Making sustainability more than just a buzzword

Sustainability seems to be the word on everyone’s lips of late. Be it corporate or consumer, there is no denying the significant shift in attitude towards saving the planet, thanks to recent developments in electric and hybrid vehicles, smart homes and renewable energy.

When talking about sustainability it’s easy to get bogged down in statistics, metrics and the politics of the day, all of which can take away from the true meaning of the word: to consider how we operate in harmony with the natural world.

The Blue Planet effect

Last year saw a surge of public interest around plastic, due in no small part to David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II. In the final episode, the prolific narrator urged viewers to address their plastic consumption and think about how they as individuals can help the environment and keep deadly plastic away from the ocean.

This ‘Blue Planet effect’ has led to a landscape in which plastic is viewed a lot less positively than it was in the recent past. Many businesses have jumped on the bandwagon – creating a single eco-friendly product line here or amending an environmental policy there – to appeal to this more environmentally conscious world whilst continuing with business as usual.

Without discrediting steps in the right direction, if we as a planet are to become serious about sustainability we must be prepared to embody it in every aspect of our businesses, from the values that shape us down to the smallest details of how we operate.

From packaging to logistics to our ethos, sustainability needs to become a core part of our organisational DNA. We need to be building towards a circular economy where product design, production and operations are re-used in a continuous loop and each new cycle strives to decrease its impact on our planet.

In order to achieve this, a business’s first consideration should always be its environmental impact – which should not be left as an afterthought. Using my own industry as an example, print has long been leading the way when it comes to sustainability. Sustainable print isn’t simply about printing less or using recycled paper. It means limiting the environmental impact of our product lifecycle from packaging, power consumption, the use of consumables like toners, through to the end of life for our devices. In short, it’s having one eye on the environment with every step we take.

This approach is enshrined by the ISO 14001 global standard for environmental management. Adherence to the processes in that standard can really move the needle. For instance at KYOCERA we reduced our 2018 power consumption in the manufacturing of our products by 20% compared to the previous year.

Lots of changes can contribute to a saving like that, but here’s an illustrative one. The photoreceptor drum lies at the heart of most professional printers. Through careful research and design, we’ve commercialised a drum with just a single photoconductor layer – with a hardness close to that of natural diamond. It takes 30% less energy to produce the new, simplified design. And because it lasts 10 times longer than an average drum, there are 9 replacement drums we don’t need to manufacture at all.

As the print industry has proven, if businesses make the conscious effort to address the environmental impact of their use of materials, energy, products, etc., others will follow suit.

Be the spark

If you have any doubt that one person or organisation can bring about significant change, just take a look at how Attenborough’s call to arms has resonated throughout the UK.

It has brought about a reduction in plastic waste and newly proposed regulation around using less plastic, the most prolific example of which being the BBC’s decision to ban single use plastics from 2020. Most recently, the UK government has proposed a ban on plastic straws and cotton buds thanks to mounting pressure from an increasingly environmentally aware population.

Whether you’re looking to become more environmentally aware as a business, or want to choose a partner whose eco-outlook matches your own, there are some immediately actionable steps you can begin taking today.

Assess your approach

A good starting point is a business wide assessment of your company’s current sustainability practises. The UK’s Carbon Trust offers a lot of advice, structure and process to make this happen.

And don’t forget the people in the process. Their compliance – better still, their active support – is essential to making gains. Lots of businesses are looking at how to make positive contributions to the environment, while also building a positive environment for their people. That’s encapsulated in the ‘Smart Buildings’ movement. The good news is that a smart building can start from just one smart process.

Document management systems and paperless office technologies kind of blazed a trail here. But here’s one important example of the sort of marginal gains that can add up to a mighty impact. We all know that printers spend a lot of time waiting for something to happen – ‘standby’ wastes a tonne of energy. Putting the machine into a deeper sleep saves more power but then it’s slower to ‘wake’, creating frustrated, challenging users. Bear this in mind, and look for a device that can quickly wake from standby mode to avoid these headaches.

Of course an initial assessment is only the beginning – businesses that succeed in reducing their eco-footprint are those that consider sustainability in every new step they take. It may be a frightening find, but whatever the results, after assessing your current standing you’ll be ready to aim for zero waste goals.

Assess your materials

Regardless of what you’re selling, material choices have a significant impact on your environmental footprint.

Looking back to plastics, a lot of plastic cannot be recycled and therefore can be potentially very harmful for the environment. Many organisations are now banning the use of single use plastics within the packaging of their products in a bid to become polystyrene free. At KYOCERA, we’ve been limiting the usage of single-use plastics for some time. Over 99% of the total plastic that we use can now be recycled, and up to 30% of the plastics used in the majority of our products are recycled.

Assess your waste

Waste is a significant pillar in any business’s environmental profile, with many striving to run a zero waste business, in which over 90% of waste is diverted from incineration and dumping in favour of recycling or other waste management plans.

Where possible, of course, business waste should be recycled. Performing a recyclability assessment will help your business better understand and action recyclability, such as implementing recycling bins and zones for larger amounts of waste. Again, the act of providing bins is only the beginning, and all recycling output should be monitored and evaluated at regular intervals to ensure your organisation is truly recycling every suitable piece of waste.

Whilst not always plausible to reduce waste production altogether, investing in an efficient waste management solution can help to manage waste materials and identify areas of further savings.

Remember, it’s impossible to create a truly green product without first becoming a green business. If an obligation to the environment doesn’t incentivise you, the rise of eco-awareness in your customers, peers and competitors should help you on your way.


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