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How to be environmentally sustainable

Making your business environmentally sustainable is about finding ways to use resources better and reduce waste. Here are some big and small ways to help you and your business.

Environmentally sustainable businesses are often more efficient and have lower operational costs than those who aren’t. They also tend to achieve a better bottom line, all while protecting New Zealand’s natural environment for future generations.

If you’re looking to make your business more sustainable, cutting waste is a good place to start.

Ways to cut waste

Reduce

The first, simple step is to check everything that comes into your business really needs to be there. Think about the packaging your suppliers send you. Can it be reduced or recycled? Can they take it back to reuse?

If it’s possible, avoid low-quality products, materials and tools. These rapidly become waste, especially single-use or disposable items and plastics.

For example, Auckland-based Kōkako Organic Coffee Roasters reduces waste by asking suppliers to minimise packaging on inwards goods. They are also in the process of converting its wholesale coffee bean deliveries to a returnable bucket system that eliminates the need for packaging.

Reuse

Reusable cups, refillable soaps and reusable hand towels or dryers are great investments, not only for the environment but also financially. Consider whether you, or anybody else, can reuse left over materials or equipment. See if there are products you can share or hire instead of owning them.

Recycle

A common method is to set up a simple three-bin system: landfill, recycling and paper. Check all bins regularly to see what your biggest wastes are and consider adding a bin for the next material you most use. Involve staff so they are aware of the system as well.

How you dispose of your waste is different in each region and it’s important to check with your local council to understand what options are available as this may influence how you recycle.

Your supply chain may also be a source of waste and by-products, so it might pay to look at what happens to your products at the end of their life. Can you design, make or package them differently so there’s less waste? It’s good to think about what happens to your products or what you’re using after

General waste resources (external link) — Ministry for the Environment

Myth: “The landlord/our cleaners sort the waste out, I don’t have much control over it.”

Fact: It’s generally not difficult to negotiate your own waste services. You can ask the current contractor to do things a little differently for you. Or you can find your own waste companies to work with you on things like food waste and recycling.

Transport and travel

Travel, especially flying, is a significant cost to many businesses. It’s a major source of pollution and contributes to climate change. It also takes up a lot of staff time and may affect health and wellbeing. One of the most effective improvements is for you and your staff to travel less. It’s particularly useful if you can avoid driving at peak times, when congestion can increase travel times, stress and fuel use.

When thinking about where to set up an office or workshop, look at how close it is to public transport links and if it’s easy for people to store bikes and walking gear. Encouraging your staff to walk, cycle, e-bike or run to work is a great boost for mental health and wellbeing, while also having a positive impact on the environment.

Workplace cycle guide (external link) — NZ Transport Agency

Vehicle total cost of ownership tool (external link) — Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA)

Changes to the way staff work can reduce your impact and save on costs. You might encourage:

  • Flexible working or working from home.
  • Video conferencing.
  • Car sharing with route planning to make the most of each trip.
  • Choosing the most energy efficient vehicles.
  • Training your staff in fuel-efficient driving.

On the road – information on electric vehicles, vehicle selection, and driving efficiently (external link) — EECA

It’s also important to think about how you get your products and supplies. Buying supplies locally where possible is one way to cut down transport. Also, ask your couriers or delivery companies for advice on how best to consolidate and plan delivery to cut transport use, especially airfreight.

Reduce travel costs for businesses (external link) — NZTA

Case study

Cycling for business

Wellington-based People’s Coffee places a huge emphasis on cycling, not just for commuting but also for delivering its goods. When an employee left the company to set up a cycle-courier package service, Nocar Cargo, the company started employing them to make deliveries that previously required a van.

Leaks are among the biggest water wasters. If your premises have a water meter, check all taps are off overnight and no machines are using water. If the meter reading changes overnight, there could be a leak. If you can’t access your water meter, ask your landlord.

Washing machines, dishwashers, toilets, showers, taps and urinals are all places where you could potentially be wasting water. Look for ways to be more water-efficient like:

  • Use low-flow shower heads, tap aerators and half flush toilets.
  • Keep hot water at the recommended 60ºC to avoid unnecessary mixing with cold.
  • Check for toilet leaks with a few drops of food colouring in the cisterns. The colour shouldn’t appear in the bowl without flushing.

Choosing water efficient products (external link) — Ministry for the Environment

If your site has a storm water drain, eliminate any possible causes of contamination, including litter, dirt and soil run-off into the drains. This all ends up in our rivers and seas.

Ask your council if a litter filter is in the drain. If not, you might want to get one and be sure to clear it regularly.

Be waterwise for businesses and organisations [PDF, 7.8 MB] (external link)  — Watercare

Energy use and power

Most New Zealand businesses can save 20% on their energy bills with a few simple changes. Cutting down energy use also reduces pollution.

Here are some simple steps to reduce your energy use.

  • Check your building is properly sealed and insulated.
  • Ensure all heating and air conditioning is properly tuned.
  • Choose the highest efficiency light bulbs, appliances and equipment.
  • Turn all appliances off when they’re not in use.
  • Minimise the use of hot water where you can.

If you are running high-energy machines, schedule this outside peak hours whenever possible. Keep everything well-tuned and maintained. If your business uses non-renewable energy sources, like coal, gas or diesel generators, look at how they might be replaced with electricity or a more sustainable option.

Check your energy bills and account information. This should provide a pretty good idea of how much electricity, gas or other energy sources you are using and when. A smart meter can give hourly updates on electricity use.

Energy management for businesses (external link) — EECA

Turning down the dial on your heater could save up to 10% on your bill.

Turning down the dial on your heater could save up to 10% on your bill.

Sustainable suppliers

Changing what your business buys can improve its sustainability. It’s also a powerful way to influence others.

Choose products and services for your business that show a commitment to sustainability whenever you can. Certification schemes are a good way to do this where they have high standards that are independently verified. For example, choosing Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified paper and cardboard helps support better forest management. Choosing Fairtrade products helps support workers’ rights and small producers in local communities.

A brief guide to sustainability certifications (external link) — The Sustainable Business Network

Here are some questions to ask your suppliers:

  • What sustainable options they have and how the improvements can be proved?
  • Where their products come from and the conditions in which they are made?
  • What the packaging is made of, how it can be disposed of, and whether they will take it back?
  • Whether the product will be reused, recycled or can be easily repaired?

Many larger companies have a lot of information about sustainability on their website, or in their annual or sustainability reports. Otherwise, ask when getting a quote. This information will make your products more attractive to conscientious customers, who may be happy to pay more to do the right thing.

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