Not so long ago, most of us envisaged zero waste as a social attitude: one that motivated individuals to reduce waste in their lives by applying the ‘Rs’ principle.
While this might have been perceived as a pipe dream at worst or as an environmental solution with limited impact at best, it is fair to say that today, waste management has become an integral part of most companies’ yearly objectives.
Some of them even made it their flagship products, thus selling zero waste and eco-friendly items that are often made from recycled/recyclable materials and can be reused thousands of times.
Green strategies have been in place for decades, mainly focusing on CSR and environmental efforts. However, today, it seems the best approach to achieve zero waste is to start with a deep dive audit of the entirety of the supply chain up to item disposal.
It’s not only about recycling goods at the end of life and avoiding sending them to landfills or incinerators. It also requires a deeper understanding of the source materials, the design process, transportation, and like; in short, all the facets of a given business.
Even though this might seem like a significant investment at first, implementing zero waste strategies has proven to boost business in various ways: financial savings, streamlined manufacturing processes hence optimized efficiency, and of course, an enhanced public image.
In other words, two essential principles of a zero-waste business are to change “the focus from labor productivity to resources productivity,” as well as to switch from a linear system of production into a circular system “in which the recycling potential can be maximised” (1).
Like the digital revolution, companies that do not embark on the sustainability journey today (including enhanced waste management strategies) might put their survival at risk in the coming years.
The increasing number of environmental activists and organizations fighting for climate change solutions and their online visibility have echoed and touched people at the earth’s four corners.
Thus, one can argue that the ‘eco’ feature of a product is now is a compelling selling argument.
But what does it mean exactly? Are ‘eco’ and ‘zero waste’ the key to popularity?
Let’s find similarities between businesses that have significantly grown thanks to their commitment to earth-friendly corporate practices. To us, a combination of the below criteria might not necessarily guarantee tremendous success. However, it clearly leads to an increasing number of customers choosing them over conventional brands.
These combined features prove the business’s trustworthiness to being genuinely zero (low) waste and sustainable. Today, delivering a product in a recycled carton does not make much sense if the given product contains questionable, often toxic ingredients and vice versa.
Ingredients and/or materials
Looking for ingredients and materials that are sustainably sourced and can be safely manufactured has become a key priority. In the same vein, (genuinely) eco-brands prioritize raw materials that are renewable, easily recyclable, and ideally both.
Today, most customers are arguably tired of not understanding the long list of often questionable and synthetic components in their everyday products. Thus, if they manage to understand in a few seconds what they are buying and why it is beneficial, chances of that customer purchasing from an eco-brand are significantly higher.
Have you ever heard of eco-anxiety? Some of us might feel overwhelmed and even afraid of the impacts of climate change and have, therefore, sometimes become intolerant to certain customs, like taking a plane or buying products wrapped in plastic.
While this might seem extreme, brands are aware of that behavior and have striven for more eco-friendly packaging. In the case of zero waste businesses (whether for the products they sell or thanks to their way of functioning), packaging has become a visible selling argument.
Customers today expect very little or no packaging, and if any, it needs to be compostable, reusable, or easily recyclable. As you might have guessed, plastic does not fall in any of the categories.
Legitimate eco-brands have become popular thanks to an absolute commitment in that regard, and thus, not by simply ‘greening’ their products as most often the case in greenwashing practices. Thanks to recent research and growing interest in the matter, most customers have now developed a critical eye and will not as likely be fooled by a simple green sticker.
Transparency and Ethics
Recognized independent organizations and eco-influencers alike have done a tremendous job at reviewing brands by deciphering their business practices: type of sourced materials, factory conditions, impacts on the environment, supply chain transparency, and many more.
Today, a lot of harm (or good!) can be done to a brand that does not adequately disclose its entire production process.
This section is trickier to assess as most smaller-scale brands, while being zero waste, cannot necessarily afford the lengthy and costly process of going through a certification process.
So yes, receiving trustworthy certifications like B Corp or Cradle to Cradle offers greater visibility and trust. However, bear in mind that your local craftsmen and women upcycling discarded materials can also be zero (low) waste even though not receiving a label for it.
The pluses For A Growing Popularity
– Reduce carbon emissions logically
And doing so first by tackling the brand’s current practices, then offsetting the emissions, which are close to impossible to eliminate without endangering the business.
Carbon offsets are controversial and should come up as a last resort. Brands that dedicate resources in this area have very often become ambassadors of environmental solutions linked to their products while consistently striving to find better ones.
– Engage with customers
Today, a growing number of purchases are made based on an eco-conscious criterion, in other words, brand values that align with our personal ones. For example, a brand that does more than simply ‘doing good by donating a portion of their revenues.
This means brands that are truly connected with their customers’ issues and hence support grassroots organizations tackling a wide range of topics: biodiversity preservation, animal welfare, fight plastic pollution but also related to social justice, equal rights, education, and the like.
More often than not, these brands donate a lot more than conventional ones (up to 10 or 15% of revenues) and even engage with the local community; for example, by organizing volunteering days for both their staff and customers on a cause close to their heart – clean up beaches is quite the trend!
– Price quality ratio
While most of us are likely willing to pay more for a sustainably sourced/made and zero waste product, the ultimate goal is for that exact product to become affordable to all while lasting a lot longer than conventional ones. Brands achieving excellent price-quality ratio on top of the eco features have grown even more popular – and faster.
While the above list was far from exhaustive, it sheds light on the principles that zero waste businesses have implemented to be able to convince consumers of their added value vis a vis market standards.
The arguments described also give you more insights on the basic features you should expect to find in any store or brand that claims to be zero waste, whether you are an experienced eco-warrior or someone who is trying to start an imperfect sustainable journey.
As the saying goes, ‘we do not need perfect zero waste; we need millions of people doing it imperfectly to maximize its benefits on the planet.