There’s a lot of advice for business owners on how to go zero waste, however, identifying the why before the how can be just as useful. Efficiency (and of course environmentalism) aside, there are plenty of other benefits of going zero waste for businesses, and many that may not be obvious.
In fact, the benefits of zero waste can push your business further than you might expect, delivering numerous advantages over standard models of production and consumption. So, whether it’s correctly sorting your recyclables or sourcing more sustainable raw materials, learning how to achieve zero waste goals can offer potential cost savings while improving company culture by creating a more sustainable work environment for employees.
Improve Brand Image
Businesses are looking for a competitive advantage, and while in the past this may have meant lower prices, better quality products, or 24/7 customer service, today, looking towards zero-waste strategies can help set you apart.
In a recent survey, 68% of people said they rated sustainability as an important factor when making a purchase, while 28% said they would remain loyal to a company with sustainable and ethical business practices. Offering comprehensive and transparent information on your zero-waste journey, alongside other sustainability metrics such as your commitment to combating climate change, is a viable way to boost your brand image and reach a new ethically and environmentally conscious customer base.
Going one step further and aligning your entire business model with zero waste also has benefits related to brand image. In fact, some of the most exciting and innovative businesses have based their products on entirely sustainable or recycled materials, receiving plenty of brand exposure through both traditional and social channels.
Price-In Your Zero-Waste Measures
And here is the key: as consumers become more aware of the impact of their purchasing choices, they become more aware of the “true” cost of things. This means that valuing all resources while rejecting the concept of waste becomes increasingly important, allowing brands to factor in the additional costs of FairTrade manufacturing or farming, sustainable, renewable, and organic materials, other environmental considerations, and a variety of other zero-waste measures.
Build A Network
A network is among the foundations of a successful business, giving you multiple channels to explore when you need help, guidance, materials, resources, or trustworthy employees. However, it can also be difficult and time-consuming to build.
By adopting zero-waste strategies, and the wider philosophy, you can extend your networking options significantly. Grass-roots movements intended to help business access information and realize zero-waste benefits within their specific models are found in most communities, while national and international organizations often push the importance of networking as a core philosophy.
In fact, one of the ZWIA’s Charter Principles is to “collaborate with others with common interests worldwide“, while other organizations such as the Zero Waste Network are specifically designed to help companies become more efficient through collaboration with environmental professionals and other organizations.
Encourage a Healthier Workplace
As well as reducing your impact on the environment, you can also help create healthier workplaces where the benefits of zero waste will be most apparent. Whether it’s reducing the smell of food waste in the kitchen trash by starting an organics recycling program or minimizing employees’ exposure to harmful chemicals found within industrial cleaning supplies by replacing them with a more environmentally friendly product – a healthier workplace means happier and healthier employees.
While it may seem obvious, it is not often stated that environmental benefits walk hand-in-hand with benefits to our daily lives. Zero waste aims to create a healthier and more sustainable world now, as well as in the future as we fight against the long-term effects of climate change.
Engage Your Employees
Employee engagement is one of the key metrics in retention: or in other words, people that believe in what they are doing and that are involved in the direction of your business want to stick around. Today that means engaging employees in recycling programs and additional ways your business is working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Making a sincere effort to reduce your carbon footprint and adopt workable zero-waste strategies can make a huge difference to employee retention.
In fact, almost 40% of Millennials said they would happily earn less if it meant they could work for a company that was committed to reducing its environmental impact. Additionally, 70% also stated that a strong environmental agenda would influence their decision on whether to remain at a company over the long term.
Find New Revenue Streams
In particular, for manufacturing-based companies—you may also discover entirely new revenue streams when following zero-waste methodology.
If your company produces waste volume through manufacturing processes, the benefits of zero waste can be two-fold. Firstly, in line with the circular economy, you may be able to leverage your new network to find other companies willing to pay for your offcuts or waste materials for use in their own products. Secondly, in line with the Reuse stage of the zero-waste hierarchy, you may be able to develop new products to sell yourself.
The circular concepts surrounding zero waste are designed to place value on all materials, so even the most “useless waste” should be integrated into the model—one person’s trash is another’s treasure.
Create Green Jobs
Where there are new revenue streams there are new jobs, and wherever zero-waste businesses create new revenue streams, there are green jobs. When you begin your zero-waste journey, it pays to have a dedicated team or individual employee examine and identify waste streams as part of a wider waste audit, both in your business and across your supply chains. In the largest companies, this may mean hiring a zero-waste consultant, while in smaller companies freelance consultants or other zero-waste businesses may fulfill the role.
However, the potential for the generation of green jobs doesn’t stop there. Consider the impact extended producer responsibility (EPR) may have on the way businesses work today. Not only will you need knowledgeable staff to source and recycle materials according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines, but businesses will also remain responsible for products (and services to a lesser extent) through the entire product lifecycle.
This means focusing on repairing products to keep them in circulation, developing new modular products that can be upgraded, continually pushing high-quality organic materials and sustainable processes, and, on the whole, redesigning our entire system to value all resources. All of these things mean more green jobs, and whether it’s as a consultant or a repairs advisor, there will be plenty of scope for new skills and knowledge to replace those jobs lost to automation in the next decades.
Focus on Waste Prevention Rather than Management
The fact that we need to practice waste management is because we operate a wasteful system—a system that prefers the “take, make, waste” model rather than a more circular alternative. However, if we can shift our focus away from waste management and onto waste prevention, there is a multitude of efficiencies and cost savings to be realized for zero-waste businesses.
Waste disposal is increasingly expensive, and as laws and legislation become ever more prescriptive, creating systems that design out waste can be more cost-efficient than paying for trash and recycling removal services. Additionally, focusing on waste prevention means cutting out waste at the source, not delaying the inevitable waste streams that will come later, a key element of EPR.
Build Better Communities and a Better World
The zero-waste model has the potential to benefit local communities and local economies in numerous ways, and as we build better systems that prioritize circularity, everyone stands to win.
Imagine your municipality with significantly less landfill waste. Imagine your local community composting and reusing materials to their benefit, taking advantage of green jobs and a stimulated local economy. Then imagine your business as a key driver of those changes, leading from the front, delivering a zero-waste model that can help to build a better world.