Fuelled by our desire for goods and services, waste has long been considered a necessary by-product of economic progress. However, with global waste generation currently standing at 7 – 10 billion tonnes per annum, the magnitude of this issue is finally being realised in the mainstream. As a part of this, the commercial real estate industry creates vast amounts of waste through both the construction and operational phases. Everyday office waste may include stationary and packaging, as well as food and catering waste. In addition, mechanical and electrical equipment, and office furniture may also become surplus to requirements at certain times. As such, many authorities and organisations are setting their own ambitious waste targets. For example, the EU have recently set recycling targets of 70% by 2030 and real estate companies are setting more ambitious ‘zero waste’ targets as part of their sustainability goals.
Waste can be defined as a material or substance, eliminated or discarded as no longer useful or required. Therefore, in contradiction to earlier perceptions, waste is, by its very definition, unnecessary. Generated in ever increasing volumes, waste has a huge impact on the environment – leading to land, water and air pollution, as well as producing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that contribute to climate change. Poorly managed waste is also linked to both local and global public health issues, and on top of this, the waste of resources is now largely seen to be failing economically.
Sustainable Waste Management
Sustainable management of waste is seen as crucial to providing environmental, social and economic benefits to both the current and future generations. Sustainable waste management asks us to challenge the way we consider resources, step away from more traditional linear waste management (make, use, dispose), and manage our waste to the in alignment with the ‘circular economy’ concept.
Put simply, the ‘circular economy’ concept rejects incineration and landfill as viable options in waste management, and promotes conventional waste as a resource. This can lead to benefits economically (reducing our procurement and disposal costs), socially (enhancing corporate image), and environmentally (reducing GHG emissions). Sustainable waste management in the commercial real estate sector, when correctly implemented, can also lead to multiple health benefits for employees, tenants, contractors and wider communities by improving the quality of land, water and air.
How can we monitor and manage waste sustainably?
Before beginning to manage waste sustainably, it is important to form an understanding of the waste that is generated within your organisation(s) and how this is currently managed. High quality data is crucial to driving meaningful waste management improvements. Hence, monitoring current waste management provides the foundation for implementing a meaningful reduction programme. By using an effective data management system, such as RiskWise by S2 Partnership Ltd., a thorough understanding of the types and quantities of waste and how these are being used (or disposed of) once removed from your properties can be collated at asset, portfolio and organisational levels. GRESB submissions also require the collection of this data on a portfolio level, and so monitoring waste using a data management system can help increase the portfolio GRESB score.
Once current waste management systems have been analysed and understood, this will allow waste management programmes to be implemented. To maximise return, each programme should be site specific. However, there are several key rules that, if followed, will help to implement a programme applicable to the commercial real estate industry that follows the ‘circular economy’:
- Procurement – Only selecting products from non-virgin sources (reused/refurbished/recycled) and that can be re-used, refurbished or recycled once not required by your organisation(s) – this includes any accompanying packaging. In the short term, such products may be costlier, and so procurement rules may need to be amended to consider value over two or three life cycles.
- Use – Resources are only to be used when necessary. Regular maintenance of equipment can help to prolong life expectancy. If equipment becomes unfit for its original purpose find ways to reuse this on site.
- Removal from site – Even after taking steps to reduce consumption and prolong equipment life, it is likely a point will come where a resource is no longer deemed fit-for-use on your site(s). If so, consider contacting other organisations (e.g. charities) to see if they have a purpose for the resource or establish if the resource is fit for refurbishment / remanufacturing. If this cannot be achieved, implement waste management contracts with service providers that will recycle these resources (and won’t send to landfill or incineration!) Incentivising here is key. Waste service provider KPIs are largely aimed towards the number of collections / bin lifts. Therefore, a switch towards assessing providers based on reduced collections and resource treatment is thought to be necessary.
Considering such requirements can help to influence how company policies are produced. It is only with consideration of these requirements across all areas of the business, that the ‘circular economy’ concept can be fully realised across whole portfolios and across the commercial real estate sector as a whole.
This article is written by Sam Benson, Environmental Consultant for S2 Partnership Ltd.