A pledge to ‘double the nation’s resource productivity and reduce avoidable waste by 2030’ brought together 200 leaders from business, government and academia, along with the Prince of Wales, environment secretary Michael Gove and celebrity chef and campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.
Engineered by Business in the Community (BITC) – the Prince’s responsible business network – the Waste to Wealth commitment is the latest voluntary pledge that businesses have signed up to in a bid to tackle waste.
By early December, 65 businesses, mainly BITC members, had signed up to the commitment. Signatories include well-known names from a range of sectors, including waste, such as Greggs, Deloitte, Iceland, Toyota, Heineken, Unilever, Lloyds, Sky, Marks & Spencer, Veolia, Viridor and Amey.
Seven businesses, including European Metal Recycling (EMR), have been identified as Waste to Wealth ‘champions’. They represent key areas identified by Defra, and each is tasked with identifying challenges, creating roadmaps and starting to develop innovative solutions.
Speaking at the launch of the commitment, Jeremy Darroch, chief executive of Sky and chairman of BITC, said: “We know that we have only 12 years to change our relationship with the resources we use in order to avoid catastrophic climate change and restore the health of our environment.
“If businesses were presented with a similarly concerning outlook on the state of their markets, the competency of their core products or the future of their customer base, they would use all the power and influence at their disposal to change tack.”
Gove commended BITC and the signatories for “committing to work towards a more circular economy”. He said: “We need to cut avoidable waste and start looking at the waste we do produce as a valuable resource…By working together we can all play a part in eliminating unnecessary waste to leave the environment in a better state for future generations.”
So far, so laudable. But critics may question the effectiveness of yet another voluntary agreement in delivering real change and the rather broad commitments that businesses have signed up to. For example, signatories have agreed to ‘set targets to improve productivity’, but when will they be set and what are they? And what exactly are the definitions of ‘resource productivity’ and ‘avoidable waste’?
Speaking to MRW, Gudrun Cartwright, BITC environment director, explains that the organisation is following up with all the signatories to understand the challenges and opportunities. In January, the champions will come together to “start the conversation” on key issues in their sectors and what steps businesses can take to address them.
Metal Sector Champion
Andrew Brady, EMR UK chief executive
It was inspiring to see 200 leaders come together at the summit, recognising the scale of the environmental challenge facing us but also how it can be a huge opportunity for all.
EMR can recycle everything from a drinks can to an aircraft carrier. We recycle around 10 million tonnes of valuable materials each year from end-of-life products and waste streams. This contributes to a saving of around 10 million tonnes of CO2 compared with using virgin ores. Historically, we have focused on recycling metals, but have invested in developing our own technologies to recycle plastics as well.
Recycling and the circular economy (CE) can have huge positive effects on the environment. If companies design products right, we can minimise the carbon footprint over their lifecycle and efficiently recycle them back into new products.
We would like to work with all industries and collaborate on making the CE work for them. We aim to demonstrate the impact of product design on recycling in the real world, and make sure that everyone can maximise the value they are getting from their waste streams.
The Waste to Wealth champions are: JLL and Interface (representing construction), Burger King, Nestlé, Sainsbury’s and Sodexo (food) and EMR (metals)
By the end of January, project plans are expected to be put in place, where specific actions will be identified and defined. Cartwright says the starting point is very much “the big picture”, but what is yet to be determined includes how it is put into action, how it is measured, how to define phrases such as resource productivity and what it means for different businesses.
BITC’s leadership team will be overseeing the commitment and taskforces will take ‘ownership’ of specific projects.
Asked whether there would be any repercussions for businesses that do not deliver, and Cartwright responds that “our way of working is around positive encouragement…rather than naming and shaming”. On the latter, she adds: “That is not the way to make progress – it’s about encouragement.”
She explains that if performance was lacking, BITC would seek to identify how it could help further, and perhaps showcase examples of companies that have made positive changes.
While the commitment is to 2030, BITC and the signatories also need to work out if interim targets are needed and how best to keep businesses on track. Cartwright says: “There is real enthusiasm as to how businesses can do things differently.”
With regards to the waste sector, the Environmental Services Association is on board as a partner, and will help BITC to understand how to work more closely with the waste industry.
While Cartwright acknowledges that there will always be competitive pressures between businesses, she believes that “people are now seeing that there are existential threats to business models and our ways of life” which are helping to drive change.
She sees potential in cross-sector working, and envisages that the commitment will focus actions on resources rather than sectors. For example, actions around food, textiles and chemicals would cut across various sectors.
The initial group of signatories was formed by BITC reaching out to its membership base after its leadership team identified the “huge opportunity” to effect change to resource use. While Cartwright says there is no restriction on who can take part in the commitment, any collective action and working together is more likely to be focused on BITC members.
The organisation’s goal will be to scale up the number of signatories to the commitment and get all 800 members involved in the next few years. But in the coming months, she says the priority will be “getting the details sorted out and coming up with a concrete action plan”.
What the signatories agreed to
- Set targets to improve the productivity of resources that are key for our business
- Work collectively towards doubling the nation’s resource productivity and reduce avoidable waste by 2030, contributing in the way that is most relevant to our business
- Redesign how resources are used in our products, services and operations
- Collaborate across our organisations, value chains and sectors
- Reconvene and report on progress annually to share learning and demonstrate results