CEO of Bow & Hook, a sustainable materials technology company. We develop recycled and recyclable solutions for fashion and retail.
As business leaders, it is our responsibility to consider our impact on the environment through things like single-use plastics and other materials with negative environmental impacts. Eight million pieces of the plastic pollution estimated to end up in the oceans every day; producing just one ton of plastic generates up to 2.5 tons of carbon dioxide; and, worldwide, only 9% of the nine billion tons of the plastic produced since 1950 has been recycled.
The new laws against single-use plastic in places like Canada and the EU forcing large international companies to adapt their way of working. But why wait for legislation to address problems within our own companies? By making a commitment to reduce your plastic use now and in the future, you can create positive change.
1. Challenge yourself to spend a day without touching plastic.
I once spent an entire day, from morning to night, trying not to touch a single piece of plastic. I couldn’t touch my phone to turn off my alarm, brush my teeth or wash my hair, eat my usual breakfast, or wear half of my clothes because of the microfibers. I had to walk to work because my bicycle lock is made of plastic and public transport is full of it. So I came to the office half dressed, hungry and very late, after which I couldn’t even open the doors, let alone use my laptop.
I often challenge clients to try this, and the results are always perspective-changing. It illustrates how ubiquitous plastic is and how it has become the building block of modern life without the vast majority of us agreeing, acknowledging or challenging it. A day without plastic is an effective way to make a seemingly overwhelming issue more personal and accessible.
The whole way we live our lives and run our businesses would be reconstructed if people took on this challenge. Why? Because people are much more likely to ask themselves important sustainability questions if they are half washed, half dressed and unable to sit.
2. Keep track of how much new plastic your company uses in one month.
Once you have an idea of your own consumption, take a look at the plastic consumption of your company as a whole. Bring your senior management teams together and ask them to track how much new plastic is used in their departments in one month, without changing your current way of doing business, from manufacturing, packaging and transportation to delivery, catering and non-resale goods (GNFR).
Tracking is about visibility, education and accountability. You are much better able to know what changes to make and where, when you have a clear understanding of what you are using and why. Then, at the end of the month, calculate the total and be honest about the figure with yourself and your staff.
3. Make a plan to start reducing your consumption.
This month-long evaluation is an integral first step in setting the course for your business and initiating a policy of education and transparency. Use this new insight to select a single area of focus to focus on first, be it a product line, department, or program. Then explore the options for making sustainable changes in that area, setting a goal and a deadline for implementation. The raw materials all industries need already exist, so no matter what industry you’re in, there are ways to make progressive change. (Disclaimer: My company, Archwey, develops alternatives to unsustainable materials in fashion, retail, hospitality, healthcare, and manufacturing.)
Finally, come up with a timeline to minimize your plastic consumption. For example, if you consumed 10,000 tons of virgin plastic in August 2022, set a target of using only 5,000 tons by August 2023. Better yet, try to make sure those 5,000 tons are made exclusively from proven and certified recycled materials.
The beauty of devising a strategy for your approach is that it is a team effort. Everyone is involved and involved. With input from all departments, you will undoubtedly discover and inspire sustainable ideas that you never thought possible.
4. Share your plans publicly to ensure you are held accountable.
This step may seem intimidating, but it’s vital to show your consumers that you care about your environmental impact. Publish the results of the monitoring of the monthly consumption of virgin plastic per department on your website or via a press release. Then tell them you have a plan to deal with the problem, so it’s clear that this isn’t just theater activism.
Plastic pollution is an urgent global problem that should not be brushed under a polyester rug. It’s time for companies to take meaningful action toward sustainability. Addressing your internal plastic consumption is a great way to start.