How the ‘spirit’ of internal collaboration is reducing waste at Whitbread

EXCLUSIVE: Communication and innovation regarding waste reduction methods has become the "heart of corporate culture" at Whitbread, due to "extremely well aligned" managerial departments which collaborate internally, the company's procurement manager has claimed.

Speaking exclusively to edie ahead of next week’s edie Live exhibition (scroll down for details), Whitbread’s procurement manager for energy, waste and corporate services Barry Edwards has revealed that internal communication and an alignment of strategies has been a key driver in creating a vision for a circular economy business model.

“From the board-room strategies, to the target setting from the CSR team, all our conversations and plans filter down and it creates opportunities for numerous big programmes,” Edwards said. “The objectives between our procurement and CSR teams are extremely well aligned. In waste in particular, doing the right thing for the environment is usually the most cost effective solution.”

Whitbread, which owns brands such as Costa Coffee, hotelier Premier Inn and the Beefeater restaurants, is juggling numerous operational plans which attempt to reduce the waste volume of numerous resources including coffee beans, food waste and interior construction materials.

Employing 48,000 staff, Whitbread has had to ensure that any sustainability initiatives introduced to cut back on waste production can be embedded and understood by staff working within time-hungry departments.

“One size doesn’t fit all for our estates,” Edwards said. “The challenge is managing such a vast complexity of waste across a large-scale of sites and team members. The crucial thing is not to introduce procedures that are so complex that they become difficult to comply to.

“In a busy kitchen you don’t have time to read manuals on recycling, you need to be able to understand the concept straight away.”

Treasure troves

Whitbread, which uses colour-coded bins and easily readable diagrams to help promote recycling, recently unveiled the next phase of its sustainability journey – which revolves around an ambitious 80% recycling rate target.

But with Edwards admitting that “all the easy wins are gone”, Whitbread is beginning to explore data management insights and techniques in order to gain a greater understanding of its waste composition, and what can be done to promote recycling and a circular economy model.

“We need to target our resources and focus on the areas of waste that require the most urgent attention,” Edwards added. “Data insight will be critically important to achieving this goal.

“It’s about making sense of the data and using it to drive our decisions. The content of our bins is a treasure trove of information, and if we can find out the composition of this waste we can find out the root cause of its generation. We can then begin to segregate areas of waste and introduce closed-loop models to remedy the situation.”

Communicating sustainability

The use of data management to accelerate waste reduction methods will be aided by a solid foundation of previous initiatives. Edwards revealed that, as well as “most” of the food waste produced by Whitbread being sent to anaerobic digestion (AD) plants to be converted into biofuel, the company is also incorporating a mixed-recycling process that sees cardboard reprocessed and coffee bean sacks from Costa converted into carpet tiles for Premier Inns.

Edwards noted that the use of AD plants and recycling facilities – despite recent closures – were becoming the more cost-effective option when compared to sending waste to landfill. The falling costs, combined with the uptake of recycling, are the prime examples for how Whitbread is communicating sustainability within its various departments.

“You need a spirit of collaboration and innovation to bring about new ways of working,” Edwards concluded. “You can’t work in silos so you need to reach out across disciplines, but we design different solutions for different aspects of the business. It varies from hotels to cafes.

“We’re looking at where the opportunities are to close the loop and what bespoke designs can be introduced to maximise recycling rates. It’s part of our culture and its gaining widespread acceptance as a result.”

Barry Edwards at edie Live

Barry Edwards will be speaking on the Resource Efficiency Theatre at edie Live next week, discussing the benefits of a circular economy approach, alongside associates from Veolia and Tech UK.

If you manage your company’s energy, sustainability, environmental or corporate responsibility, then two days at edie Live will give you a free pass to all the learning, peer-to-peer networking, innovative suppliers and inspiration you need to drive sustainability through your organisation.

View the full edie Live agenda and register to attend for free here.

Matt Mace

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie