The ‘resource currency’: Pushing sustainability higher up the corporate agenda

Recently, I was lucky enough to be invited to speak at the edie Sustainability Leaders Forum. Everyone I spoke to was passionate about pushing sustainability up the agenda in their respective boardrooms so for me, this was an ideal opportunity to engage with businesses which have already bought into the sustainability concept, but who feel they can make an even greater difference in the way their businesses think and operate.

The ‘resource currency’: Pushing sustainability higher up the corporate agenda

Waste and recycling has long since been viewed as a ‘back office’ function, a function firmly sat in the cart before the proverbial horse. My overarching objective is to see waste reduction and responsible resource management as the guiding reins on that horse, whereby sustainability is central to value creation and the very purpose of that business. A strong sustainability strategy represents the body of the organisation and its purpose acts as its beating heart. In an ideal world, there should be no need to link environmental targets to the wider corporate strategy because they should already be an integral part of that strategy; a truly sustainable business measures the value it generates against the triple bottom line and not just its P&L.

Changing the language we use to talk about waste and recycling can significantly impact what we do.  Businesses are missing out on commercial, social and environmental opportunities to demonstrate purpose and create brand equity because they are using outdated language specifically the word and concept of ‘waste’.  Material only becomes waste when an organisation neglects to realise its value, until that point it is a resource. Within the circular economy, everyone has a duty of care for that resource, not just the Facilities Management Department which understandably, is generally focussed on cost rather than ‘value’.  Simply re-tendering and swapping your waste management contractor merely changes the personalities and service schedules – it does not change the outcome. Negotiating a preferential price does not always deliver an improved cost over term and almost never realises the potential value that a business could derive by fundamentally changing its processes as part of a holistic review under ‘purpose’.

There are three key tenements on which sustainability should be built: Commercial, social and environmental and Adidas’ recent collaboration with Parley is a practical demonstration on how this shared value can be delivered upon. They have injected ocean plastics into the supply chain and transformed it into high performance sportswear or, in their own words, “Spinning the problem into a solution. The threat into a thread.” 

The products have been successful commercially, have had a positive social impact by cleaning up communities blighted by ocean waste (fishing, for example) and environmentally – limiting pressure on primary resources. 

I firmly believe that the currency of resource management can ultimately be stronger than the currency of waste management. This concept of shared value can be leveraged to produce a more robust business case for investment as initiatives aligned to purpose can be measured against the three indexes as opposed to the singular commercial index. The most powerful first step a business can take towards developing a strategy with purpose is to stop managing waste (indeed managing waste is the measure of failure) and to start managing resources responsibly.

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