Evidence of the passion for sustainability was on display at a breakfast briefing held in January for Canary Wharf Group (CWG) stakeholders. It was attended by commercial and retail tenants, suppliers, customers and other interested parties including local authority representatives. There was such interest that the event was over-subscribed.
John Garwood managing director at CWG, has seen the attitudes of tenants change dramatically over the years.
“[In the] early days we were trying to push our tenants into sustainability…that is now changing and we are almost having to run to keep up with what the tenants want,” he says. “Things have changed dramatically in the past 25 years. Why is that – because it is common sense, it is becoming cost-effective and, importantly, because people inside the buildings are expecting it. A new generation of occupants want to see and want to be in a building that is sustainable.”
Garwood explains that CWG is unique in controlling the whole area, which includes 16 million sq ft of office, retail and leisure space, a new residential district and 11 million sq ft in a development pipeline.
He adds: “We recognise that we are the ideal microcity to try to see what we can do in sustainability practice – and the gateway to that is actually plastics. It is the thing which sets people alight. Plastic was identified as the biggest single issue [by] commuters, residents, visitors and neighbours – we have 120,000 people visiting us every day – that’s a lot of people. They wanted to see us tackle plastic across the estate.”
In response, it identified five types of single-use plastics to target: straws, cups, bags, bottles and cutlery, as part of a ‘Breaking the Plastic Habit’ campaign.
“We are focusing on plastic because that is the theme which resonates most with people around us,” Garwood says. To illustrate the point that each individual action, collectively, makes a difference, he quotes Irish philosopher and politician Edmund Burke, who said: “No one could make a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.”
CWG’s plastics campaign, devised with Veris Strategies, was launched at an event held on the last World Environment Day, 5 June 2018, with a panel debate on the subject’s key issues. Garwood explains that this flagged up collaboration, education and simplification as being critical for success.
“The campaign has kept those three things at the core and we have already seen a tangible impact to date,” he says. “Our ‘Wake up and smell the coffee’ campaign has enabled more than 3.2 million single-use coffee cups to be separated from general waste and recycled – that’s a lot of coffee cups.
“We also had our #3weeks campaign, which encouraged more than 80 retailers to remove single-use plastic straws from their businesses and, as a result of that, we estimate that around 650,000 plastic straws have been avoided.
“We have installed the UK’s first publicly accessible deposit return reverse vending machine so that visitors to Canary Wharf can recycle plastic bottles and, so far, 15,000 have been recycled. Aligned with that we have introduced seven water refill stations around the estate [which has] eliminated, we reckon, 35,000 bottles so far.
“Most recently we have seen the opening of Wharf Kitchen – all their cutlery and consumables around food service go straight to compost, which is the way forward for fast-food outlets. And one of the major outcomes of our campaign is joining forces with Surfers Against Sewage (SAS): we have committed to become the world’s first plastic-free commercial centre.
“This isn’t about removing all plastic but about avoiding and reducing single-use items. It is also about influencing behavioural change among our stakeholders. We are encouraging them, individually and collectively to move away from the throwaway plastic habit.”
CWG’s plan for 2019 is to continue “working on tenants”, including hosting stakeholder working groups for office and retail tenants, with the overriding goal of becoming the world’s first plastic-free commercial centre.
Hugo Tagholm, chief executive of SAS, the organisation which started the plastic-free community movement and grants plastic-free status, explains that working with CWG is an important development that takes the movement from beach to city.
He says: “Canary Wharf is a global, leading financial district – the microcity with global influence – and can play a huge part in winning the hearts and minds in this exciting period of innovation around how we are re-inventing our relationship with plastics, the new systems we need, trialling those systems and making sure we create a future that is much more sustainable.”
He adds that the recently published resources and waste strategy sets out some ambitious targets, but “we perhaps need to see some more ambitious time frames for implementation for those”. SAS will be using its all-party parliamentary group to do that, and is calling for “a world-class, inclusive, deposit return scheme for the country, to make sure that we are eliminating plastics where we can”.
Martin Gettings, group head of sustainability at CWG, agrees that things can be trialled on the estate “which are under our control and that other places simply cannot do”. He explains that what “excites me most as a sustainability practitioner” is the ability to use the topic of plastic waste as an opener to have discussions about other aspects of sustainability, which may ordinarily have switched people off.
Gettings adds that anything to do with recycling and sustainability “must come naturally and people must want to do it”. The latest phase of CWG’s plastics campaign is the launch of a reuse and recycling reward app in partnership with developer Helpful – believed to be the world’s first such app.
Ahead of its launch it had been downloaded 500 times, with 120 new users, so take-up was looking promising. The app is designed to be another ‘tool in the box’ to help drive, embed and incentivise behavioural change and engage with the people that pass through Canary Wharf.
“We are the ideal microcity to try to see what we can do in sustainability practice – and the gateway to that is plastics. It is the thing which sets people alight. People wanted to see us tackle plastic across the estate.”
Once people have downloaded the app, they can use their camera function to photograph their plastic bottle or coffee cup. The app will then confirm what material it is made of, and display a map showing the nearest recycling bin on the estate. Users then scan a QR code on the bin which will reward them with a virtual Helpful ‘coin’ on their app account.
For those using a reusable coffee cup or refilling a water bottle, they can scan QR codes located at the participating retailer or the water station, and again receive a ‘coin’ on their app. Currently, once users have acquired 50 coins, they will gain access to a £20 voucher to spend on the SAS website shop. The longer term aim is that CWG retailers and food outlets will offer their own discount vouchers.
Evan Michaels, founder of the app says: “It is our hope that our work with CWG will form a template for other communities as they set an example that sustainability can be achieved by empowering people with innovative, accessible and smart technology.”
Alongside the app, a website, breakingtheplastichabit.co.uk, will feature stories from tenants and visitors, share best practice and get people excited about the issue. New branding has also been introduced for the campaign, which will feature around the estate.
Gettings hopes the app will entice those who are not engaged with sustainability.
“We see three types of people: those that are engaged and already championing it; the middle block – those thinking about it but who don’t know what to do; and the last block is the ones that don’t care. So we are reaching out to the last two groups.”
The developers from Helpful attended a previous breakfast event and it was a case of being in the right place at the right time. CWG was looking for an app in its early stages that had not yet taken off, so they have worked together to develop the app for mutual benefit. But while CWG will be able to monitor the number of app users and items reused or recycled, it is very much seen an additional tool in the engagement box.
Aside from plastics, this year CWG has started a Compost Club to encourage tenants on the estate to adopt compostable food service items and introduced stakeholders to Cupclub.com – a circular economy business that supplies, collects, washes and returns reusable cups.
The breakfast briefing certainly had a buzz and detectable level of enthusiasm – with one HSBC employee revealing the campaign had inspired her to adopt a plastic-free lifestyle. Will she be the first of many?