A Meeting of the Minds
Public Discussion of Private Sector Recovery
In late January several of RRS’ private sector recovery and sustainability experts gathered around a video conference to chat about current trends, hotspots, and opportunities.
Here are a few highlights of that conversation.
Q: Which sustainability topics are going to be trending and which will be maturing?
Chardoul: Manufacturers, especially of foodservice and paper products, are looking at their product lines and trying to determine how best to develop compostable products. Food waste collection programs and food composting facilities. They not only want a hand in the manufacturing of the compostable product, but in how those materials will be collected – ensuring collection infrastructure is in place. This may mean working with other private entities or some sort of public-private partnership to fill the gap.
Goodall: Along those lines, I’ve heard a lot of talk about food waste – it’s not a new trend, but it’s a continued trend. Food waste prevention and food waste collection. It’s not just getting a lot of play in the corporate space, but also in the waste management and public sector space.
Graff: Recycling of flexible plastics is very much front and center in corporate sustainability. There’s also quite a bit of buzz among the corporate sustainability professionals because of rejection of what would be typically recycled materials – causing missed targets on their sustainability reporting for landfill diversion and waste. It’s not only in the value chain for the brand companies, but it’s also an issue in the biosciences sector. Very much an integrated issue with corporate sustainability and waste recovery.
Coddington: I’ll add that the matter of quality contains to be huge. The issue of recycling facilities mismatched with current packaging and waste stream mix is still really a big topic. Again, not solely a private sector issue, but one that involves and affects both private and public sectors.
Briggs: Disclosure of sustainability impacts has become status quo in recent years, and one trend we’ve seen is a progressive focus on materiality assessments. Comparative opportunities to improve environmental performance are closely linked to industry activities, and it’s essential that companies understand which indicators and metrics are most material to their business and risk profile.
Q: What efforts in the corporate reporting space should we be aware of?
Graff: The Carbon Disclosure Project, the CDP, has a protocol on their website that organizations can view for greenhouse gas, or GHG, reporting for the supply chain. It catalyzes a company to not only look at their current issues, but also climate strategy. A number of companies have been compelled to action by seeing a CDP request from their major customers. The CDP is also making direct inquiries, and thereby giving impetus to GHG reporting, as it extends its reach beyond the Fortune 500 into the mid-market with questionnaires.
Briggs: Supply chains are receiving a lot of attention with an emphasis on corporate transparency and supplier data. When you look at some specific companies and their reporting, packaging has received a great deal of attention over the last couple years, and I have seen a lot of packaging goals. This includes providing a more comprehensive breakdown of packaging constituents and where you’ve altered those to improve performance.
Goodall: And continued headlines around different sustainability or responsible sourcing guidelines for different types of commodities and product groups.
Q: Do you see an evolution in how packaging sustainability fits into broader corporate sustainability efforts?
Briggs: Light weighting is something that has been an early focus over the last decade because it yielded an immediate payback for companies. We still see companies shaving off grams here and there and trimming the fat on caps, bottles and even moving toward lighter packaging formats. Dropping 10-20% could contribute to millions of pounds of plastic. This isn’t a brand new trend, but becoming more ubiquitous.
Packaging material strategy is big and growing. Sustainability is one of many factors influencing packaging design, and manufacturers are weighing options for recycled content, utilizing renewable content, and more. Where does it make sense to incorporate more recycled content, and where it makes sense to focus for recyclability? These types of factors vary by commodity, by industry and by commodity. For example, there are areas where the markets for glass are grim and companies may be fighting an uphill battle meeting recoverability goals. More companies are seeking to understand and integrate the right approach to addressing geographic, design, recovery and commodity challenges.
Q: What about the companies that are a step or two behind the leaders? What are they most focused on, and how has that changed recently?
Chardoul: There’s going to be a lot of talk around the impact of compostable products on the final compost product, as well as the short and long term effects on soil health. Many manufacturers of compostable food service ware and bags are looking into this type of data.
On another front, when healthcare group purchasing organizations or hospitals purchase products they ultimately look at the public health impact. When a group purchasing organization is putting a new product in their catalog, that’s one of the things that hospitals look for and one of the scoring criteria – impact on patient health. For example, not only recyclability of this type of plastic versus another, but purchasing BPA free.
Getting into soil health and public health, not just recyclability or recoverability.
Goodall: One other thought I have is the consumer behavior piece. In each of these waste streams and with each of these efforts, it all relies on consumer behavior. There’s a little bit of convergence around best practices in the traditional recycling space, using more commonly understood terms for residents. That seems to me to be an emerging trend.
What do you think? What is the hot topic, continuing trend, or what has fallen off the radar? Let us know in the comments section below.