The car industry is caught between a rock and the proverbial hard place.
Petrol is now seen as horrible and polluting … not only is it responsible for pumping ever more carbon dioxide, the world’s top cause of global warming, into the air but the particulate emissions are being linked to everything from asthma to cancer and are making cities progressively unhealthy.
Of course you can go electric, but that’s not much better. There is a growing body of evidence that the manufacture of electric cars is more environmentally damaging than petrol, and no-one’s yet figured out how to dispose of the toxic lithium batteries e-vehicles rely upon.
However there are some things the car industry’s doing right, and one of those is waste.
Back in 2005 General Motors (GM) took a long hard look at its waste stream. Every ton of waste it produced was costing it $10 and much of it was non-toxic, getting dumping into the local landfill instead of something useful happening to it.
So GM decided to change this, managing to reduce their waste output by 62% and the cost of producing that waste by 92%. Furthermore the company generates over $1 billion per year from it’s zero waste activities, and saved over 10 million tons of CO2 last year.
How did it do this? Well the caring-sharing people at GM have produced a small blueprint for businesses of any size with nine steps they can take to bring their own landfill waste down to zero percent. Each of these can be translated into a metric, which can then be published upon your website.
Track Waste Data
“Data is the backbone of any companywide zero-waste initiative” says the blueprint. Amen to that! So before you can even start to think about reducing and eliminating your landfill waste you need to know how much of it you’re producing in the first place. So put in place the procedures to measure it, and publish the figures on your website.
Define Zero Waste
This is the second most important metric after tracking because it’s your target. There’s no universally accepted definition of zero waste and GM suggest the Zero Waste International Alliance’s slightly misleading definition of a reduction of over 90%.
It’s also important to look at where your waste is going and the difference between landfill and incinerators. The latter you may be more comfortable with, especially if it’s part of a waste to energy scheme.
Prioritise Waste Reduction Activities
The next stage is to put in place the mechanisms through which your waste stream is going to be reduced and give those mechanisms a relative order of priority.
In doing this it’s worth remembering the old saw of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” and putting your mechanisms in place in this order. So your first priority is to reduce waste, period. Then to reuse it in its current form, before resorting to recycling it into a different form.
You also need to prioritise the order in which these activities are going to be put in place. Perhaps there are some quick wins which should go at the head of the queue, or ones which will significantly reduce the cost to the business (or even provide revenue!).
Build a Sustainability Culture
This is perhaps the single most important step in the entire process: engage your employees and make them part of the solution. Measuring metrics and putting in place plans are all very well, but if you don’t have your workforce on board it going to make the entire enterprise an uphill struggle.
Part of this is going to involve an upfront cost in training and many businesses report a high success rate when using subject matter experts in each grouping who undergo the training and then help implement the principles on the ground.
There is also a large scope here in the field of best practice and inter-company co-operation, more of which later.
(This is the first part of two posts.).
Image © General Motors.
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