Reinventing recycling in the workplace: shifting mindsets from the inside-out

By Mary Ann Yule, president of HP Canada

Many organizations — educational institutions, governments and companies — talk a great deal about sustainability. They implement green workplace initiatives and commit to reducing plastic use. These are all well-intentioned efforts. The problem? They aren’t enough to solve the clear and pressing issues facing our planet, and specifically, our country.

Canada’s rate of warming is, on average, double the global warming rate. The resulting threat to our ecosystem and our daily lives is catastrophic — ranging from extreme weather to invasive species. All of these imminent risks are attributed primarily to human factors, and the choices made in the coming years will impact our future wellbeing significantly. The UN says drastic changes must be achieved by 2030 in order to thwart the worst of outcomes. 

Today, roughly 90 per cent of CEOs know sustainability impacts their industry, however, according to Bain & Company, 98 per cent of companies don’t achieve their sustainability goals. To reinvent mindsets and reinforce the importance of sustainability, business leaders need to start by looking at their company’s mission, culture and processes. One area that is typically neglected but has the opportunity to drive fast and significant results is procurement. The fastest way to “green” your business is to purchase from one that has already “greened” theirs.

How to change mindsets, starting with procurement 

It’s a popular notion that thoughts influence actions. So, too, can actions influence thoughts. An important first step in shifting mindsets around sustainability is giving employees an opportunity to buy more sustainable products as well as recycle them at end-of-life. In fact, a recent study by HP found that Canadians who feel their workplace is leading the charge on sustainability are happier, more productive and loyal to their employer.

It’s clear that sustainable practices play out across businesses big and small ways. When it comes to product design, for example, IKEA’s Sustainability Strategy for 2020 outlines not only major plans to minimize their materials input and waste, but also larger concepts, such as shifting the company’s paradigms and conventions for design while improving the wellbeing of people and the environment. This is a high-level example of sustainable procurement taking effect, but everyday choices are equally important. 

Purchasing (and recycling) office supplies made with sustainable materials like closed-loop plastics—plastics that came from recycled products and do not require virgin plastics to make them—is a simple way a company can lower its environmental impact without a major change management undertaking. It also contributes to a circular economy, a model that eschews the traditional “make, take and dispose” modes of goods consumption in favor of one where products are designed with end-of-life recyclability in mind. Research shows that 73 per cent of decision makers in offices know ink cartridges are recyclable, yet 40 per cent do not recycle them. This is a missed opportunity that could make a big difference. To date, HP Original Ink Cartridges made from closed-loop recycled materials have kept more than 4.37 billion plastic bottles, 830 million HP cartridges, and an estimated 101 million clothes hangers from landfills.

To establish sustainable buying strategies and drive positive change, procurement decision makers should also evaluate how their organization’s goals align to those of their vendors and implement sustainable procurement policies within their supply chains. Then, they must establish a clear mandate about the company’s sustainability practices and ensure suppliers uphold it. When sustainable procurement is implemented the right way, it leads to impactful, fair, environmentally- and economically-viable supplier relationships. 

Looking beyond procurement to the everyday employee

For more than a decade, HP has focused on employee education and found it to be a key driver in sustainability performance as well as attraction and retention of top talent. Employees need to see how sustainability factors into all business decisions and partnerships. In fact, they are increasingly demanding it. Forty per cent of Canadian officer workers say they want to work for a company that implements sustainable best practices. Furthermore, 31 per cent say they would actively seek to change jobs if their company did not implement better business practices surrounding sustainability. Transparency about an organization’s culture increases the likelihood that the company will attract and retain talent that shares its mission and vision. 

From the global to the local level, action is needed. Today, we can also see the business benefits. Sustainability and profitability are no longer at odds. For instance, a recent study found nearly 70 per cent of U.S. Internet users deemed product sustainability to be an important factor in making a purchase. Any smart business leader recognizes these clear signs: sustainable impact and profitability are mutually beneficial. Take the first step by educating and empowering your staff to make sound purchasing and recycling decisions. Your customers, your workforce, and, likely, your bottom line will thank you.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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