How Recycling Can Boost Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

Recycling can kickstart your Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Program

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When it comes to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), where should one start? While some CSR undertakings such as improving the plight of offshore workers might seem rather difficult to achieve, other items on your sustainability checklist can be as simple as the separation of scrap materials and recycling - easy wins on the road to more socially responsible business management. No matter where you are in your organization, start with the local wins you have the power to engineer and look to expand your network to other parts of the organization to broaden your impact.

Concrete Steps Companies Can Take

A good starting point for making progress with your CSR efforts is a list published in the 2015 report, Beyond Supply Chains: Empowering Responsible Value Chains. This comprehensive list outlines 31 actionable items that businesses can put in place to help make a difference - including some items core to recycling. The numbers at left correspond to their number on the report list.

2. Design of packaging with recycling and circularity in mind. The design of packaging and product with recycling in mind is an important place to start. Oftentimes, those with responsibility for recycling have to do the best they can with whatever packaging is generated, but a proactive approach is to push the conversation further upstream to the packaging and product design team. In the case of packaging, one important opportunity is that of substituting reusable packaging for single trip packaging.

For example, when Subaru of Indiana changed from a corrugated cardboard container for receiving its rear harness assembly units to a reusable plastic box, it avoided the generation of 86 tons of old corrugated cardboard (OCC) annually and achieved a project payback in less than six months.

6. Design of products that do likewise. The discussion for packaging above holds true for product design as well.

 When Honda talks about products designed with recycling in mind, it is looking primarily at attributes such as ease of dismantling or disassembling, improved material identification, increased opportunities for reuse, and ease of recycling. 

9. Buy from local (micro) suppliers. At first blush, you might be wondering what sourcing from local suppliers has to do with recycling. This can be very important in terms of recycling, reuse, and remanufacturing opportunities. For example, reusable packaging becomes more practical for trucks that may be otherwise returning empty, and recycled materials likewise are more easily transported back to the supplier for introduction into new products, or some end-of-life products are more easily returned for remanufacturing. 

10. Buy from sustainable suppliers. When dealing with sustainability-minded suppliers, they are more likely to embrace practices such as design for recycling.

12. Focus on reducing energy, water use, and emissions. A key component of corporate greening initiatives focuses on initiatives such as clean energy and reduced water footprint. IFCO Systems, for example, is a leading pooler of reusable plastic containers (RPCs), shipping crates used by the perishable industry for distributing fresh fruit and vegetables.

IFCO must wash and sanitize its containers after every use. The company continues to recycle a greater quantity of the water it uses - now over 75 percent. It takes just one-third of a cup of water to clean an RPC.

13. Centralize and optimize waste management. Through more holistic approaches, organizations can leverage resources to expand recycling programs, drive design for recycling, and find recycling partners. 

25. Support environmentally friendly disposal practices. It goes without saying that disposal practices should meet or exceed legal requirements, with a goal to reducing or limiting this need through proactive product and packaging design, and through working with sustainable suppliers.

26. Recycle materials and 27. Reuse materials. Recycling and reuse often are the easiest places to start.

Take the steps to recycle the commonly recyclable materials, and look for easy opportunities to replace disposable or recyclable items with reusable ones. Look for partners to help with more challenging to recycle or exotic materials, as well as for opportunities to introduce reusable packaging. And of course, look upstream to product design.

Recycling used to be considered by many business leaders as being synonymous with sustainability. Now, of course, we recognize other urgent priorities such as reducing carbon footprint, ensuring social responsibility, and supporting a circular economy. None the less, recycling remains an important step in the CSR journey, and a great way to gain traction toward other aspirations.