Creating wealth from waste

Gudrun Cartwright, environment director, Business in the Community, on how to get smarter at using resources on our finite planet

Today, 1 August, marks the point in 2018 when we have used up more from nature than our planet can renew in a year. It is known as Earth Overshoot Day and since the 1970s, when we went into ecological overshoot, it has been creeping forward at an alarming rate.  

Global Footprint Network calculates Earth Overshoot Day by comparing global biocapacity (the amount of ecological resources Earth is able to generate that year) against humanity’s Ecological Footprint (humanity’s demand for ecological resources for that year). The shortfall in resources is then used to calculate the date on which we have used up our global biocapacity, the day we go in to Overshoot. The impact of our overuse is widespread; deforestation, water scarcity, food shortages, climate change, and fuel scarcity. Our current model of prosperity is accelerating this huge ecological overshoot and affecting the environment’s ability to support businesses and communities.

Traditional business models are inherently wasteful; taking natural resources, using them and then throwing them away at the end of their ‘useful’ life. At Business in the Community, we are working with businesses to find new ways to create commercial, economic and social value by addressing critical environmental challenges. We aim to move towards a society that values our natural resources; identifying ways to eliminate waste and find new ways to create wealth that builds the ability of our environment to support healthy communities with successful businesses at their heart. Nestle UK, 2018 winners of the Environmental Sustainability Responsible Business Award, reported that: “Business growth and resource efficiency go hand in hand, being more efficient reduces our dependency on limited natural resources, as well as reducing our environmental footprint.”

Whilst our planet’s natural resources are finite, the opportunities for resource-efficient, commercial success are not.

Many of our members are demonstrating how it is possible to use less and invest more in our environment and develop resilient, thriving businesses and communities.

Today, we challenge you to consider at least one step you can take to reverse this trend of ecological overspend.

  • Understand and manage your water use. Understanding how much water you use across your business and how you use it is the first step. Once you know this you will be able to manage and reduce your water use. Adnams, the brewers, took this one step further and completely analysed the water footprint of a bottle of beer, resulting in finding ways to reduce water usage and make cost savings.
  • Radically reduce carbon emissions. Setting science-based targets, increasing your use of renewable energy and redesigning operations are needed quickly and at scale to address the carbon emission challenge. In 2017 Tesco set a science-based carbon target to meet the global goal of holding temperature rises to 1.5⁰C. By switching to 100% renewable energy in the UK and Ireland, they have saved 1.2m tonnes of carbon and the £700m invested in energy efficiency since 2007 is reaping rewards of £200m each year. 
  • Create a circular workplace. The circular economy is an alternative to the traditional approach of make, use, dispose. Instead, resources are kept in use for as long as possible, recovering and regenerating products and materials at the end of their life. Understanding how you can do this in your own workplace is one of the best places to start. At BITC, our carpets are made from recycled fishing nets; our food waste is composted and then used in schools, parks, and allotments; and our secure shredding is turned back into copier paper that we buy.
  • Innovate, educate and collaborate. Many businesses who are successfully reducing their resource use have one thing in common; they have embraced innovation. They are finding new solutions to designing manufacturing, packaging, distributing, procuring and operating that make better use of resources, and in many cases, benefit the bottom line. Sharing learning and working together is vital to reverse this trend of resource overuse as quickly as possible. PwC have done just that, sharing over 10 years of learning with companies, engaging their supppliers and championing efficient resource use.

Share your stories, both challenges and successes using #movethedate to @BITC, so that collectively we can work together to invest in our environment, reduce our use of natural resources and ensure we have a planet that can support thriving businesses and communities for years to come.