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25 January 2017

Zero waste requires new thinking, not the same old, same old

wasted

Yesterday I downloaded the Carbon Trust's Zero Waste guide. As most of the content could have been written a decade ago, it was, frankly, a waste of electrons. Where was the aspiration, the innovation, the inspiration? We get a nod to the circular economy and design, but no more detail. Instead we get the 3Rs and talking to waste management contractors.

If you want zero waste, paradoxically you've got to stop thinking about waste. You've got to think about preventing resources being wasted instead (my mantra is "waste is a verb, not a noun"). You've got to think about loops, not linear processes.

Once you've changed your mindset, you've got to find quality uses for every stream of material or design it out of your system. You need to talk to suppliers and customers about closed loop business models and innovations. You've got to talk to other organisations who may be able to use unwanted material as a raw material. You, and plenty of other people, have got to do things radically differently.

We cannot face a challenge like zero waste with a linear waste minimisation mindset, it's like taking a pea shooter to a war zone. As Einstein said "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them."

 

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18 January 2017

The Sustainability bar is rising – fast

Athlete compete in paul vault

There has been a raft of big Sustainability announcements from Corporations recently:

  • Ikea achieving zero waste last year;
  • Google saying they'll be 100% renewable-powered by the end of the year;
  • Unilever's pledge to make all its plastic packaging ‘fully reusable, recyclable or compostable’ by 2025.

These are BHAGs (big hairy audacious goals) and a half. And what's more they're being delivered. That's because big stretch targets such as zero waste or 100% renewable energy make you think in a quite different way to incremental targets. Business as usual will not do the job, neither will Sustainability as a bolt on.

Go large or go home.

 

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9 November 2016

Is zero waste really possible?


The latest edition of Ask Gareth considers whether Zero Waste is truly possible. Having working for many years in this particular field, I give the lowdown on zero waste and its true importance.

Ask Gareth depends on a steady stream of killer sustainability/CSR questions, so please tell me what's bugging you about sustainability (click here) and I'll do my best to help.

You can see all previous editions here.

 

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16 March 2016

We need unrealistic ambition, but realistic expectation in Sustainability

Sustainability Targets

I'm a big proponent of the Big Hairy Audacious Goal in Sustainability – I've always held Interface's Mission Zero (disclosure: a Terra Infirma client) as the epitome of ambition. There's no way Interface would have delivered the sustainability achievements they have if they hadn't set that vision of success. But it takes real guts to go for broke like that – what if you fall short?

A idea that came up at last week's Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group was 'a threshold of realism'. In other words, if you set a zero waste target and you get to 99.9%, have you failed? Only a pedant would say 'No.', a reasonable person would say 'Wow! That's amazing!"

The real reason to set an 0%/100% target is not to meet it exactly (you've got the laws of physics against you if nothing else), but to inspire the organisation to think big and deliver the scale of change which will get you into that ball park. So have the guts to set ambitious goals, strive to meet them, but don't beat yourself up if you fall fractionally short.

 

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10 August 2012

Book Review: The Zeronauts by John Elkington

John Elkington one of the sustainability field's leading pioneers and in his latest book he looks at those at the cutting edge of sustainability thinking who he dubs Zeronauts - the people who are aiming for zero - zero waste, zero emissions, zero toxins. Zeronauts are people like the late great Ray Anderson of Interface who launched the groundbreaking Mission Zero programme to have a zero impact on the planet by 2020. Zero is of course the ultimate stretch target and a great motivator as Elkington reminds us throughout the book.

The structure of the book takes us through three quintets of concepts:

5Cs of scale: citizen, corporation, cities, countries, civilisations;

5Es of maturity: eureka, experiementation, enterprise, eco-systems, economy;

5Ps of examples: zero population, zero pandemics, zero poverty, zero pollution, zero proliferation.

So far, so good. But the big problem is, for me at least, the book just doesn't deliver on the central promise. Many of the examples are of bog standard sustainability efforts rather than the special case of zero, diluting the core message. In fact the most insightful critique of the zero approach in the book comes not from Elkington, but in a series of lengthly blog extracts on zero waste from Andrew Winston of Green to Gold fame. Beyond this, there was little about the implications of, say, a zero waste policy to a single company and no mention of key enabling concepts such as industrial symbiosis. The "How Zeronauts Tackle Pollution" box could be titled "How Everyone Tackles Pollution" so generic is the content.

I also found the presence of many on the 'Zeronauts Roll of Honour' to be debatable - for example James Hansen is a great scientist who has bravely stuck his head over the parapet to warn of the dangers of climate change, but I have never heard a proposal from him that fits the zero theme - and none is presented here to justify his inclusion. The list appears to consist of sustainability practitioners that Elkington admires rather than Zeronauts per se. And don't get me started on the five figure year format.

That's not to say there aren't loads of interesting ideas and nuggets in the book, which I have to say is beautifully presented, and the Zeronauts meme is brilliant in itself, but I was expecting a tautly drawn up manifesto for the zero movement, or a critique of it, and this falls well short of either. Zeronauts could and should have been an essential text, but it's more of a curate's egg. Frustrating.

 

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