.

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I’ve been writing about sustainable development as part of an Environmental Management course (get me!) and have therefore been reading lots of theory about what “sustainable” means, which inspired this post. I know from my work with Waste Aware Scotland that “sustainable” is often bandied around during discussions about the environment or the economy. We hear it so often it has almost become meaningless, a bit like “web 2.0”. But what does “sustainable” mean in an environmental context and why should any of us care?

On a superficial level “sustainable” means “something that can be maintained indefinitely” which is a sadly mechanical way of describing human activity. It misses the deeper significance of our society, in which we try and improve our lives and those of others. This is why “sustainable development” is such an important term; it recognises the limits of our environment yet acknowledges our desire for improvement. Yet it may also be a paradox: how do you always progress within a finite world?

Sustainable development as we understand it today was defined first by the Bruntland Commission in their 1987 “Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development.” This report suggested that sustainable development is development (generally understood to mean “improvement in quality of life”) which “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

It’s a useful definition as it shows that sustainability is about the long term (which of course it has to be) but it does beg the question of what are the “needs” of our present generation? Furthermore can you consider everyone in the world as one generation with the same needs? Clearly not. The Bruntland Commision’s definition cannot be (and perhaps was not meant to be) applied globally as the “needs of the present” differs greatly depending on who you are. My needs may be very different from Roman Abramovich’s needs or, indeed a Kalahari bushman’s needs. Who decides what our needs are anyway? Do they change as we develop? If you could strip away everything then all we theoretically need is a regular supply of porridge, the odd orange, clean water and a tent. But I suspect most of us wouldn’t consider it “development” if the UK government said “your needs are met”, plonked us in a big field full of teepees and asked us to peel oranges.

Do we need a global definition of sustainability or is it feasible to focus on a local level and simply say “what I do mustn’t impact on my children’s ability to do the same”? The problem with the latter is that we end up ignoring the impact of our activities on the wider environment. We run the risk of isolating ourselves and assuming that, because our well hasn’t run dry, it never will, so long as we only take from it what we need to survive. We forget that the well has a source, and the source might be a groundwater, and the level of the groundwater might be just about to fall dramatically as it gets drained by a local farming co-operative to irrigate their crops. For our activities to become truly sustainable we have to look outside our borders and consider the activities of everyone in the world. But how can we possibly define sustainability so broadly as to encompass everyone? How can we know what our impact is on a global basis? How can we be sure that everyone complies?

During my gap year in 1997 I lived in rural Kenya for four months, getting water from a well and putting my rubbish in a nearby hole in the ground. Incidentally our toilet was also a big hole in the ground. Was my life there truly sustainable? Not really: the hole in the ground (for the rubbish) was filling up and eventually we would have had to dig another one but with limited space we would have eventually run out of room. In one sense it was a sustainable lifestyle: having to physically drag water up from a well using a pulley meant that we recognised it as a scarce resource and used it sparingly. In another sense it was far from sustainable: no one can say that putting all your rubbish in a hole in your garden is a long term waste strategy. But if even the people of rural Africa are not living sustainably can there even be such a thing as a sustainable lifestyle? Could it be a pipe-dream? Certainly in the UK we are a long (loooong) way from achieving it.

Most of us recognise the absence of sustainability more readily than its presence, which might be because it is so hard to know when we have found it (or because it doesn’t exist). For example we know instinctively when we see (or do) something which could not be continued indefinitely (or done by everyone on the planet). Take driving. We know that oil will run out, that driving pollutes and we can be fairly certain that it contributes to a warming planet. Yet we, as a society, continue to support road use. And well we might. We wouldn’t get anywhere (literally) if roads were suddenly replaced with orchards. Although we might make some very nice cider. So we have a conundrum. Our needs will not be met if we stop driving, yet we cannot meet the needs of future generations if we carry on.

We see similar contradictions across many aspects of modern living, from shopping for luxuries to cooking more food than we can eat. We all know in our hearts that we are extremely lucky to be able to do these things (on top of being extremely lucky to have been born onto a planet which sustains life). We know that if every country on Earth lived as we did there wouldn’t be enough raw materials to make the luxuries or enough food to eat. Equally we know that future generations won’t be so lucky as luxuries don’t last forever and population growth in the world will reduce the amount of food available. Yet we don’t stop buying. We continue to waste food. We don’t recycle everything.

It looks bleak but there is a small bright spot on the horizon (or is it a smudge on the lens?): we are improving. Slowly but surely we are recycling more, using less energy and on a strategic level our Government is looking for ways to improve the infrastructure to allow for more renewable energy and to process more types of waste locally for recycling.

There might well be a way of meeting our needs (improving our quality of life) without unduly affecting the ability of others to do the same both around the world and in the future. There might be a template of a sustainable life which we can map onto our society. The funny thing is, we have no choice. We have to find a way of making this happen. Sustainability requires us to consider the long term impact of our actions because failure to do this will mean that our life will disappear. That doesn’t mean humans will die out, which would take some kind of apocalypse. What it means is that the marginal areas of the world will become inhabitable. Oil will no longer be available. Alternative forms of energy may not provide the amount of energy required to sustain such a large number of people on the planet. So the population will shrink. As it does so the strain on resource will also shrink. Eventually we will reach an equilibrium.

So sustainability is coming whether we like it or not. But does that mean we should do nothing and wait for change to be forced upon us? Of course not! There are many things we can do to manage that change and ensure a soft, rather than crash, landing. Whilst there are many things we cannot affect (which can be frustrating) there are also lots of things we can. Most of those involve our own actions and behaviour because, as individuals, we have the right to decide whether to seize the opportunities available to us. You can get involved at a local level by doing the basics: reduce, reuse, recycle. All you can really do is manage your own household and business waste sustainably and trust that others are doing the same. If you find it difficult to have trust then please remember: we see the stats every month and people and businesses are recycling more in Scotland every single day. Fact.

It is probably most commonly used as part of the term “sustainable development”, which, in itself,

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As picked up by several news websites today, Kimberly-Clark Professional (KCP) have launched a global campaign which aims to show customers that the overall sustainability of a product relates to more than just how it is packaged. KCP provide business to business products under brands such as Kleenex, Scott and Kleenguard.

KleenexA spokesperson from KCP said

It’s a complex issue and not just about having recycled packaging, but other things like water and energy consumption and the amount of waste generated too.

We look at being creative with our products, for example, a more absorbent wipe means you use fewer. That’s beneficial to the environment and the buyer, and we want to inform customers about the choices we make as a brand.

A cynical observer might comment that this sounds like someone looking for an excuse to avoid using recycled packaging. However, underneath the corporate sheen lies a valid and important point which relates to something fundamental underpinning our entire environmental effort: why we do it.

It’s certainly not for fun. Being a harbinger of doom is no one’s idea of a good time. The real reason that huge amounts of money, time and energy are being invested into these issues is to try and slow down, stop and ultimately reverse the effects of climate change which are irrefutably making this planet less safe for our species.

And how can we do this?

Very simply by eliminating carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The CO2 Cycle - we need to break it

The CO2 Cycle - we need to break it

I won’t go into all the ramifications for failing to do this with regards to water, food and habitat but it is too easily forgotten that all efforts towards sustainability are centred around this key issue.

Why am I making this rather elementary point now? Simply because, unless a change in product design or specification (or indeed any environmental initiative) actually leads to a reduction in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, it is pointless.

So using recycled packaging (or indeed product) by itself may be pointless. To be worthwhile it has to result in reduced carbon emissions. And that isn’t guaranteed just by being recycled. The entire manufacturing process, journey and disposal options of the packaging has to be examined to work out, through scientific and rigorous calculation, what CO2 impact it will have.

A topical example:

You run a toilet paper factory in Slough, UK. A sales person from the Shanghai Recycle-More Paper Processor (catchy name) calls to say that they produce reams of 100% recycled post-consumer paper waste and you can have it shipped and trucked to your toilet paper factory on a weekly basis. However, you’ve also just taken a call from a sales person from a local, well managed forest where the transport emissions are minimal and deforestation is a non-issue because of the sustainable re-planting policy by the forest. By using the local forest you also don’t have to consider the CO2 generated during the recycling process itself, which a true carbon footprint of recycled paper must do. Both are roughly the same price. Which do you go for?

In purely environmental terms, you need to consider which generates less CO2. In this case it is going to be the non-recycled material.

Mind you, how many toilet paper factories have a well managed forest on their doorstep? The likely reality is that careful measurement will be needed to determine the best source of materials.

This issue is especially complex when it comes to renewable sources of products and packaging such as paper and cardboard. Using these doesn’t necessarily reduce the overall availability of the material as they can theoretically be grown again (provided, again, that the source is well managed). Where the packaging is metal or oil derived (plastics and rubber) there is a very good chance that the recycled option is better, overall, than using virgin material. This is partly due to the massive energy consumption and waste generation from extracting these materials from the earth in the first place.

It is also a matter of clever design. By designing packaging in a way that allows more to be transported in each truck, you reduce the amount of fuel required per item. It sounds like common sense but I would be willing to bet that in the past half-empty or poorly-loaded pallets and lorries were a common feature on our roads. Fortunately this is one of those issues which, once resolved, both saves the business money and helps the environment: a win – win.

So, back to the original question of the post, does recycled packaging matter? The answer is yes but only if the business can demonstrate that it has led to an overall reduction in CO2 emissions. Otherwise it’s just an exercise in futility.

An exercise in futility...

An exercise in futility?

has been picked up on several news websiteshas been picked up on several news websites

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