The Zero-Waste Retail Revolution

Guest Post and infographic by The Cleaning Services Group

What Are Zero-Waste Stores?

A zero-waste store is designed in such a way as to comply with the principles of the zero-waste movement. It achieves this by eliminating as much waste as possible either through lowering the amount of waste produced or by changing how waste is managed.

Zero-waste typically feature bulk-style bins and dispensers. Customers bring their own containers and can select the exact quantities they need. This helps to cut down on unnecessary packaging while also preventing food waste.

The Rise of Zero-Waste Stores Around the World

Over the past few years, the zero-waste movement has become a worldwide phenomenon. According to the Bepakt Index, there are now around 150 packaging-free markets around the world. We are also now beginning to see some major players in the supermarket world, such as Waitrose and Lidl, launch their own waste reduction initiatives.

Zero-Waste: A Response to Customer Demand

On average, England generates 177 million tonnes of waste every year. The rising popularity of zero-waste stores indicate a growing customer interest in eco-friendly alternatives that help to cut down on this number.

The 2015 Nielson Global Corporate Sustainability Report shows that 73% of consumers would switch brands if there was something similar on the market that supports a good cause. Taking a more eco-friendly approach that emphasises sustainability has also been associated with greater transaction spends and increased brand loyalty.

Learn More About the Zero-Waste Retail Revolution

The below infographic from the team at The Cleaning Services Group investigates how these “zero-waste” stores aim to make consumers be more mindful of the environmental impact of their shopping habits. The graphic outlines the many business benefits of going zero-waste and also offers some practical tips to help retailers get started on their own zero-waste journey today.

Eating, Building, Moving: 3 Industries That Could Hold The Key To A More Sustainable Future

This is a guest blog from James Hale, a graduate of the University of Kent. Having studied English and American Literature, James now works as a freelance writer, penning his thoughts on anything and everything of interest. He’s passionate about sustainability, and loves helping to spread the word about how we can all factor it into our day to day lives.

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It’s not uncommon to see concerns about sustainability appearing in the news. While unfortunately it’s not always to decry a positive update, it’s certainly a good thing that this vital issue is so prominent in the public eye. One recent story, however, caught my eye – the news that some of the world’s most prominent investors have called on the largest fast food companies in the world to act urgently on the climate and water risks in their supply chains.

This got me thinking a bit. Of course this is a step in the right direction, but one statistic jumped out at me: “animal agriculture is the world’s highest-emitting sector without a low-carbon plan.” This makes perfect sense with the sheer scale of animal farming in mind. But which other industries are the most harmful to our natural world? And where are the most significant opportunities for change and improvement?

After a little bit of digging, a few stats emerged that I found fairly surprising. Particularly the fact that 71% of all man-made emissions since the dawn of the industrial age have come from just 100 companies. We’re constantly reminded of the things we can do to improve our carbon footprint – recycling, bringing our own bags when we shop, turning the lights off. But it’s clear that while we all have a part to play, the largest responsibility falls on industry. But which industries?

With this in mind, and following on from some of the other posts I’ve written for the sustainability blog, I thought it would be good to take a look at a few of the industries that have – or could have – the biggest impact on the environment, and in particular, those with the potential to have the most positive effects if appropriate steps are taken.

How to define environmental impact

But first, a quick note. It’s very easy to band about phrases such as ‘environmental impact’ without much clarity on what they actually mean. With the risk of being reductive in this sense, I think it’s important to establish how we actually define how ‘environmentally friendly an industry is.

A simple approach can be to simply look at the cumulative estimated emissions (in the form of various greenhouses gasses such as Co2, methane or nitrous oxide) that a given industry is responsible for. But while this is a vital statistic, focusing solely on this one aspect of sustainability arguably isn’t the best way to paint a wider picture.

Instead, for the purposes of this article, I’ve decided to take a slightly broader approach, and consider the far-reaching and hypothetical impacts an industry can have. This includes things like the role an industry has on consumer behaviour, the potential it has to change the way we act and live, and various ways different supply chains can impact the natural world. Basically, we’re talking big picture, and I’m not trying to make any definitive claims!

1: Agriculture/Food production

It makes sense to start with the industry that triggered this train of thought. Food production is one of the building blocks of our civilisation, and it’s hard to underestimate its scale and potential impact. The agriculture industry is so vast, and involves so many different stages and sub-industries, that it clearly takes responsibility for a huge majority of our global carbon footprint.

How does agriculture affect the environment?

This is hard to summarise succinctly and with any true degree of accuracy, but simply by considering the vast number of elements involved in the agriculture industrial supply chain, it’s easy to see just how significant its impact is. It would be foolish to attempt to list all of these, but instead let’s look at a few diverse elements:

Deforestation

In order to farm, land is required. And in order to make more land available, those pesky forests that produce oxygen and provide a self-sustaining biodiverse ecosystem need to go. According to British environmentalist Norman Myers, 5% of deforestation is due to cattle ranching, 19% due to over-heavy logging, 22% due to the growing sector of palm oil plantations, and 54% due to slash-and-burn farming (burning large areas to create a layer of ash, resulting in nutrient-rich soil.)

Food packaging

Single-use disposable plastics for packaging food are a hot topic at the moment, and the absurdity of the amount of plastic we use in food packaging (think mushrooms wrapped in clingfilm in a plastic holder wrapped in clingfilm) is hard to deny. It’s easy to forget that this is a part of the food production industry, but with food products representing a huge amount of our regular purchases, this is a vital consideration.

Pollutants

 

When producing food, all kinds of pollutants are used in the process. From pesticides and herbicides used to ensure quality, to emissions from farming equipment and machinery, and even the pollution of surface and groundwaters from waste, the agriculture industry contributes a staggering number of pollutants to the environment en masse every year.

How could agriculture make a difference?

Far be it for me to suggest how to fix the agriculture industry, but it’s worth noting that on the whole, if broad and far-reaching improvements were made to the way we farm and distribute food produce, the impact on the globe could be massive. If we’re going to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, big changes are needed in farming.

Fundamentally, a global shift towards agreed upon low-carbon guidelines and plans would be an important first step. Agreements between suppliers on clear policies that take steps to reduce freshwater impacts and reduce greenhouse gas emissions would be vital. Similarly, while industries such as the automotive industry have taken steps towards quantitative accountability, it’s crucial that global quantifiable agriculture targets are agreed upon, set, and regularly reported on. Put simply, we need a clear, numbers-driven plan to reduce the harm farming is doing to the environment.

The widespread adoption of sustainable practices including water management, healthy soil maintenance, pollution reduction and biodiversity promotion will be essential – and these will need to be established in clear guidelines and targets for farmers and producers to meet. If we can achieve this, the potential positive impact – or at least the reduction of the current scale of damage – is hard to understate.

2: Construction and Building Design

However well (or poorly) we treat the environment as a society, we still have to live in it. As humans have evolved, we’ve increased our proficiency in design and construction to such an extent that architecture has become one of the most significant industries in terms of our impact of the natural world.

I wrote an entire piece about this on the sustainability blog a little while ago, but seeing as we’re discussing industries with the biggest role to play here, I would be remiss not to include it again. I’ll provide a slightly condensed analysis this time though!

How does architecture affect the environment?

Put simply, the buildings we construct and reside in have a huge effect on how sustainably we live as a society. The supply chain involved in architecture is vast, but generally the impact of building design comes down to two things: construction, and the way we use buildings in the long term.

Construction

The construction industry alone is responsible for a huge amount of environmental damage, which can be attributed to a few different key areas. These include waste (60 million tonnes of materials are disposed of every year without ever being used, due to damage or inaccurate ordering), the emissions from large-scale and long-distance transportation of materials and machinery, and on-site emissions, identified as one of the main causes of CO2 pollution in the UK (with up to 40% of carbon emissions attributable to construction).

Building use

It’s not just the way we construct buildings that has a profound and measurable effect on the environment – it’s the way we use those buildings too. Once construction is complete, a structure’s environmental impact doesn’t go away, it changes. The parameters are different, but the effects are just as significant.

The way a building provides heating, water, ventilation, and energy all play a part in its overall sustainability. The supply of these elements, the energy efficiency of the interior spaces, and things such as the disposal of wastewater need to be considered, and can have both negative and positive effects.

How can building design and construction make a difference?

When thinking about this, it’s important to get to grips with the term ‘sustainable’, as this is really key. Architecture and construction aren’t ever going to have zero impact on the environment, and yet they’re a necessary part of our societal development – so the specifics of sustainable development, that is development which doesn’t involve the irreparable destruction of resources, is crucial.

Sustainable construction practices are already in place which can help us to achieve this goal. This predominantly involves the use of things like nontoxic materials, and renewable resources (such as harvested wood and glass) in the actual building process.

On top of this, it’s worth noting that the way architects approach the design of a building could also have a significant long-term benefit to the overall sustainability of our future. Simple amendments such as the inclusion of effective daylighting through use of something like a glass rooflight, or the inclusion of effective ventilation and natural heating can make a huge difference.

This could have a massive impact on our natural world as we continue to expand our man made influence upon it; rather than reducing both space for natural ecologies to thrive and the amount of resources available to build, sustainable construction and design could ensure that we maintain the resources that are available as we provide efficient and sustainable new living and working spaces for our expanding population – all the while reducing the long-term environmental impact our buildings have.

3: Energy Industry & Fossil Fuel Producers

For many people, regardless of how aware they are of the overarching issues affecting our environment, the energy industry often springs to minds as one of – if not the – prime culprit when it comes to emissions. This opinion is hardly unfounded. In 2017, the ‘Carbon Majors Report’ from the CDP determined that “…a relatively small set of fossil fuel producers may hold the key to systemic change on carbon emissions.”

The impact of those producing energy from fossil fuels is undeniably crucial. Reports such as the one cited above are illuminating, because they hone in specifically on the emissions of energy producers rather than simply analysing emissions on a national scale. And the data is telling.

How does the energy industry affect the environment?

In a very simple sense, the way the energy industry impacts the environment is fairly straightforward regardless of the specific energy source in question. When fossil fuels in any form are burned for energy, they create an abundance of harmful greenhouse gases that are emitted and dispersed into the atmosphere, which over time accumulate and cause an array of problems for the planet. (I know this is GCSE level science but that’s the gist of it!)

Large-scale emissions

These emissions are some of the most significant influencing factors in climate change, and the energy industry is responsible for a terrifying proportion of them. While other industries impact the Earth and sustainability in a variety of ways, the large scale emissions of harmful gases from the burning of fossil fuels have a direct impact on the natural state of our climate.

Since the Industrial Revolution, atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration has increased by about 40% to above 400 parts per million, and current CO2 levels are 100 ppm higher than at any time in the last million years (possibly even more than any time in the last 25 million years.)

This increase of 100 ppm over 120 years is something that normally takes 5,000 to 20,000 years, and is directly correlated with and attributable to the increase in burning of fossil fuels. As we continue to do so, we effectively wrap the world in a gaseous heat blanket, and the effects of this are causing chaos to our climate.

Coal (yes, we’re still burning it)

While the coal industry’s demise in the UK might make it easy to assume this is no longer a significant problem for the wider world, coal is still burned on a massive scale and remains one of the primary contributors to greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. Coal-fired power plants are the main contributor of Co2 into the atmosphere,

What’s particularly surprising is the extent to which this is true. With so many more ways of generating power sustainably, and so many more providers of green energy, I was shocked to discover that between 1988 and 2015, a staggering 14.32% of ALL global greenhouse gas emissions originated from a single company: China Coal.

How can the energy industry make a difference?

The statistics acknowledged above are indicative of the sheer scale of the problem presented by the energy industry, and it’s clear that even a small but industry-wide modification would have a drastic and far-reaching positive impact.

When it comes to tackling emissions (which currently present the most significant threat) there are three fundamental approaches – plants that use fossil fuels need to either: 1. Remove the hazardous, pollutant-causing materials before they are burned 2. Find ways to contain and eliminate the pollutant after it has been created 3. Find methods and processes using the same materials that eliminate (or drastically reduce) the pollutants usually formed.

Fortunately, there are already technologies emerging which allow energy producers to do this. The collection of gases in other liquids or on solid materials that can then be destroyed safely, and other more complex techniques such as electrostatic precipitators or cyclones are also possible.

Of course the technology may already exist, but the challenge will be implementation. It’s clear that the energy industry has the potential to make a huge contribution to the reduction of global emissions. But this will either require the widespread and universal abandonment of fossil fuel-based energy production in favour of the adoption of sustainable energy production, or a large-scale investment (potentially involving a legal impetus from governments or other ruling bodies) in reducing the emissions of long-standing industries.

Conclusion

I’m certainly not trying to suggest I have all the answers when it comes to this vast, and vital topic. This is such a multi-faceted, complex issue that it really isn’t as simple as saying ‘if we do X, then everything will be fine’. What I think is important, however, is acknowledging how vital a role industry has to play, and coming to terms with both precisely which industries have the largest impact, and how they could potentially hold the key to a sustainable future.

We all know about the impact we can have individually, and there’s no denying how important this is, but when you break down the numbers it seems clear that for us to truly make a global difference as a species, we’re going to need to rip up the rulebook for industries everywhere – and whether it’s in the food we eat, the buildings in which we live and work, or the way we power our increasingly digital lives, we need to be bold in redefining how we operate as a society.

Plastic straws are a scapegoat. It’s time for big companies to change

Guest post: Mark Roberts is CEO of Conscious Creatives, a group of like-minded individuals pursuing a greater purpose through our work. Saving the planet by producing branding and digital communications packages that place sustainability at their heart and deliver long term revenue.

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There will be more plastic than fish in our oceans by 2050.

That is the reality of the situation we find ourselves in after decades of plastic abuse.

Plastic straws, in particular, have hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Poignant footage of a straw being removed from a turtle’s nose highlights the problem in microcosm.

But of the nearly 9 million tonnes of plastic waste that hits our oceans every year, just 2,000 tonnes comes in the form of plastic straws. That’s 0.22%. So is banning straws the answer our environment is crying out for?

The demand for change

Recently there has been a wave of support for plastic-free alternatives and for the reduction of plastic use altogether. Organisations like Surfers Against Sewage are helping people turn their local communities into plastic-free zones and companies like Costa Sunglasses are turning plastic waste into sunglasses.

This awareness is fantastic and it helps consumers understand the importance of why they should pay attention to this scourge of the sea. One comment I heard recently though was “I didn’t ask for my products to come in this kind of packaging, it’s not my fault”. Infuriating as the lack of responsibility was at the time, I actually understand why the comment was made.

At a time when climate change has become more and more evident and we have documentaries like Blue Planet 2 highlighting the over-consumption of plastics it now goes beyond the consumer to governments and corporations to do their part.

The role of politics and industry

At the highest level, the United Nations and its member states are working towards the Sustainable Development Goals. These include 17 major areas of sustainability that go far beyond just plastic, seeking to eradicate hunger and social inequality as well.

The corporation part comes from the work done by the UN Global Compact, which partners with businesses all over the world to collaborate on the agendas set out by the UN. Some of the largest businesses in the world are part of this group and in theory this is a great step towards the highest authorities taking responsibility.

However, Lise Kingo, CEO and Executive Director for the UN Global Compact explained at a recent sustainable business summit that we need to be spending around 2 trillion dollars per year to meet these goals. At the moment, we are well short of that target.

To most of us, 2 trillion USD sounds like an awful lot. Here in the UK, the high street banks pull in 12 trillion GBP per year, with a shadow banking sector adding another 2 trillion GBP. It’s not that the money is not available to solve all of these problems — the reason we have not solved them is that they are simply less important than profits for the elite. If one sector from one country could save the planet, imagine what would happen if the whole world took part.

Single-use plastics: the consumer dilemma

As consumers we are stuck in two minds: either we wait for the giant companies to do something when they feel like it, or we engage our inner activist and make choices that force businesses to listen. The person who made the statement above may feel powerless, frustrated and ultimately a little guilty that their consumer habits are impacting the world in a way they don’t want. But there are reasons for optimism.

One example of a good fight against a giant corporation is Greenpeace’s work against Coca-Cola. With all of their various products they produce an estimated 100 billion throwaway plastic bottles per year. They are very much at the centre of this problem.

Coca-Cola, however, have done what many corporations have done — acknowledged the problem but offered no real solution. Coca-Cola Europe have committed to their packaging being 100% reusable or recyclable by 2025, but that’s the only hardened objective that the entire company have set forth.

If we as consumers stopped buying Coca-Cola products then it wouldn’t take long before they noticed. This is where the power of the consumer comes in. Whether we feel like it or not — and it may be very difficult to accept — we do have a choice.

Other organisations like Iceland have vowed to remove single-use plastics from their shelves, so why can’t companies like Coca-Cola follow suit?

Positive action you and I can take today

I offer then a conclusion that lies in action. No longer can we sit on the fence. We have to take a stand and ask ourselves what kind of state we wish to leave the planet in for future generations. The choices we make right now will affect billions of people, present and future.

It is not fair that the giant manufacturers are using our busy lives and desire for a good life as a way of profiteering at the cost of the planet. It’s now time to move past being angry at that fact and face the reality of what needs to be done.

I urge you to find your local zero waste store, explore what they have and ask lots of questions. By local, buy high quality and buy less. Look for the places that offer paper straws instead of plastic straws but understand that while this problem is way bigger than any individual, this is our stand for what we believe in.

If you feel inspired do not stop there. Speak to your local council, your local MPs and your local businesses to see what they are doing to tackle the problems that the environment faces. The more people that show they care, the more likely the big companies will make the changes required so that we as the consumer can have the choices we really want and the planet really needs.

 

Resolutions or not…this really is the right time to ditch the plastic in your life!

Is it just me or is there a large amount of news content about plastic recently?

Whether it is the disturbing sight of plastic bottles ruining the immersion of being in the deep blue as David Attenborough lulled you to sleep on a Sunday night with the incredible Blue Planet 2; the news that China will no longer take our recycled plastic due to pollution concerns; or yesterdays ban of Micro-beads coming into full affect; it seems plastic has finally fallen out of favour.

 

So with it being the new year why not add a truely transformative resolution to your list. Ditch the plastic.

A simple way to do this is to start with any single use plastic that is entirely unnecessary. Do you need that straw in your drink? If Weatherspoons and Jamie Oliver can ditch them for good, so can you! Can Tupperware serve you better than clingfilm? Does your coffee really taste as good out of that disposable?

There are so many things in our everyday life that create rubbish after just one use but with a few simple changes you could do away with single use plastic for good. It will definitely save you money, especially if the government decide to tax all single use plastics such as plastic bottles and the so called ‘latte levy’ which could reduce the 2.5 billion coffee cups we get through in the UK, of which only 1% are recycled.

If you would like to be part of the movement to ditch single use plastic head on over to the Global Good Award’s #pointlessplastic on Twitter to get some inspiration.

Let’s save the World one return form at a time!

This week’s guest post comes from Claudia Cox, a Classics student at Edinburgh University entering her final year of study. Claudia is passionate about sustainability and protecting the environment, and also loves getting involved in social and environmental projects to encourage positive change where possible.

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Why its time online retailers get serious about sustainable packaging

A recent survey by UPS shows that people are now doing 51% of their shopping online (excluding groceries), which is a vast amount in comparison to just a few years ago.

This is great news for the environmental side of things, as customers who tend to shop online rather than in stores have already reduced their carbon footprint by driving less, and research carried out by Carnegie Melon University has found that it is more eco friendly for businesses to be online since they have an overall energy consumption that is 30% lower than traditional shops.

But there’s also another side of the same coin: with increased demand for delivered items also comes the need for more and more packaging.  So it becomes clear that it’s time online retailers up their game and think seriously about the parcels they’re sending out each day and the ways in which they can help reduce their negative impact on the environment.

Who hasn’t, at some point, been shocked by the awfully excessive amount of wrapping they’ve ended up with when ordering a very small item? It is sad to learn that the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that in 2012 containers and packaging accounted for 30% (75.2m tons) of total solid waste generated in the US. Using eco-friendly packaging is therefore one of the most important steps companies can take to minimise their environmental impact.

However, conceded that having fully sustainable packaging throughout the supply chain is still a big challenge, it feels like all ecommerce retailers, and particularly the major ones, should be doing more to improve their packaging practices. Technology and innovation has helped to create sustainable alternatives, but big companies should also pay close attention to what startups are doing.

Ecovative, for example, uses agricultural waste to grow packaging in different shapes and the Finnish startup RePack gives customers of online retailers adopting the solution the option of paying a small deposit for reusable packaging at checkout. This deposit then gets reimbursed once the bag or box finds its way back to the company, via any post office in Europe. Others, like ethical clothing company Verry Kerry, have found some creative ways to minimise their environmental impact. Firstly they do not include a return form in every parcel, which on a large scale could amount to a huge saving in paper and ink. Enclosing return forms in every order seems to be a common practice among fashion retailers (ASOS & co) but, as Amazon & eBay demonstrate (with their online return policy), it’s clear that alternatives are available. Verry Kerry also send their (sustainably made) garments in recycled paper mailing bags, which are a great substitute of the commonly used plastic alternatives .

 

This is another way to check your packaging is sustainable, by ensuring that your products are enclosed in materials which are recyclable, as far as possible. For online retailers, this means not using flimsy plastic packaging to wrap items which is wasteful and unnecessary, but rather placing them inside packaging such as a reusable bag or a large recycled paper envelope. This keeps costs and environmental impact down to a minimum. Reducing the overall amount of packaging is also important, for example not using two separate bags for a product where one would suffice, and getting rid of excessive amounts of paper/plastic enclosed within the parcel.

The leading online fashion company ASOS have a list of packaging initiatives in line with these ideas, among which include using lighter packaging to help reduce CO2 emissions from deliveries and recycling packaging from customer returns. However although all their boxes are fully recyclable still only 25% of their bags are, and sadly this is the sort of packaging which is most frequently used by ASOS. It is clear from this that they are only part of the way there, and there is definitely so much more that they, as well as other large retail companies, can be doing to improve upon this.

To summarise, it is crucial that online retailers get their act together and start thinking seriously about how they can reduce the negative effects which unsustainable packaging has on the environment. It is the hope that in the future all retailers will have to adhere to strict guidelines about the way in which they conduct their packaging process, so why not take some initiative and start now, one step ahead of everyone else!