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Reducing waste from our offices

Eliminating waste is a priority in every part of our business. In 2017, we achieved our target of sending zero waste to landfill from our offices.

Man using office recycling bins

Zero office waste to landfill

To reduce our waste, we focus on using less, and reusing and recycling materials more. We adopt circular economy principles where possible and aim to treat all waste as a potential resource.

In 2017, we achieved our target of sending zero non-hazardous waste to landfill from 38 non-manufacturing sites (offices, distribution centres and warehouses) in our top 21 countries and 100% of our office waste being reused, recycled or recovered.* We estimate this is preventing around 1,760 tonnes of waste going to landfill each year.

Our target covers non-hazardous waste from sites where we either own or hold the majority lease (in-scope sites) in our top 21 countries. We have extended our waste reduction efforts beyond our top 21 countries and an additional 33 sites – which are outside the scope of reporting - are now zero non-hazardous waste to landfill.

Sending zero non-hazardous waste to landfill is a requirement in our real estate, design and construction standards. But sometimes it can be complicated to reduce waste in some non-manufacturing sites. Often, we don’t own the site and may only occupy a small part of a building. This gives us less control over how waste is collected and whether it is recycled. So, we’re working in partnership with our landlords and third-party suppliers to make sure how we tackle waste is considered right from the start, whether we build or lease new premises.

We’re using nearly 70% less paper

People icon

Approximate cut in paper use per employee since 2010

Paper is one of the major waste streams from our offices. Using less paper not only saves resources and prevents waste but also reduces energy used for printing. Already, we’ve cut paper use per employee by almost 70% since 2010 – a significant reduction when multiplied across our 161,000 people.

Switching to paperless billing, using digital signatures and encouraging colleagues to print less are all part of our efforts to cut paper use. Pull-printing, which we began implementing in 2014, means that colleagues must scan their personal pass cards at the printer before accessing a print job. With pull-printing, we can monitor how much people print, significantly reduce unnecessary printing, and improve confidentiality.

As part of our Global Print Programme, we’re also reducing the overall number of printers and all printing is set by default to be double-sided and in black and white, unless colour is needed for business reasons. In 2017, we reviewed our fleet of printers at 58 sites and reduced it by a further 165 machines.

And digital signature technology means that fewer documents need to be printed solely for signing. In 2017, digital signatures were used on over 47,000 documents, equivalent to eliminating 34,000 printed pages a month.

How are we reducing waste at source?

The most effective way to reduce waste is to prevent it being generated in the first place.

One of the big opportunities is to reduce single-use items, like disposable cups and plastic bags. So, we’ve eliminated single-use plastic bags in over 80% of our staff on-site shops to encourage our people to bring their own bags with them, with the aim of reaching 100%.

Reducing and eliminating disposable single-use paper cups is also a priority. This can be quite challenging as some sites need to install washing facilities before they can introduce reusable cups. However, we’re making good progress with 60% of non-manufacturing sites using reusable cups in 2017. And we’re using what we’ve learnt to roll out reusable cups at our remaining sites.

To reduce food waste from our offices we are piloting our ‘Wise Up on Waste’ tool from Unilever Food Solutions. This produces information on when and where food waste is generated, enabling our catering colleagues to take action to reduce it at source, and encourages our employees not to leave any food waste.

We also look for opportunities to reuse resources, including when moving or refurbishing our offices. For example, during a recent relocation of our head office in Stockholm, our desks were still in good condition, but too large for the new premises. A local joiner was employed to cut them down to the right size and paint them, ready to be reinstalled. The team also worked with the landlord to reuse glass and door panels to build new meeting rooms, preventing waste.

What’s next?

Now that we’ve met our zero waste to landfill target, we want to use what we’ve learnt at more of our non-manufacturing sites. We’re also looking at the types of waste we produce, and how we can further reduce the volume that we’re generating. In particular, our focus is on waste that we can cut entirely through changing our processes.

But we’re also looking at moving waste management up the waste hierarchy (PDF | 300KB), which ranks the options according to environmental impact. As well as preventing waste from existing in the first place, we’re looking at how we can reuse resources, rather than dispose of or even recycle materials. As part of this, we’re exploring new ideas, technologies and partnerships so that we can move closer towards a circular economy.

* In-scope sites are where we either own or hold the majority lease and as such are able to influence the handling of waste. Zero non-hazardous waste to landfill is achieved and maintained when 0.5% or less of non-hazardous waste (non-hazardous disposed waste and recycled and recovered waste) across all in scope non-manufacturing sites is sent to landfill or to incineration without energy recovery. Our 2017 data covers the period 1 January 2017 to 31 December 2017.

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