With the world's resources being depleted at unsustainable rates and landfill space in the UK rapidly filling up, we're paying more attention to the lifecycle of raw materials used in our business, with a strategy to decouple material consumption from business growth and move towards a circular economy.
We achieved zero waste to landfill for all the ‘hub’ and food waste generated in our offices in 2012, and have maintained that since. Any materials not recovered are used to generate energy through incineration. Our focus is now primarily on two main goals for 2017: first, to reduce our absolute material consumption of key inputs – paper, water – by 50%, as well as the hub and food waste we generate; second, to get as close as possible to our aspirational goal of 100% reuse and recovery of our operational waste, eliminating incineration, wherever possible.
Investment in our business practices and infrastructure mean that the amount of paper we procured this year is 60% lower than our 2007 baseline, exceeding our 50% reduction target. Our water consumption is now 36% lower, too. Meanwhile, the amount of waste generated (reported in our sustainability scorecard) has dropped to 53% below our 2007 baseline, ahead of our 10-year 50% target – inspite of an 8% rise in the number of people we employed during the same period.
In terms of recycling, we achieved a recycling rate of 77%. Whilst this is lower than 2016 (due to a much lower volume of archive paper being recycled this year), we decreased the absolute level of incineration by 19% during the year.. We expect further progress to be challenging, however, as many of the residual items are composite materials with no market solution at the current time.
We developed a long-term, waste and material consumption strategy that progressively adopts the principles of the ‘circular economy’ – reducing, reusing, recycling and transitioning to circular solutions. We implement this strategy via a combination of waste management, employee awareness and supplier engagement, collaborating to find and pioneer better solutions. This ‘Going Circular’ programme is underpinned by some ambitious, top-down, ten year waste targets. We've recently published a document that sets out the programme, phase by phase, and outlines the lessons we've learned so far, which you can download here.
While waste doesn't pose any significant near term risk for our business, good waste management is expected of us as a responsible business, and may influence our reputation. Reducing our material consumption also makes our business more efficient.
Moreover, our Sustainability and Climate Change practice provide advice to clients in relation to the circular economy, so we aim to ‘walk the talk’, adopting best practice in our own operations. And, our research shows that our people feel strongly about the topic: recycling is a symbolic behaviour which can be used to engage them more broadly on the topic of sustainability.
Applying circular economy principles to our business not only reduces our impact on the planet and conserves scarce resources, it can also deliver additional social value, because many circular solutions support employment for hard-to-reach populations in society.
Together, this means that ‘going circular’ and waste management align well to our corporate values and are an important part of our sustainability agenda.
Our waste strategy begins with reducing the materials we consume. Originally, our key focus areas were the most material operational impacts, our paper and water consumption. We have targets for these, as well as management and awareness programmes in place to address them. But we have increasingly been looking for ways to reduce our other material usage, working with suppliers to reduce the impact of everything we buy.
When products come to the end of their first life, we first look to see if they can be reused rather than disposing of them. For example, we’ve set up initiatives that enable us to maximise reuse of our old IT, unwanted office furniture and the uniforms worn by suppliers working on our sites.
In 2008, we invested in recycling hubs in our coffee areas and removed all desk-side rubbish bins. All of our UK offices have had segregated recycling facilities in place since. More details on the hubs and our ‘Let’s Talk Rubbish’ employee engagement campaign - designed to maximise segregation and minimise contamination are set out in our Going Circular Lessons Learned.
We’re also looking at the broader challenge of moving to a circular economy and pioneering solutions with lower environmental impact, wherever possible.
We’d already established a system with suppliers in our More London and Embankment Place offices, so that our archive paper is securely shredded and recycled into paper towels that we can use in our washrooms. This year, we’ve diverted our waste office paper to a state-of-the-art recycling facility that uses much more environmentally-friendly processes and can reuse the paper fibres up to 20 times – three times more than the market standard.
In 2011, we set up a multi-way partnership to refine the cooking oil from our caterers and convert it into a clean energy which can power the tri-generators in our More London office, and subsequently scaled it up to also power Embankment Place head office.
We send our food waste to either anaerobic digestion or composting, depending on local availability, so that it is turned into useful by-products. And, to address the fact that traditional, composite food packaging can’t often be recycled, we’ve also replaced our wax cups and the food packaging issued in the catering facilities in our offices across the UK with a plant-based alternative, so that they can be composted.
We’re now exploring better end-of-life solutions for additional waste streams, as well as embedding ‘Going Circular’ thinking and innovation into more key supplier contracts to allow us to move to fully ‘circular procurement’ post 2017.
We not only assess our operational performance relating to materials, but also the impact on society, using our TIMM framework. This year, we’ve valued the adverse impact on society from our waste at £6.5m, much of which occurs outside of our direct operations. We’re continuing to work with our suppliers to reduce this impact, where we can.