Plastic is an amazing material that has many positive features. Yet without proper waste management, it can easily find its way into coastal environments and oceans, where it can have an adverse effect on a range of marine life, as well as impacting human food and water supplies. Recent research has shown that plastic pollution is now a pressing issue which business can help to solve.
We incorporate reduction, reuse and recycling principles to all of our procurement and waste management decisions, applying the principles of the circular economy, as far as reasonably practicable. However, the use of plastic in our business requires special consideration due to the waste management complexities created by the wide range of plastic types and the high number of composite products produced, the changing nature of waste management solutions available, and - in large part - the lack of market-ready alternatives to plastic.
That's why we use a policy to guide our decisions around plastic. We switched plastic bottles in our client meeting rooms for refillable glass bottles, over ten years ago. We rationalised and reuse unwanted stationery items, and we seek to procure items that contain recycled plastic wherever possible - to create demand for secondary markets. We’ve also been trialing innovative recycling solutions for our ‘hard-to-treat’ waste streams such as composite stationery and food packaging.
In addition, we build awareness of the plastics issue amongst our employees and encourage behaviours that help tackle plastic pollution. This has been through beach cleans and 'plastic fishing', as part of our environmental volunteering programme, a campaign which encouraged the use of refillable water bottles, and advice around plastic-free switches as part of a PwC employee ‘Sustainable Living at Home’ guide.
Moreover, despite the challenges of COVID-19, we’re as committed as ever to finding and implementing improvements. In fact, our office teams have taken advantage of the empty offices during lockdown to accelerate sustainable solutions across the business. For example, they’ve been able to speed up the infrastructure changes required so we can offer ceramic glasses and mugs across all our buildings and replace the compostable cups we’d been using to date. Meanwhile, our catering team is powering on with their returnable take-away packaging pilot in Birmingham, as part of a new ‘Click and Collect/Deliver’ food offering.
Meanwhile, as we prepare for our people to return to the office, we’ve chosen to introduce refillable hand-sanitiser dispensing units in the offices, and use smart water cleaning technology. Both are designed to reduce our plastic waste whilst keeping things safe and sparkling.
These initiatives demonstrate our commitment to continuously identify, evaluate and trial new sustainable solutions, as part of our Going Circular 2022 ambition.
Paper is one of our most significant consumables and we’ve been working to reduce the associated environmental impacts for many years.
First, we’ve invested in equipment that reduces usage. Over a number of years, we replaced more than 2,000 desktop printers, with centrally-located and energy-efficient multifunctional devices (MFDs), which can handle network printing, photocopying and scanning. We set them up so they default to double-sided printing, and our people can only print by swiping their security pass at the device. This eliminates unintentional printing, reduces toner use, and also improves data security. We lease the MFDs, too, so that the manufacturer can replace or upgrade components over time, without having to dispose of whole units.
Additionally, the shift towards consuming information in digital format, is reducing the paper we use. We’ve invested in systems that make it easier for our people to access documents and to collaborate digitally. We’re also exploring how we can move to digital formats for more types of information - for our Annual Report, has only been available in an online format since 2015, and is specifically designed to be accessed on handheld devices.
For several years, the office paper that we purchase has been 100% recycled, and we’ve sent all of our paper waste to be recycled. However, in 2016 we improved this arrangement, transitioning to a new supplier with a certified ‘closed-loop’ solution for paper. They collect and recycle our paper waste into new paper of a quality that we’re able to buy it back and use it in our MFDs. It means that our paper is recycled up seven times more than traditional paper recycling, using no virgin wood, and significantly less water and energy than other recycled office paper.
Although we don't have a large direct water footprint, we recognise the challenges associated with water globally, and in other communities where the PwC network of firms operate, and are global signatories to the United National Global Compact's (UNGC) CEO Water Mandate.
In the UK specifically, we monitor our water consumption and have run various initiatives to reduce usage. These include replacing nine litre toilet cisterns with six litre cisterns across our properties, installing waterless urinals, as well as taps and showers with automatic shut-off. We’ve also made significant water savings by installing improved condenser water systems across our real estate.
In 2017, our total impact analysis valued our ‘land use’ impact at £38m. Most of this occurred outside our direct operations, through the supply chain footprint of the food we consume. As a result, we updated our carbon offset portfolio to focus on REDD+ projects which protect forests in biodiversity hotspots. We also ran a campaign to encourage our people towards climate-friendly diets.
We also consider land use and biodiversity in the design and selection of new office locations. When designing our More London office – our largest site – we engaged a local area environmental group, Team London Bridge, about supporting urban ecology. They helped us to design our natural spaces in line with London’s Biodiversity Action Plan. These natural spaces, which include green roofs, occupy 20% of the building’s floor plate. We also engaged Dusty Gedge, the ecologist campaigner, to assess and verify the effectiveness of the green roofs. His recommendations helped us to set up and plant the natural spaces in the best way to support urban ecology. They now provide foraging and breeding for birds – including Black Redstarts –while also attracting bees, butterflies, hoverflies and other invertebrates.
We also incorporated similar principles into our Embankment Place refurbishment, installing a living wall and planting boxes which cover 6% of our building’s floor plate, doing our bit to encourage biodiversity in the heart of the city.
We look for ways to reduce other material consumption, wherever we can. For example, we reuse laptops and mobile phones that are returned when employees leave the firm; we only hand out IT accessories (mice, laptop bags etc.) on request, encouraging our people to use those already issued; we encourage reuse of stationery items that are no longer needed (arch lever files, staplers etc.); we work with suppliers to eliminate unnecessary packaging; and we reuse furniture, lockers and other materials across our real estate portfolio as we ‘reimagine’ our offices.
We also look to ensure as much our waste as possible can be reused or recycled, as part of our overarching Going Circular programme.