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Keeping cash in the bank: Six steps to manage your company’s waste more profitably

11 min read

12 March 2016

Waste management might not seem like the most interesting topic – until you realise that the waste your business generates could be costing four per cent of your turnover.

Consider too that sustainability is the topic of the moment. Consumers are increasingly making sustainability-led buying decisions, so your business is better placed to thrive if you’re meeting this consumer demand.

With that in mind, here are the six steps your business needs to take to manage your waste more profitably – both for the planet and for your bottom line.

Step one: Assess your current situation

The first step in actively reducing your waste is to measure your existing waste output. You’ll likely be surprised by how much you produce. So how do you actually measure your waste?

You needn’t make this more complicated than it needs to be – start by simply measuring your total waste versus your recycled waste. This will give you two clear goals to focus on as you build your waste management strategy: total waste reduction and recycling rate increase.

Once you’ve chosen metrics that make sense for your business, the next step is to measure them. There are various ways you can do this and it doesn’t really matter which – the important thing is consistency so you can build a true understanding of your business waste output.

Many businesses find the simplest way is to measure your total waste when it’s collected, either by weight or by container. Weight will be more accurate than counting the number of bags, for example, but either method works.

Once you’ve decided on a consistent way to measure waste, simply monitor for a period of time so you can establish a baseline. The initial assessment period is the benchmark against which you’ll measure all your efforts, so it pays to get an accurate understanding now.

Observe without taking action for long enough to get a sensible average and minimise the risk of using an outlier for a benchmark.

Step two: Decide on your management strategy

In other words, channel the three Rs. And no, I don’t mean reading, writing and arithmetic. I’m talking about the well-known mantra: reduce, reuse, recycle.
Perhaps that sounds simplistic, but it belies a more complex strategy. Look at the diagram.

This is waste management hierarchy, suggesting how businesses best deal with their waste. Optimally, business should prevent waste in the first place. Least optimally, businesses should dispose of waste appropriately.

Preventing waste in the first place might seem idealistic, but it’s not as difficult as you might think. The amount of waste you generate ties directly into the products you purchase. If you’re constantly buying products that have a lot of packaging, your waste output will be higher.

Minimising packaging waste requires strategic re-evaluation of purchasing guidelines. Discuss packaging reduction options with current suppliers or consider moving to a more sustainable, less packaging-heavy supplier where possible.

Purchasing is where waste starts, so changes in your buying decisions can have a huge impact on your total waste. As well as reducing packaging, you can introduce a “sustainable-first” purchasing ethos.

Make informed buying decisions and invest in products that can be reused or recycled or, at the least, products that are highly durable.

So many products are available in recyclable materials (technical equipment to office supplies, employee storage lockers to furniture) there’s really no excuse to make lazy decisions.

For more on the waste management hierarchy, check out this handy guide from Wrap.

Read more on green business developments:

Step three: Measure, rinse, repeat

This should go almost without saying, but there’s no point implementing a strategy if you don’t track how well it’s working for you. The targets you’ve set will depend on the metrics you chose in step 1. Keep a firm eye on these as you move forwards so you can tailor your strategy as appropriate.

Also bear in mind that this isn’t an exact science. Don’t fall into the trap of making ironclad assumptions based on your data, because there are multiple interpretations to be had. For example, if your total waste rate increases you could be tempted to go and give your staff an earful, but in reality your overall business might have grown and your waste total with it.

When you’re drawing conclusions, don’t look at raw data in isolation. Instead, take an intelligent and evaluative approach to discover what’s working and what’s not. Waste management is a process: you’re not likely to get it exactly right the first time.

Continue reading on the next page for the final three steps to make waste management a goldmine for your business.

Image: Shutterstock

Step four: Level up your waste management

Once you’ve got your basic strategy in place and performing well, it’s time to level up. What do I mean by that? I mean, instead of managing your waste, why not look at ways to put that waste to work generating some extra profit?

Waste needn’t just be a burden. You’re going to cringe as I say this, but imagine waste is an opportunity instead.

You know what they say – one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. If you generate a huge amount of one particular waste product, that could be a prime opportunity to upcycle.

When I was younger we used to sell manure from our horses to the local farms – think like that, but on an enterprise scale. Look into the products you waste that other businesses might want to get their hands on, and see if you can generate revenue that way.

There are even dedicated waste exchange platforms that make it easy to profit from your waste.

At the least, there are ways to reclaim energy from your waste. This allows you to cut your energy costs, so your waste is still working for you, not against you. You might even be able to get governmental help to meet the initial outlay costs…

Step five: Engage your team

This isn’t so much a step as something you need to be doing throughout if you want your waste management strategy to work.

Let’s be honest here. Most people aren’t overly enthused by the idea of better waste management. Your job, if you want to drive real change, is to get their buy-in and support for your strategy.

It goes without saying that you need to implement appropriate processes to ensure employees can better deal with waste, but this is more intangible. You need to engage your team, so they want to help make the strategy work.

Introducing a rewards structure can work wonders, rewarding teams or individuals who make the best progress. Celebrate the wins, and make better waste management into a friendly competition.

Transparency is a key part of creating accountability – so don’t keep the results to yourself. Share progress with others across the business, and place emphasis on the sharing of ideas, problem and results encountered in your waste-reduction quest.

Step six: Shout about it

You’re doing all this hard work to manage your waste more sustainably – so let people know. Sustainability and environmentalism are increasing consumer concerns so letting your customers know that you’re committed to the cause can do wonders for your brand.

By being vocal about your progress, you’re positioning yourself in a way that’s particularly commercially relevant right now. Not only does this have a big impact in terms of consumer sentiment and loyalty, but it helps you secure the best new talent.

The millennial generation is notable for a greater environmental awareness than previous generations, with studies showing young talent consistently seeks out organisations that prioritise sustainability as well as profitability.

If you don’t care about the planet you should at least care about the kudos!

Two of our Everline Future 50 2016 winners are out to make a difference – First Mile is out to revolutionise UK recycling, while Abundance is shaking up the crowdfunding space with an ethical approach.

Tom Brialey is the MD of Action Storage, a UK-based company which specialises in the manufacture, supply and installation of shelving, lockers and racking