Strong sustainability targets doesn’t necessarily translate into strong sustainability practices, but three key steps can help turn that around.
Last month I visited a snack food manufacturer with a large manufacturing site and distribution centre in Southern Sydney, to review its operational recycling and waste systems against their waste targets. This company has clear waste reduction targets and a ‘Zero Waste’ policy that the company is proud of at a corporate level.
After 15 minutes on the manufacturing floor, it was clear that the ‘zero waste’ policy hadn’t translated to on-the-ground actions and systems. Recycling bins were placed far from the source of waste and general waste bins were the only available option for most stations. With mountains of soft plastic and plastic drums taking up most of the general waste, there were some easy opportunities to increase waste diversion. But, as pointed out by the Factory Controller, there were some barriers to overcome before these opportunities could be realised.
For many years, our team has worked to help organisations develop strategic approaches to sustainability through sustainability strategies, integrated reporting and the development of SMART targets. This top-down approach is essential for buy-in across an organisation and provides a crucial direction and platform for actions, projects or programs to implement sustainability.
Through our industrial ecology work in the past two years, we’ve undertaken many site visits and assessments of manufacturing sites, warehouses and distribution centres. Many of these companies have strong sustainability strategies and clear targets, which are often outwardly communicated to shareholders, customers and the community. These on-the-ground visits have provided the opportunity to see the sustainability targets in action – mostly focused on waste targets – and have provided insight into the challenges faced for operational implementation.
Often organisations grow and become more complex with new customer segments, products or regions. And, although incremental, these changes might have contributed to ambiguity, unclear reporting and slow decision-making, which makes it difficult to put sustainability targets into action. Companies have recycling services in place and an expectation that operations staff recycle appropriately, but the reality is vastly different.
Operations and other floor staff often have high workloads and highly systematised workflow processes that do not support resource recovery. Making sure pallets get loaded in a pile in the yard for recovery, rather than thrown in the general waste skip might come at the cost of checking a dispatch order or simply cutting into break time. Similarly, segregating food waste for separate collection means extra time and extra bins, and isn’t necessarily reported on or spelt out as part of the job description.
However, we’re starting to see a multi-pronged approach to building sustainability performance within organisations, including cascading Key Performance Indicators (KPIs); building an organisational culture of resource optimisation (including for water, energy and waste); and, lastly, capitalising on technology that can help measure and report on sustainability indicators and targets – after all, you can’t improve what you don’t measure.
1. Cascading KPIs
Cascading KPIs involves building in strong linkages between corporate goals and individual goals, while making sure that what gets measured is meaningful to the individual and linked to their work. KPIs need to be measurable and actionable. Performance Specialist Stacey Barr advises against using words such as ‘efficient’, ‘effective’, ‘quality’, or ‘outcome’, which have little value. Ideally, company scorecards would translate into an individual’s scorecards to help buy-in and ownership of sustainability targets. Resource recovery should also be clearly spelt out in role descriptions to set the expectation from the start. This article provides some key points to cascading company KPIs to individuals.
2. Resource Optimisation Culture
Building an organisational culture of resource optimisation involves appropriate goal-setting with cascading KPIs and engaging with employees on sustainability. The development of a framework of principles for resource optimisation and sustainability allows people to operate with a degree of freedom and flexibility, but with guiding principles to do the right thing. Well-planned and executed staff engagement can provide a competitive advantage and contribute to happy satisfied employees.
Data collection and collaboration technology can get relevant data to the right people quickly to help drive effective decision-making and direct feedback on actions. Waste collection data can be fed back to the staff dealing with waste management so they can see direct impacts of their behavior, while also holding them accountable across the organisation. Whether it’s ipads providing real time data or weekly round-ups of waste diversion, there’s software and tools to tailor something to your organisation.
These three key strategies will not only translate into progress towards waste targets but contribute to building a more cohesive efficient organisation.