Being a FTSE100 company, you might think, is a good indicator of a company that is good at what it does. It has made the grade when it comes to turning a profit, so clearly there are some very clever people at its heart.
Yet MRW research recently found that a mere third of the great and the good on the FTSE100 list mentioned waste prevention or recycling targets in their CSR reports. A bit of an oversight methinks.
In fact, of all the resource efficiencies under the ‘doing more with less’ banner, waste consistently comes up top as a key concern alongside water, carbon and energy in consumer research reports.
These beacons of financial best practice are missing a major trick. Reducing environmental impact and decoupling it from future growth is the backbone of many a CSR report and rightly so. Yet two thirds of these industry leaders do not seem to be tackling the quickest and easiest win – resource efficiency, and waste management in particular.
Waste management may not always appear to make the most significant impact on a company’s environmental profile, but the fact is, waste is everywhere, and it is actionable. This is good; it means it is tangible and relevant to a company’s greatest asset, its people.
People ‘get’ waste. Householders get the drum banged hard enough from all corners, from the evangelical neighbour to the Daily Mail’s harassment of councils valiantly dealing with our multitude of sins, sorry, bins. Ambitious waste targets should be a no-brainer. Businesses just need clear communication and collaboration between colleagues about what they need to do, why they need to do it, and to ultimately believe in the benefits and share the benefits wherever they can.
You would think that our top FTSE financial brains would have clocked onto the commercial opportunity too. It is a pretty simple equation: less waste plus more recycling equals reduced costs and reduced environmental impact. It is also completely measurable, so shared success is easy to celebrate, something that is key to all successful stakeholder engagement programmes.
In my experience, zero waste programmes produce significant cost saving opportunities that can help finance participation in these collaborative efforts to transform business models. A ‘collaborative stewardship’ approach that pools resources is critical to help achieve zero waste. Join in or, if a programme doesn’t exist, form a hit squad that has a shared interest to overcome the barriers, sharing data, ideas and generally being a bit creative about it.
We find that people are often more aware of their environmental impact and considerations at work than they are at home, especially those at the frontline of manufacturing or engineering processes working directly with raw materials. Most recycling initiatives fail when the systems and structures that allow employers to treat the materials they work with as a resource are not in place, and the default setting is therefore ‘throw it away’. Make doing the right thing easy, and the masses will comply. People power is where it’s at.
So why aren’t these industry powerhouses putting as much emphasis on their social and environmental performance as they are their financial ones? Isn’t a positive CSR report a great opportunity to differentiate from your competitors and showcase your values as a point of difference? It’s a chance to shout loudly about how you do business (better), and can provide the building blocks of your storytelling strategy. It’s the one corporate report that can really showcase the heart and personality of a business. The choices you make here will have far reaching impacts on future growth opportunities.
To be an authentic voice in a crowded room, and to engage openly and consistently with all key stakeholders, CSR needs to be made an iterative and evolving process. Perhaps a radical revamp of the traditional CSR reporting methodologies is in order. How about moving away from a retrospective, staid CSR annual report to something dynamic and live, something that takes your customers and consumers on the journey with you, and allows them to help direct and accelerate your progress (and ambitions) together?
Reporting on environmental and social performance like this will give wings to any plc’s CSR strategy, and will embed the same importance as its financial performance. If a company is committed to creating social and environmental value in addition to financial value, this alone is an important ‘signal’ to its stakeholders that its business treats CSR results the same way as financial ones, and with the same passion. Waste seems a pretty good place to start to me.
Kate Cawley is creative director at sustainability consultancy WasteSolve