By Sam Scoten, Co-Founder and CEO of CheckSammy
Many brands and their leaders face the challenge of balancing environmental impact and financial performance. Consumers and Chief Sustainability Officers want to see smaller carbon footprints, conservation efforts and responsible social outcomes while boards and investors tend to stay focused on profitability, competitive positioning and growth. Traditional wisdom assumes this is a zero-sum game between the environment and the bottom line, but these initiatives are no longer mutually exclusive.
In fact, the increased attention on both areas of the business presents an opportunity to collaborate for an even bigger impact. Here are six ways to get started:
1. Set and communicate your goals.
Establishing measurable goals helps to align your internal and external stakeholders on a specific journey. Your goals could include increasing landfill diversion, reducing specific materials you send to the landfill (e.g., plastic or textiles), decreasing your carbon footprint, or identifying more environmentally and fiscally responsible opportunities to address complex or large-volume projects. In one scenario, a national retailer recently opted to recycle 55,000 outdated mannequins instead of throwing them away.
2. Leverage Your Data.
Data is your strongest ally through this journey. After establishing your benchmarks, educate each department on your goals and explain how they can help you reach them. Leaders should be able to pinpoint “missed opportunities,” whether with a supplier or by planning ahead for large volume waste (i.e. how you’ll responsibly divert mannequins, CPG food waste in the event of a potential recall, or excess cardboard during the holiday season).
3. Share Your Progress.
Quantifying progress toward the goals is a great way to strengthen buy-in from internal and external stakeholders, especially customers. Show - don’t just tell - them what you’re doing. Consumers see frontline actions companies are taking, like offering recycled shopping bags and posting commitments to stock sustainably sourced goods. What about the steps they can’t see, like some of the earlier large-volume examples? Share any challenges or obstacles you’re experiencing, which creates authenticity and engages your stakeholders to find shared solutions.
4. Separate Your Waste Streams.
Consolidated or commingled waste streams usually mean the waste just goes to the landfill. One of the biggest impacts you can make is at the source of your waste. Separating cardboard from organic waste, or plastic from metal, means that you can divert each of those waste streams to destinations that minimize costs and maximize diversion. Once organics are mixed in with plastics or cardboard, the cost to separate the streams typically eliminates the ability to monetize the materials. This practice also maximizes the ability for those materials to enter the circular economy. For example, when recycling candles, we recycle the glass and metal lids, while redirecting the wax, wicks and wick tab to a firestarter company that uses them for new consumer goods. Separating materials also puts your organization in the best position to monetize the value of commodity goods, such as plastics or textiles. Believe it or not, there are companies looking to buy plastics, which can offset the cost of sorting them.
5. Adopt energy-efficient practices and technologies.
By switching to energy-efficient lighting, HVAC and other eco-facility practices, companies can save on operational costs while reducing their emissions. A small investment in these technologies will have a long-term impact on environmental, social and governance (ESG) metrics and on the bottom line.
6. Talk to the right people.
Knowing where to turn for expertise, especially for enterprise companies, is often the biggest hurdle. A sustainability operator with experience across industries, knowledge of increasing regulations, and logistics to oversee complex issues can complement current service providers and guide the data collection and aggregation process.
Data and forethought can help improve your carbon footprint and bottom line. Leaders are often surprised to find that five-year goals can be reached in as few as three years after rallying their organization toward a shared outcome.
Sam Scoten is the co-founder and CEO of CheckSammy, a Dallas, Texas-based sustainability operator that launched in 2018 to guide Fortune 500 companies on their journey to more environmentally and fiscally responsible outcomes and zero-waste initiatives.