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Taking the Lead on Reducing Plastics in the Workplace

Plastic waste is one of the most important issues of our time. Many organizations understand the need to take action, but this change needs to occur today, not tomorrow.  

Plastic and glass bottle

According to Plastic Oceans, the world produces over 300 million tons of plastic every year, half of which is for single-use purposes. Only 9% of the plastic ever created has been recycled. From disposable water bottles to food packaging, many of these single-use items make their way into the sea. In fact, the World Economic Forum warns there could be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans by 2050. 

The carbon footprint of plastics is also enormous. Plastic production, use, and disposal all emit immense amounts of greenhouse gasses. According to a recent study from the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 2015 the emissions from plastics were equivalent to nearly 1.8 billion metric tons of CO2.

Work Reimagined subscribe linkConsumers are well-aware of the need to eliminate single-use plastics—from their own lives, from the workplace, and from society as a whole—and they expect businesses to innovate and reform. In a recent global survey, 81% of respondents said they feel strongly that companies should help improve the environment. This passion for corporate responsibility is shared across gender lines and generations.

While many companies are already attuned to the moral and ethical imperative to take responsibility and make a positive difference, there is still a long way to go. Meanwhile, increasing pressure through legislative and regulatory control is further provoking action from businesses to reduce their plastic footprint.

The time is now for companies to take the lead and really make a difference.

The tide is turning

Business woman working outdoorsForward-thinking brands, retailers and packaging companies are taking action, with many working towards 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable plastics. This proactive approach to plastic reduction not only makes an impact, but it also allows companies to steal a march on the market, putting them on a strong footing before laws inevitably change. 

Single-use plastics are already a focus for legislation, and restrictions are set to increase. A UN report found that 27 out of 192 countries have enacted some form of ban on these items, namely straws and dishware. Plastic bag regulations, first enacted in the early 2000s, have now spread to 127 countries, and it appears as though single-use products will follow a similar pattern.

For those not yet impacted by legislation, implementing proactive strategies and taking practical steps sooner will allow them to reap the reputational benefits, as well as helping minimize the cost of reacting to legislative changes further down the line. 

By 2030, global production of plastic waste could increase by 41% and the amount accumulated in the ocean could double. To stop this global crisis, WWF calls on all actors to act. Companies in particular have a major role to play in reducing the production and distribution of single-use plastics.

Nicolas Loz de Coëtgourhant, Corporate Engagement Manager, WWF France

Combining a strategic and practical approach to change

So what are the steps your business can take? At a strategic level, it doesn’t take much for leaders to make a difference. Every organization can commit to change, taking employees, partners and customers along for the journey.

Often this will begin with engaging colleagues and identifying the biggest sources of waste, then encouraging creative ideas and making a public commitment to change. Of course, the scale of the changes that emerge from these efforts will depend on the size of an organization, what it is already doing, and the role plastics play in both the business and within individual workplaces.

Sodexo—along with many organizations—is addressing how plastics are used within our business and our supply chain. For example, plastics have traditionally been an important part of our operations because they help prevent food damage and waste. So we are finding new ways to manage these issues effectively, while balancing the need to phase out single-use, disposable products. 

Within our company and in partnership with our clients, the order of our priorities are: Prevent → Reuse → Recycle → Repurpose. Within this hierarchy, your company can start by focusing on the following three areas: 

  1. Smarter sourcing

    Wooden cutleryPoor design can result in unnecessary plastic waste. Organizations can prevent single-use plastic in the workplace by not purchasing single-use sachets, sourcing alternatives to plastic bottled drinks, switching to alternative materials that can be composted, and collaborating with suppliers to reduce plastic in their packaging.

    Identifying where single-use products are used in the business will not only focus these efforts, it will also help quantify savings down the line.
  2. Empowering behavioral change

    Companies can empower small behavioral changes and encourage positive choices that help everyone to make a difference. For example, many businesses provide filtered tap water and glasses, rather than disposable plastic cups. Others offer reusable mugs as gifts or incentives, and they have eliminated single-use straws except on request (in some cases, non-plastic straws need to be provided, because they are an important tool for some disabled people).
  3. Driving engagement

    Meaningful change requires a true connection with the workforce. And, staff, particularly those who use plastic the most, may have their own ideas, so it’s important to encourage their feedback and creativity.

    Some employers have arranged events like ‘hackathons’ and they produce consistent, multi-channel internal communications to engage teams, clients and consumers. They can then share the waste prevention ideas and results that come from these with all of their sites to inspire others.

Inspiring Change through WasteLESS Week

Sodexo’s annual WasteLESS Week encourages and empowers employees and clients to explore new ways to minimize plastic, food and energy waste. In 2018, more than 3,500 sites in 47 countries took part in the campaign. 

While innovative packaging and recycling solutions such as reusable materials, bioplastics and organic material help, the real success of the campaign comes from promoting simple actions everyone involved can take.

Making a business case for change 

Employees in green settingBusinesses want to make a positive impact but there is no getting away from the realities of the bottom line. The great news is that it’s perfectly possible to ‘do well while doing good’. And the business case for taking action to reduce plastic waste is too great to ignore.

Not only is making and communicating such changes a critical aspect of modern corporate responsibility, but it has a direct and positive impact on your company’s reputation. Being a good corporate citizen helps to attract and build relationships with people that share your values—customers, employees, partners, suppliers and investors. 

Potential employees are looking for organizations with values that reflect their own, and many want to play an active role in their company’s efforts around environmental and social issues. Businesses can position themselves as an employer of choice by making clear commitments around the plastics issue, and also by providing employees with opportunities for idea-sharing and hands-on participation.

Employees as Change Agents

  • 83% of Millennials would be more loyal to an employer that helps them contribute to social and environmental issues. 
  • 88% say their job is more fulfilling when they are provided opportunities to make a positive impact on these issues.

Source: Cone Communications Millennial Employee Engagement Study

A focus on plastic reduction also provides an opportunity to cut costs by purchasing fewer disposable items, and helps to mitigate the risk of falling foul of current and future legislation, as well as the risk of reputational damage from taking too long to act. This means that even for those not yet affected by regulatory requirements, the positives of taking action outweigh the challenges.

The business case almost writes itself, so it’s less a consideration of whether or not to reduce plastic waste, but when and how to go about making it happen.

Time to make a difference

With the societal pressures around plastic waste reduction rising, more organizations are understanding the need to take action. But this change needs to occur today, not tomorrow.  

Leading this change is well within reach of any company that wants to make a difference. Sodexo partners with our clients to ensure their efforts are successful—from providing alternate sustainable products, to incorporating plastic removal/replacement as a basic part of many of our offers. We’ve helped some companies transform into waste-free sites where all opportunities to prevent, reuse, recycle and repurpose are maximized. 

Providing a waste free food service site for our clients and guests is our ambition. It requires engagement with our ecosystem so that together we can design waste, including plastics, out of the system.

Neil Barrett, Group Senior Vice President Corporate Responsibility at Sodexo

Contact us if you’d like to learn more about what you can do on both a strategic and practical level to reduce your organization’s plastic footprint. To learn more about Sodexo’s commitment around this issue, read our Plastics Briefing Paper.



September 09, 2019

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