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Insights on Zero Waste Ways in Business – Part 1: A Discussion with Advocates


Over the years, we’ve seen the MUNI community growing, taking more interest in reducing waste and needless consumption, and see how greater impact can be created beyond their own consumer behavior through change within bigger business entities, from SMEs to large corporations.

As such, we endeavored our first MUNI Meetup on Zero Waste Ways in Business last November 11, to jumpstart that conversation beyond our previous meetups on Zero Waste Living, Zero Waste Ways at Home, and Zero Waste Ways in Travel.

According to a 2015 Lund University publication on Greening The Economy, “There is a false perception that consumers drive markets, and that businesses are simply responding to demands. Both businesses and policy makers are choice architects, offering and limiting options for consumer actions. […] Sustainability needs to be addressed as a fundamental necessity of our life, not offered as a retail option.” [1]

In the first of two panel discussions, we engaged with two advocates from NGOs: Dan Alejandre, zero waste campaigner of EcoWaste Coalition – one of the groups involved in the Freedom Island cleanup and waste audit last September 2017, that exposed large corporations like Nestle and Unilever as the top polluters; and Pocholo Espina, a zero waste campaigner for Save Philippine Seas (SPS) – which mobilizes seatizen-led campaigns for marine conservation and against single-use plastic. Poch is also the founder of Sip PH — a business that advocates against single-use plastic (straws, in particular) in favor of reusables.

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(L-R) Dan Alejandre of EcoWaste Coalition & Pocholo Espina of Save Philippine Seas

Rethinking Systems vs. Temporary Solutions + Post-Freedom Island Action

Dan spoke about the importance of creating a culture of sharing as a key way to practice zero waste, while businesses could also explore a more zero waste approach by choosing reusable containers instead of multi-layer packaging, and exploring zero waste systems (e.g. refills) vs. better technology for disposables as these still require a lot of resources to produce.

In a recent coastal cleanup and brand audit their group did in partnership with Greenpeace among other NGOs, they found that over 50% of the rubbish collected were plastic, with Nestle, Unilever and Kopiko being among the top contributors.

Shortly after the cleanup, they approached these companies to lobby that they find less environmentally detrimental alternatives. They sent letters, scheduled appointments, and lobbied at those corporations with placards, while they tried to push them away.

This approach can make corporations very defensive, I suggested, and Dan expressed his reservations about other means, understandably, as engaging in long drawn out conversations with certain corporations sometimes reap little rewards, and seem to serve only to placate loud, vocal activists.

And while I believe there is a place for more radical, “out there” activism to raise awareness and get the word out, I also believe there is a place to engage with businesses on a more empathic, human level — where we see each other as people beyond our designations and affiliations, as co-habitants of the same city, country, planet, who wish to do the right thing, live comfortably and be loved by others.

So, what can we do to actively mitigate the problem of plastic pollution?
How can we co-create a more livable city, country and planet?
How can we do the right thing, live more comfortably, and be better loved by others?

Both Dan and Poch shared briefly about RA 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of the Philippines, and that we do have policies in place to manage our waste, though compliance is also a great concern.

The Philippines is the center of the center of marine biodiversity, being situated in the coral triangle where you can find up to 90% of the total biodiversity in the world. And yet ironically, we are the 3rd biggest contributor to plastic waste in our seas, shared Poch.

Fortunately, SPS has ways to empower and engage seatizen advocates to take matters into their own hands and pro-actively, positively work with local businesses to make a difference.

Through SPS’ newly re-launched website, you can access open-source resources and toolkits to engage businesses to ditch single-use plastic, including:

  • Straw Wars – a campaign that aims to reduce or eliminate single-use plastic straws, which encourages restaurants, cafés, resorts and hostels to ditch straws, offer reusable alternatives, or only offer straws upon request.
    Poch shared that they found that when only serving straws upon request, restos used up 80% less straws. More than the business savings, imagine the environmental impact too!
  • Plastic Battle – a campaign that aims to reduce or eliminate single-use water bottles, which encourages restaurants, cafés, resorts and hostels to ditch disposables, and offer water refills for free or for a fee. It was piloted in Siargao as a response to the growing problem of solid waste, and has engaged several local businesses to take part!

These campaigns are awesome not just for the planet, but for each business that makes a commitment to participate in these campaigns. By actively making a statement about their advocacy against waste, they do not only contribute to the protection of our ocean and the planet (which is the reward in itself), but the additional brand value or brand love this elicits from consumers is a big plus too.

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MUNI Meetups included breakout groups to discuss what action attendees can take immediately.

So in what ways can consumers and advocates talk to corporations?

  1. Appeal to their humanity
    Citing environmental and social impacts of waste actually does work to move some needles. Check out the resources on SPS’ website for information on the impact of straws, plastic bottles, etc. or check out our article on The Cost of Convenience vs. Zero Waste Living
  2. Appeal to their reputation / brand image
    Nielsen studies cite that 66% of global respondents say they’re willing to pay more for products and services that come from companies that are committed to positive social and environmental impact — not that that’s a license to jack up prices, business owners! This simply means that you are more likely to get more brand loyalty when you make business choices in favor of sustainability. (Truth is at the end of the day, for many consumers, even those who deem themselves conscious, price plays a major role in which brands they support, and in which sustainable lifestyle choices they will adopt.)
  3. Appeal to their bottom line
    Though sometimes you get to their heart, an additional business push / financial case is necessary to convince an entire organization (including their CFO) that choosing the more sustainable option makes business sense and can either reduce costs or increase profits. (More on this in our post on the 2nd discussion from the same meetup!)
  4. Appeal to the government, then the business’ legal department
    When all else fails, fear / pain is a great motivator. 🙂 By appealing to government to push for national law to ban single-use plastics, businesses will be forced to comply or otherwise pay a lot of fines / shut down altogether.

In a utopian world, one would hope that all businesses do good for goodness’ sake, and be intrinsically motivated to be more mindful. But perhaps by giving them extrinsic motivation — in the form of savings, more income, brand love, or government fines — so much so that reducing  / eliminating waste becomes the norm / default / commonplace, we can help develop more mindful habits and culture in business and in our own daily consumption, of thinking before we use another piece of non-biodegradable single-use packaging.

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NGOs, SMEs, large corporations, and consumers unite to find ways to engage each other to take part in Zero Waste Ways in Business

Learn more about this MUNI Meetup in our next post: Zero Waste Ways in Business – Part 2: A Discussion with Entrepreneurs, Business and Sustainability Leaders!

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Jen Horn - Profile PicABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jen Horn is the founder of MUNI, a communications and community engagement consultant, and an advocate of responsible travel & consumption. She enjoys being in, on, under, or near the water, eating veggies, witty remarks and sarcasm, and learning about the link between psychology and pro-environmental behavior. She endeavors to use jedi mind tricks to help humanity triumph over apathy, single-use plastic, among other things we don’t need in the world. Follow her at @nomadmanager.