Product stewardship and the circular economy are the way of the future, says 3R Group Chief Executive Adele Rose.

3R Group Chief Executive Adele Rose.

By Adele Rose – 3R Group Chief Executive

“What difference can I make?” It’s a question asked by many when faced with the threats posed by the rapid impact of human activities on our changing climate.

There is no doubt the enormity of the global challenge leaves people feeling somewhat helpless. This is true in the business world too.

Just like an individual may think their contribution is inconsequential, so a small business may believe its actions would have little impact. While it’s hugely encouraging to see some of the biggest organisations in New Zealand join together to fight the climate crisis by becoming signatories to the Climate Leaders Coalition (CLC) and taking real action, it’s vital the smaller ones do the same.

The majority of New Zealand’s businesses are SMEs (20 or less staff). According to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, they make up 97% of businesses and contribute 28% of the country’s GDP. One also cannot forget all those which fall somewhere between SMEs and ‘big business’ – which is where 3R, with 26 staff, sits.

We are proud to be a signatory of the CLC – one of the few smaller companies so far to do so, but it’s something we aim to help change as well as ensuring a fair and just transition. Making sure no one is left behind is important to us.

The CLC was launched in July 2018 to galvanise the country’s business leadership into collective action on human-induced climate change and help New Zealand transition to a low emissions economy. Being a signatory requires organisations to measure their emissions and publicly report them, set public emissions reduction targets, and work with supplies to reduce their emissions.

Sustainability has been at the core of 3R’s ethos since its inception, with our work – designing and managing product stewardship schemes, and circular economy thinking – being focused on helping create a world without waste. We’ve been measuring and actively reducing emissions for years and reporting on this publicly.

We began by self-auditing before moving to an independent certification, and in 2013 became CEMARSCertTM certified. Our initial goal was to reduce our total emissions by 20% by 2020 – something we surpassed in 2015. In 2016 we went a step further and became carboNZeroCertTM certified, offsetting our unavoidable emissions through New Zealand-based carbon credits.

Diesel and staff travel make up the most significant portion of 3R’s emissions due to the nature of our business.  Being mindful is the key to emission reductions and generally has the added benefit of reducing costs – a win-win.

Our operations team work hard to create efficiencies across our collection networks.  And while one of the most effective changes was a new processing hub in Christchurch, what it really comes down to is a constant juggle to maximise efficiency.

On the travel front, being mindful is essential – do we really need to travel?  Using technology and good organisational skills can make a big different to how often we need to fly or drive.

Each business has different emissions sources, but the formula of first measuring what they are and then mitigating them holds true for all. Look at your waste, energy use, staff travel, fleet routes, procurement policies – there are guaranteed to be ways of lowering your emissions.

The positive cumulative effect of all of us – consumers, government and businesses of all sizes working towards the same goal cannot be underestimated. This is particularly true when we work under the collective banner of groups like the CLC, where we are able to use our combined position to influence positive change globally.

Critically, it’s important for small businesses not to get left behind. Most SMEs don’t have the luxury of a sustainability manager, but this is where the collective efforts of the CLC can help – small businesses can benefit from the case studies and work done by larger organisations or from the ideas contributed by other small businesses.

Sustainability is also now a part of the boardroom agenda. Businesses around the world – driven by factors like consumer demand, gains from efficient resource use, and innovation – are realising a low-emissions economy is the economy of the future.

My challenge to you – be you a business or an individual – is to be part of the movement, for the benefit of all, particularly your own back yard.