Our global economy is dominated by a linear model of ‘take, make, dispose’ approach to production and consumption. This linear model is wasteful and grounded in short-term thinking.
There is growing expectation from all sectors of society for a more sustainable model in which resources are recovered at their highest quality, re-used and kept in circulation for as long as possible - what has become known as the ‘circular economy’.
Moving towards a circular economy is essential for the long-term survival of an organization, making it more resilient and providing a competitive advantage. Waste reduction is only one part of the circular model: adaptable product design can remove the concept of ‘waste’ altogether because every part of a product would be designed for re-use rather than being disposed of at the end of a product lifecycle.
For most organizations, making the shift towards the circular model is not an easy task. It requires a frank examination of how your organization currently uses the planet’s finite resources. Only once that has been done will your organization have a realistic view of the process changes and cultural and behavioral shifts that need to happen.
The challenge facing senior management teams charged with making these changes happen can be daunting. For large-scale, permanent organizational change of this kind, what’s needed is a practical framework to help identify what is relevant to them.
BS 8001 - Framework for implementing the principles of the circular economy in organizations - provides a guide designed exactly for this purpose. It provides comprehensive advice to help companies make changes to their systems in line with circular economy principles, creating a pathway towards long-term, sustainable operations.
The standard is based around the six principles of the circular economy: innovation; stewardship; collaboration; value optimizations; transparency, and systems thinking. It offers guidance on the practical implementation of each principle.
What’s more, BS 8001 maps out a framework that businesses can use to improve how they use resources up and down the supply chain, getting the maximum value from those resources and minimizing the creation of waste to reduce the environmental impact. The standard can also be used alongside an ISO 14001 environmental management system.
The efficient use of finite (and price-volatile) resources is increasingly vital to the success of any business seeking to demonstrate its resilience, and organizations can look to ISO 50001 on energy management systems to get their energy consumption under control. Implementation of the standard provides a mechanism for continually improving energy performance, driving energy savings, reducing emissions and contributing to a low carbon economy.
When an organization commits to a circular and sustainable business approach, they become part of a wider movement - one that is defining a more positive vision of the future.
SMEs - three ways to become more sustainable
Large corporations generally have dedicated expert resources to manage sustainability, while SMEs can often struggle to justify the time and expenses it demands. However, SMEs account for 70% of employment worldwide, so the small business community has a huge part to play in the societal shift towards sustainability.
One advantage that SMEs have over large corporations is that they are more agile and adaptable. Here are three ideas SMEs can implement, starting now.
Develop a green action plan
Where do you start? Well, the ISO 14000 series on environmental management is a good place. The ISO 14000 family of standards helps business owners by providing practical tools for dealing with environmental challenges.
Encourage greener practices among your staff
In any business, a culture shift requires buy-in from the people running it, the senior management team. Leading by example will help secure the desired level of engagement from all employees.
Communicate your strategy, ensure your employees are familiar with it, be creative and provide support where needed. Give staff ownership by making them aware of their own responsibilities and how vital they are to help grow a truly sustainable business. Empowering employees is a great way to retain, and recruit talent.
ISO 14001 focuses on helping you see the benefits of company-wide engagement (from the leadership down) and ultimately all stakeholders.
Take it step by step – and monitor your progress
Think of becoming more sustainable as a process; small changes can lead to a significant impact in the long run. Don’t try to do everything at once; aim for continual improvement (and keep reviewing the progress you’re making, adjusting your strategy where needed and communicating your success stories).
There are specific sections in ISO 14001 that will help you with performance evaluation and improvement. Measuring your results provides useful environmental performance data that you can use to really stand out from your competitors.