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  • Feature Story

Do You Have What It Takes to Go to Zero Waste?

May 17, 2016

In recent years, many companies are realizing that adopting sustainability practices do not necessarily lead to increased costs. Many sustainability goals, in fact, lower costs because companies often reduce the inputs they use as well as generate additional revenue from better products and increased customer loyalty.

As outlined in UL Environment’s recent Sustainable Edge report:

  • 68 percent of business leaders cite improved financial returns resulting from their companies’ investment in socially responsible business practices
  • 79 percent of companies involved in product sustainability have achieved savings in their manufacturing costs
  • 87 percent of global consumers consider a company’s social and environmental commitment before making purchasing decisions

Companies large and small are setting goals as a result of the benefits realized in the shift toward corporate sustainability—everything from going to a zero waste operation to using 100 percent renewable energy.

UL Environment’s Advisory Services team works with many organizations to evaluate and develop sustainability programs. While all have a similar goal to improve society, the environment, and their bottom line, no two paths of corporate commitment toward sustainability are ever alike. Each organization has different motivating drivers.

UL begins with the question, Why?

“We want to understand why companies want to have this conversation with us,” said Catherine Sheehy, advisory lead at UL Environment. “We know there’s a universal business case to overhauling sustainability programs so companies can thrive in today’s environmentally conscious economy, but we need to understand the organization’s goals; and then we need to understand what they are trying to achieve.”

Implementation comes next, and Sheehy says that clients often have the right ideas but need help with internal change management. As a trusted third party known for a science-based approach, UL frequently helps organizations implement what they planned to start internally.

For other organizations, effective goal-setting is the greatest challenge in achieving sustainability initiatives. According to Sheehy, advanced organizations envision setting goals based within the context of their operations.

In 2005, Walmart introduced three aspirational goals: (1) to be supplied with 100 percent renewable energy, (2) to generate zero waste, and (3) to sell products that sustain resources and the environment. Within these aspirational goals, Walmart developed commitments and objectives that were bound by specific timing and metric benchmarks. The company wanted goals and benchmarks to be committed to an aspirational direction and to create a cyclical process that would enable lasting change.

Walmart turned to UL Environment to evaluate its zero-waste initiative because of UL Environment’s competencies in validation, waste diversion and sustainability planning. Resource constraints are compelling companies to reuse what they are producing through the use of closed-loop processes or circulating economy.

UL audited Walmart’s global waste diversion processes, identified areas for improvement and uncovered best practices. Moreover, because of frequent internal transfers within Walmart, UL developed a training program toolkit to ensure the use of best practices, as staff changes occur. Walmart has reduced waste by 82.4 percent in the U.S. and 68 percent internationally, according to their Global Responsibility Report.

Ultimately, UL believes that any organization can reach sustainability goals through a proactive not reactive approach to emergencies or episodes. Making a true commitment to sustainability means embedding it within the organization’s core operations and using it as a catalyst for innovation.

“In the area of corporate sustainability, many companies are reacting to risks,” noted Sheehy. “However, companies that think about sustainability early in the development phase will be much better positioned for risks than those that are reactive.”