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Sustainable sourcing: where to start?

Companies can enact some well-known victories when it comes to running a sustainable business and attracting environmentally conscious millennials to join your brand, especially in terms of sustainable sourcing and waste minimization.

Avoid styrofoam packaging. There is no plastic film shopping bag. Make sure there is a recycling bin next to each trash can, especially in front of your home. Maybe add a compost bin to solve the growing food waste problem. These are not techniques you have never heard of before, and in most cases, these techniques are somewhat light-hearted. But they alone will not make your company truly "sustainable" or make your organization zero waste.

In fact, when changes begin to affect business operations and product portfolios, this transition becomes difficult. Sustainable sourcing and zero waste usually complement each other, so whether you are trying to build your external brand or embarking on a complete zero waste journey, here are some important combat techniques that can really help you get started.

Big win. There are some great victories in your trash can—every business is the same. Is it packaging materials, take-out containers, food waste, or cardboard boxes (OCC)? We found that OCC is one of the most common problems, and it is one of the biggest victories for companies large and small.

Depending on the size and scale of your business and operations, piling up OCC in your trash can, roll-on container, or compactor can cost you hundreds to thousands of additional dollars on your waste bill each month. However, establishing a recycling program with your waste supplier can lower your waste bill and, in the best case, recover some additional income from OCC rebates (depending on your OCC number). Who knew that something as simple as a cardboard box would make such a big difference?

data. So you have evaluated your waste composition and you have made some adjustments to get some big wins. How to do? What if I told you that sustainable procurement can actually save you money? Having data in your waste can help you make more sustainable purchasing decisions.

Take polystyrene foam as an example. The purchase price alone is almost impossible to provide a financial reason to replace Styrofoam cups, containers, packaging peanuts, etc. with different materials, because it is by far the cheapest option. But what if you have more than 6 months or 12 months of data showing that foam is filling your trash can, roll-on container, or compactor, and there are 3 to 5 garbage collections per week? Garbage transporters charge for two things: the number of pickup trucks and the tonnage. Although Styrofoam is very light, its density can lead to unnecessary waste transportation. Because Styrofoam is not a common recyclable material like OCC, you cannot convert it to a recycling/rebate program. But you can switch to a more sustainable option for Styrofoam, which will result in a decrease in your weekly garbage collection, thereby saving total disposal costs and offsetting any increase in purchasing. Suddenly, it made business sense to abandon Styrofoam.

Get creative. So, when you achieve 86% of zero waste, you have won a huge victory, and you have used data to justify more sustainable procurement practices, but what happens when you run into obstacles? There are always some annoying things you can hardly find a solution to-maybe uniforms, iconic packaging, things that your brand must not give up despite the environmental impact. If you cannot change the purchasing method or the "end of life" destination of the material, please reconsider the solution from the perspective of "next use". Rubicon has helped many of its clients be creative in these types of downstream challenges.

For example, our customers rerouted 1,500 pounds of granite countertops to Habitat for Humanity; 35 tons of automobile soundproofed employee uniforms were packed and shredded; 40 tons (8 trucks) of seafood vessels were transferred from landfills; 1,500 tons of organic materials were delivered to Habitat for Humanity. An oxygen digester, which uses energy and by-products to fuel and fertilize its farms. These are just a few individual examples, but there are many, many more. These creative solutions not only establish a sustainable brand, but also save the company wasted costs.

So whether you want to simply (or not so simply) prove that you don’t use Styrofoam outer containers, or start a comprehensive zero-waste journey, remember some major wins and combine some data creativity. Let you go all the way well, and it may also save you some cash.

David Rachelson introduced this topic in detail at the 2017 Sustainable Sourcing Leadership Council Summit held in Denver on May 10.

Rubicon is a founding member of the US Zero Waste Business Council.

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