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31 May 2024

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3 minutes

Profitable Sustainability and Zero Waste

Imagine an economic system where companies not only contribute to a cleaner planet, but also benefit from cost savings and stronger brand value. This is the vision behind profitable sustainability: earth and earn together.

A zero-waste approach helps companies reduce their carbon footprint, increase employee engagement while improving profitability. Zero waste brings profitable sustainability on multiple levels:

1. Revenue model based on legislation

Companies are increasingly and urgently asked to assess their future sustainability based on social issues. The CSRD (Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive) does this through the double materiality analysis. This has been used for some time within the integrated reporting framework. Within the six-capital framework, a company reports on the theme of natural capital both its dependence on natural capital and the positive and negative effects that the company has on natural capital.

2. Cost savings by reducing raw material waste

Reducing raw material waste directly leads to cost savings, such as less purchasing of raw materials due to less production waste. Think of restaurants that serve better portion sizes. But also to larger processes such as (food) production in which profits can be achieved. But cost savings can also be achieved indirectly by organizing chains more efficiently and thus reducing waste or finding useful applications for residual flows.

3. Sustainable ambitions and results bring value

More and more companies distinguish themselves through their sustainable ambitions and results. Companies are imposing increasingly strict requirements on their suppliers, for example through Ecovadis or SBTi, and now also with the CSDDD. In addition, employees, especially starters, increasingly expect more from their employers in the field of sustainability.


Zero Waste Dilemmas

Although the zero-waste approach offers many benefits, companies sometimes encounter dilemmas when implementing it. Balancing costs and benefits, dealing with logistical challenges and obtaining buy-in from all employees are some of the obstacles that must be overcome. These dilemmas require thoughtful strategies and an ongoing commitment to be truly successful in the pursuit of zero waste.

Dilemma 1: Relatively little ecological gain from separate collection of small volumes

The separate collection of waste flows can be a lot of work for relatively little ecological gain. Consider, for example, big bags or foils that are not collected separately at every company. There is often limited space and support. There is also much debate about the effectiveness of reusable food packaging versus single-use packaging, such as recyclable coffee cups versus dishwasher-washed coffee mugs. The results of life cycle assessments (LCAs) are not always positive.

Dilemma 2: zero % residual waste does not automatically mean 100% recycling

Waste occurs in almost all recycling processes. For example, a paper fiber can only be recycled a limited number of times. For certain separated flows, such as PMD (plastic, metal and beverage cartons), the final percentage that is effectively recycled is often still too low because some materials are difficult to recycle.

Dilemma 3: The term 'zero waste' does not appeal to everyone

The term 'zero waste' mainly says what we do not want and less about what is desired. Some people experience it as an activist term. The concept is more popular among consumers than in the context of business. What exactly is 'zero waste' if the recycling of separated streams still produces a lot of waste that goes to incinerators? At the same time, zero waste is a well-known concept that people can easily imagine. The glass jar with 'a year's worth of residual waste' as we see with zero waste influencers makes economical use of raw materials very concrete and tangible.


Milgro's tips on these dilemmas

  • Acting from data and insight: Make informed choices that are supported by data.
  • Pragmatism: Just try and not (immediately) strive for perfection.
  • Zero waste as a means for circular culture change: It gives concrete substance to circular ambitions, is a good way to train employees in circular principles and is a good starting point for entering into an internal dialogue.
  • Zero waste is not limited to your own waste: It concerns the entire waste chain. Ultimately, it's all about asking the right questions about the careful use of natural capital. 
  • Zero waste is more of a direction than a destination.

Profitable sustainability in practice

Zero waste offers companies a practical way to integrate profitable sustainability into daily operations. By taking steps towards zero waste, you can not only save costs and reduce your environmental footprint, but also increase employee engagement and strengthen your brand value. Start making informed choices today and take the next step towards Zero Waste. Need support, tools or tips? Subscribe to the zero-waste newsletter and receive it in a handy overview in your mailbox.