Zero Waste in Context

Zero Waste in Context

I’m always thrilled to hear about companies that have been able to achieve zero waste and to reduce their environmental footprints. This is a good thing. Any time that any of us can use fewer resources and produce less waste to do what we do, the planet benefits.

But… there’s always been this underlying thread that bothers me. All these achievements are about the how, but no one’s looking at the what. I keep trying to think of an extreme analogy to illustrate my point. Sustainable child slave traders? The rhetoric would be disturbing …. ‘our employees kidnapped this child using a zero-emissions vehicle that runs on renewable fuels. Her restraints are made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled steel ….’ The point is clear ...  process over product.
More realistically, if you are a company that makes widgets that are designed to break quickly and need replacement (i.e., you make crap), can you be considered sustainable, regardless of how much your packages are made from recycled materials or how your factory can produce the crap without throwing anything away?

Companies need to think about this. Not just their packages and processes but their business model and product/service mix as well – are these truly sustainable? Could they shift what they do instead of just changing how they’re doing it?

At a conference once, a person who was part of a large corporation’s sustainability department related (off the record, of course) that the joke back at the office was that the easiest way for the company to become sustainable would be to just shut down!

It’s kind of a valid point. I wonder if any company would ever have the courage to ask the tough question: would the planet be better off without this business in it? If the answer is yes, it wouldn’t be the end of the world (ha!) if the company closed. The talented people who work there could join businesses that can answer the question the other way. Those are the companies whose zero waste achievements are truly meaningful.