Tackling waste is as critical as energy in sustainability strategies

Companies need to step up on their waste reduction to cut emissions

While energy often takes pride of place in today’s sustainability discussions, waste can be side-lined, despite it being an important part of a building’s overall environmental impact.

Offices are vast waste generators, from product packaging and food waste to discarded furniture and appliances, and refurbishment debris.

Considering that waste from a commercial building’s operations accounts for around five percent of its total carbon footprint, shaving off this percentage can significantly contribute to lowering emissions.

As businesses aim to meet net zero emissions targets – some of which are rapidly appearing on the horizon – companies need to ensure progress on zero waste or zero waste to landfill goals happens alongside implementing energy efficiency or renewable energy strategies.

Tackling waste from the start

Achieving zero waste evokes an idea of end-of-lifecycle waste management, but it’s much more effective when waste is considered from the start.

This means intervening at the procurement stage, adopting a circular economy mindset and choosing products that are durable, use sustainable materials efficiently, and can be reused or recycled instead of being dumped into landfill.

Modular furniture, for example, can be easily reconfigured to promote longer-term usage. Some businesses are shifting toward product-as-a-service subscription models so they can upgrade rented equipment such as photocopiers rather than disposing of old models. Furthermore, a growing array of products from floor tiles to furniture are now designed to be returned to manufacturers for repurposing at the end of their lifecycle.

The more businesses opt for such products, the more they reinforce the principles of circularity and drive the supply of more environmentally friendly products. 

Selecting the right supplier is another factor that can dramatically influence waste reduction efforts. Transport and packaging practices impact the volume of waste produced, and opting for locally repairable products can reduce the number of items that need to be discarded.

Facilities management equally plays a crucial role; managing the relentless generation of waste requires an approach that’s integrated within building operations.

As well as establishing clear procedures for sorting and recycling, facilities managers can set schedules for predictive maintenance to extend equipment lifespan. A comprehensive waste-tracking system can also pinpoint the specific waste types heading for landfill, those being diverted, and areas that need improvement.

However, one challenge lies in the need for accurate data from suppliers and waste haulers in order to understand where waste is generated and how it can be reduced or diverted from landfill.

Working together to reduce waste

The everyday actions of building tenants and employees are a further important element to consider. Companies may need to build greater awareness and introduce training around what materials can be recycled and how. This takes time, interest and effort.

Crucially, all actions need to be easy to do or people simply won’t do them.

Appointing champions and dedicated sustainability roles can help drive the urgently needed cultural shift towards a waste-limiting mindset, while regular engagement campaigns can maintain employee motivation.

And from the landlord side, celebrating progress in waste reduction can really help to engage building tenants. As reducing waste is an incredibly visible initiative, it’s one of the best ways to engage tenants in wider strategies in energy efficiency and decarbonization.

More formalized approaches are also becoming more common through a new generation of green leases. These contracts set out shared sustainability responsibilities between landlords and tenants, including waste reduction agreements.

They can be a great way to advance towards zero waste by fostering knowledge-sharing and establishing procurement and fit-out specifications to reduce resource consumption. 

For example, global brands establishing local offices can benefit from landlords’ understanding of recycling best practices in their municipality, while landlords might commit to providing waste separation facilities and compost options. Such clauses not only contribute to overall waste reduction but can make it easier for tenants to make eco-friendly decisions.

While some companies see their efforts to attain zero waste and zero emissions as ways to meet their corporate targets, others are looking beyond to assess how they can become part of the more ambitious, long-term journey towards a circular economy.

Designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems will be essential to a more sustainable future. Why stop at zero waste when we can take steps to rebuild the ecosystems we depend on?

For more information on how JLL can help your business to reduce waste and cut carbon emissions, contact our sustainability experts.

Hazel Sutton Director, Sustainability, Property and Asset Management, JLL.