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Dialogue is key to beating barriers and unlocking potential

Chindarat Taylor

In my last column for MR W, I want to talk about one of Pathway To Zero Waste’s priorities for this year, which is to help smaller companies in the South-east replicate the landfill diversion successes of their larger counterparts.

We held a workshop in Reading recently that focused on this issue, with delegates from local construction and waste management companies. The aim was to explore ways of working together to reduce the amount of construction waste going to landfill.

One of the most interesting things to come out of the workshop was that, like their larger counterparts, small construction and waste management contractors are on the same page when it comes to resource efficiency and landfill diversion. However, they’re not nearly as good at making that clear in their discussions with each other. It was obvious from the workshop conversations that assumptions are often made - on both sides - about what is achievable and what it will cost. And more often than not, those assumptions are wrong.

For example, smaller building companies - on the evidence of our workshop, at least - don’t seem to have the awareness of just how much a waste management contractor can do for them. This inevitably means they routinely ask for the same level of service as always and never “push the envelope”.

As for the waste management company reps in the room, it seemed that their general approach when working with small building firms was to assume they want the standard no-frills service. This is probably right in a lot of cases, but not all. Even so, you would think that possible enhancements to the basic level of service and the benefits they could deliver would at least be raised, but it seemed that didn’t happen often. Which is a shame, because frequently they would have found they were pushing at an open door.

Smaller construction contractors and their clients are increasingly aware of the need for and benefits of reusing material, using recycled material, and minimising volumes of material sent to landfill from their projects. But they often need more guidance and support to do that than more sizeable firms. This presents a business opportunity for waste management companies.

Working together as one team with sharedgoals, construction contractors and waste management companies can pretty much eradicate waste on a build project. Two delegates cited projects where less than 2% of the waste generated went to landfill.

In both cases, the impressive results were down to a partnership approach between the construction and waste management contractors, in which a bespoke process was devised and a complementary communications and training programme jointly delivered.

End result: a spectacular diversion performance, a happy construction contractor with an equally happy client, awaste management company held in high esteem by both (and likely to win repeat business as a result) and a terrific PR opportunity for all involved.

But the key that unlocked the possibility of achieving these results was an honest dialogue of what might be possible, and not assuming that barriers existed - be they financial, logistical or attitudinal - when they might not. And that’s a lesson for us all.

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