How businesses and consumers can lead the way in reducing waste
With so many major environmental issues resulting from pollution, it’s easy to feel that one person’s actions won’t make a difference. Supermarkets still use excess packing on fruits and vegetables. Governments struggle to find a way to make clean energy the norm. Countries like China have now stopped accepting our mountains of rubbish. If the big guns can’t get it right, why should we bother repairing, reducing or recycling anymore?
As the environmental warning signs get louder and louder, more of us are stopping to take notice. And when we do open our eyes to the damage being done to our world, we start to reflect on how blind we were to let it get that way.
None of us wants the world to be destroyed, but not all of us know how to repair it. All revolutions start with individuals who work together for a common purpose and the environmental revolution is no different. Across the globe, individuals, communities, organisations and governments are finding ways to halt or reverse environmental damage at a local level. As more people do this, the compound effect increases and that’s where you can come in.
- Any piece of clothing that you’re wearing now has probably circumnavigated the world twice before you’ve even bought it, due to the different fibres and components that were used.
- As leaders, we need to consider whether something is the right thing to do ahead of whether it is legal. We can’t keep making decisions based on money alone.
- The reality is your organisation will exist to make money, because that’s what business does. How you make it and how you can influence others further down your supply chain can also be helpful.
- Ultimately, from the mess that we’re creating, they (our children) are the ones who are going to have to come up with some pretty creative solutions to start to turn (the waste problem) around.
- Be patient. Microchip your way to the end goal of change. Communication is the key. You get much more cut-through when you change your language to fit what others are wanting to do. It is better than simply expecting people to understand you.
- Many people are not aware of the little things they do that are already making a difference, for example, choosing to use reusable coffee cups or to avoid plastic bottles.
- It’s not business’s job to do everything on its own. It’s the consumer. It’s the investor. It’s the government. It’s whatever. In other words, it’s all of us.
We can all make a difference
As part of their speaker series ‘Change’, Florence Guild hosted the panel discussion ‘New sustainability — no more business as usual’ with leading Australian sustainability campaigners, Tamara DiMattina, Tonia Bastyan and Olivia Tyler.
Tonia Bastyan is a circular design expert, creative director and founder of Conscious Swim, a sustainable fashion brand for children’s swimwear. Bastyan also provides sustainability consultation services through her consultancy Chalk Redesign.
Olivia Tyler is an ‘in-house sustainability person’, having worked for many corporates over the last 18 years. Tyler is also an engineer, scientist, TED speaker and the Director of Sustainable Business Services at Westpac Group.
All three actively incorporate sustainable practices throughout their businesses and help others to do so in the process.
During the panel discussion, the three addressed how the term ‘sustainability’ can be very polarising and can mean different things to different people. They believe education about the issues and the impacts of our actions is crucial. Australia has many great resources in this area, but we are still far behind where we need to be.
Where do we start?
DiMattina, Bastyan and Tylor discussed many ways that organisations can take a global problem and work towards overcoming it at a local level. The first step is often to pay attention to the insights coming from your customers and investors. Their choices show what’s important to them. While some may not care and may remain driven by the bottom line, others will be asking more questions about things like your supply chain, your waste management and your corporate social values. Find out what they are looking for and do your best to provide it.
“The more that highly aware consumers start pulling (the market) from the top and buying responsible niche products, the more that mainstream brands pay attention and then it becomes mainstream.”
Once you have an idea of the areas where you can make changes, prioritise them and tackle the most pressing ones first. You don’t have to completely overhaul your business model, just start with the areas where you can make the most impact now and work from there. Targeting your actions is far more effective than trying to take on too much at once.
There are numerous organisations you can look to for examples of how to change your business practices in a positive way. Many of these are certified as B Corporations, which means they are legally required to demonstrate how they balance purpose and profit through their social and environmental performance.
While your organisation may not be in a position to receive B Corp certification yet, learning what’s required and studying the leaders in the field will help you set goals and learn how to improve your impact over time.
The Australian Institute for Corporate Responsibility (AICR) provides organisations of all sizes with a vast range of resources to help them establish and maintain high-quality corporate responsibility programs. You will find these on the Our Community website.
What can individuals do?
During their panel discussion, DiMattina, Bastyan and Tylor shared many practical tips that all of us can do to help build sustainability locally and globally, such as:
- Think about what you are buying. Read the product information to see where it came from and what it’s made out of then make some informed decisions about what you are buying into.
- Ask questions of brands. Ask them why they use specific materials instead of more sustainable ones.
- If you work for someone else, don’t leave it to others to lead the way. You can do it in whatever you are doing – even if it is just putting the right stuff in the right recycling bin. Every employee can contribute at every level.
- Look for others in your organisation with similar views to you and start a conversation about sustainable practices.
- Check out the policies of your banks and energy companies. Support the companies that are doing the right thing.
“It’s not about a few people in the world doing zero waste or sustainability perfectly. It’s about everybody doing it imperfectly … we all have to do what we can, where we are with what we’ve got.”
Olivia’s Linkedin: Olivia Tyler
This episode forms part of our 2019 series narrative, ‘Change’ which is based on the premise that change is not inherently good or bad, but it is inevitable. The series’ speakers will explore such questions as “How do we keep up with change?”, “How do we face it?”, “Is it possible to manage it?” and “How are these changes affecting the future?”.
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