Sustainability managers, it's time to get trashy

Much of my focus on edieWaste centres around the waste producer – what companies and organisations are doing to design waste out of their operations. I use the word design because it's becoming less about recycling and recovery, and more about reduction and closing the loop.

To be a good designer, you need to look at things holistically and take a whole life cycle approach. This responsibility can't just fall on one person, or team – it needs to involve every stakeholder at every link of the supply chain and often the ultimate end-user; the consumer.

It doesn't take Einstein-like brains to realise how tough that type of challenge is. But I wonder just how clued-up corporate strategy is when it comes to drawing up a brief and laying down the right foundations for such a task to be realised.

Over the past few months, I have started approaching various companies to talk to them about their waste operations – from SMEs to the big blue chips. What I'm finding is that while corporate sustainability is very much at the forefront of their minds, often trying to find the right person at the frontline of waste is a muddled affair.

I often get put through to a general sustainability manager of some kind. They tend to be pretty media-savvy and have some polished one-liners which make for nice reading. I call it the glitz effect.  They know at a broad level what is going on with regards to their waste operations. But me, I'm after the detail – and that can be where it gets tricky for them.

I'm learning that to really have a handle on a waste producer's activities at the coalface, you also need to go and talk to the people that have some influence or impact on this from start to finish. The waste producer is just the middle man.

At the front-end, that's often the suppliers, many of whom are being tasked by their customers with ways to come up with more sustainable raw material substitutes or recycled packaging options. At the back-end, that's the contractors, reprocessors, recovery merchants – the guys that take the waste away and extract value from it.

Of course, time constraints and juggling deadlines mean this is not a feasible option for many a journalist. But perhaps sustainability managers could pool together some of this information and help us out. It's just a matter of thinking smarter. And getting their hands a bit dirty.

Follow me on twitter @rubbishrules

maxine perella

Topics: edie
Tags: | Corporate strategy | packaging | smes | supply chain
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