Is sustainability keeping up with the conscious consumer?

With sustainability crucial to reducing costs, improving operational performance and efficiencies, not to mention enhancing customer trust, more than ever the pressure is on businesses to keep up with growing demands for ethical behaviour and transparency in everything from employee rights to the supply chain.

And in today’s increasingly open, digital world where authenticity is the buzzword of choice, there is an increasing awareness around this drive for transparency. This has led to a rise in what is known as “conscious consumption” – i.e. a movement of people who seek out ways to make positive decisions about what to buy and look for a solution to the negative impact that consumerism is having on our world.

Greenwashing and a token CSR [corporate social responsibility] campaign are no longer enough in the age of the conscious consumer. Until only recently, companies adopted sustainability strategies in order to comply with government regulations and avoid fines. Now leading-edge corporations are embracing the concept of sustainability in order to be a part of the conversation on environmental policy. From virtually zero awareness only a few decades ago, the Australian government and industry are now moving fast into sustainability. In particular, industry is experiencing a shift from mere regulatory compliance and technological improvements to more progressive self-regulation (like voluntary agreements and programs), community consultation and stakeholders’ dialogue.

Taking the lead – products and procurement

Good Environmental Choice Australia CEO Kate Harris, who was one of the headline speakers at Total Facilities 2017, says now is “a critical time to be driving environmental choice across Australia”, particularly as sustainability becomes an expected part of business delivery.

“I am seeing significant improvements across the industry in my work providing professionals and consumers with the resources to find products that are a better environmental, social and healthier choice,” she says.

As CEO of Australia’s only independent, not-for-profit, multi-sector eco-labelling program and the only Australian member of the Global Ecolabelling Network, Kate is working closely with the International Organisation for Standardisation on its soon-to-be-released ISO 20000-400 sustainable procurement guideline, designed to optimise sustainable goals for business and buildings.

“Everyone struggles to find sustainable products and services across cleaning, waste management and recycling sectors,” she explains.

“This is why a new international guideline is needed. Strong recommendations are being made around labelling of products, which can help with risk mitigation and best practice. This will ensure Australia is playing its part in ensuring sustainable outcomes for people and planet.”

Effective eco labelling – the real deal

Also putting its best forward is Australian ecolabel Global Greentag, which recently launched its new Product Health Declaration (PhD) tool at Total Facilities 2017. This tool is the first of its kind that will demand transparency of product claims to a level that’s not been seen anywhere in the world. Global Greentag is one of the world’s most widely recognised ecolabels, currently certifying over 1600 products globally with its certification standards recognised in Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, South Africa, Africa, SE Asia and in over 70 other countries.

It’s not the first time that Global Greentag has been at the forefront in developing new practices in the product certification field. Founded in 2011, the company became the first ecolabel in the world to introduce Life Cycle Assessment and Beyond LCA thinking to ecolabelling certification processes, thus providing a ‘Net Positive’ benefit analysis to certify and rate products for green buildings and interiors. In 2016, Global Greentag was the only ecolabel in Australia to feature in the top 100 most trusted brands.

Recycling on the radar

“I believe in fostering the kind of leadership needed to tackle the complex challenges we face in sustaining the life of our planet”, says Kate Harris. She was thrilled to see a diversity of such exhibitors represented at this year’s event – e.g. Global Greentag, The Green Connection Group and Enviroplus, to name a few. A noteworthy exhibitor in this field was newcomer Method Recycling, whose drive is to simplify corporate sustainability.

Originally designed with the commercial office market in mind, the flexibility of Method Recycling’s open plan recycling bins are proving to be incredibly effective in public and event spaces like the Sydney Cricket Ground, as well as universities, schools, kindergartens and supermarkets around Australia.

“The design is both functional and visually fun – the easily customisable design, the patented mechanism that locks and hides the plastic bin liner, and the connectors that lock the bins together to form a station– these features create a unique way to promote sustainability,”says Sales and Sustainability Manager, Kate Dodero. “It was great to be amongst the movers and shakers of the Facilities Management industry – Total Facilities provided a perfect platform for us to showcase our products to both our peers and potential new customers in a dedicated FM forum”, says Kate.

Lendlease is one of Method Recycling’s latest clients. With Lendlease’s strong focus on workplace design and sustainability, the group was excited to procure Method Recycling’s colourful and robust bins for its new 26,000sqm Global Headquarters at Barangaroo, Sydney.

Other Method Recycling clients include PWC, The University of Melbourne, Atlassian, IAG, Westpac, Fairfax, Air New Zealand, Qantas, Fuji Xerox, and The Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG).

“With over 1,000 tonnes of waste generated annually, our current recycling rate stands at 65 per cent. With our new Method recycling system, we’ve set the bar at 75 per cent for next year with a long term target of over 90 per cent for total resource recovery,” says SCG spokesperson, William Konya.

With the rise of consumer consciousness on the radar of Australian businesses, it will be interesting to track new factors driving environmental choice as sustainability becomes an expected part of business delivery.