Sustainable Future News speaks with Gina Rudkin, head of sustainability at Axil Integrated Services about the importance of total waste management and supporting businesses to re-engineer their processes to avoid refuse, maximise resource recovery and create social value.
Tell me about your role at Axil and your career to date. How did you end up working in sustainability/ESG?
I began my career in the waste management sector 25 years ago, initially specialising in hazardous waste management before expanding into Total Waste Management, training, and compliance. Throughout my tenure, I have collaborated with major blue-chip clients to implement innovative solutions, manage risks, and establish best practices. Over the last 5 years I have seen the previously separate narratives around waste, energy, sustainability & the circular economy come together to jointly tackle the challenges of climate change, resource depletion and biodiversity loss. My experience therefore presented me with an opportunity to naturally step into the sustainability and ESG arena.
What are your company’s key goals for sustainability and why?
Working within the waste and resource industry offers an opportunity to positively influence environmental and social impacts across the whole value chain. Axil supports our clients to re-engineer waste processes to avoid waste, maximise resource recovery and create social value. My role is focused around creating the partnerships, tools, knowledge and skills to support our client’s sustainability goals and the transition from a linear to circular economy.
What are customers and employees specifically telling you regarding the importance of sustainability in their future decisions?
Our customers have consistently communicated the significance of sustainability in their future decision-making as the prevalence of ESG continues to grow. While the specific targets and objectives may vary among different industries, a common thread among our clients is a dedication to reducing their environmental footprint, decreasing emissions, and minimising waste and resource consumption. Many of our clients have set ambitious targets for themselves and report on their progress to drive ongoing improvement.
How important is proactive leadership in establishing and driving achievable sustainability goals? What examples/best practices can you give organisations who are looking to establish their own ESG frameworks?
Proactive leadership is essential in establishing and achieving sustainable goals. It’s key to align the entire organisation around a common set of sustainability objectives and ensure they are integrated into the daily operations of the business.
Setting specific, measurable, and achievable targets, and regularly tracking and reporting progress against these targets is best practice. This helps to ensure that the organisation is on track to meet its sustainability goals and makes it easier to identify areas for improvement. Additionally, involving employees in the sustainability initiatives and providing them with the necessary tools and resources to contribute to the organisation’s ESG framework can be very effective.
Sustainability can’t be successful as a standalone department or function. To be successful, the knowledge and drive must be embedded within the daily functions and processes across the whole business, which requires both time and commitment at all levels.
What are, in your opinion, the key sustainability questions a business needs to be able to answer?
Sustainability can mean different things to different organisations. It can be defined by mapping out and prioritising their impacts, understanding their baseline, and setting goals with improvement targets that can be measured over time.
The key sustainability questions a business needs to be able to answer include:
- What are the specific sustainability goals and objectives that align with the organisation’s values and mission?
- How does the organisation’s operations and activities currently impact the environment and society, and what are the areas of highest impact?
- How will the organisation measure and track progress towards its sustainability goals over time?
- What specific actions and initiatives will the organisation implement to reduce its environmental and social impact and advance its sustainability goals?
- How will the organisation engage and communicate with stakeholders, including employees, customers, and investors, about its sustainability efforts.
The term ‘greenwashing’ is of course well known – is it an even bigger issue today with heightened expectations of being misled? What can be done to spot bad actors? What are the examples of red flags?
We recently issued an article on the subject of Greenwashing titled, Greenwashing: Making and interpreting environmental claims – Axil Integrated Services (axil-is.com) after a recent CMA study estimated that 40% of green claims made online could be misleading.
It’s important to remember that making false or misleading claims about a company’s sustainability practices can happen unintentionally. To avoid this, it’s best to implement a thorough process of questioning and validation before making any sustainability claims. This will help ensure claims are accurate and supported by evidence.
It is good practice before making any claims to robustly question:
· Can I provide evidence to substantiate this claim?
· What data do I have to substantiate this claim?
· Does my claim only apply to part of the product or the whole of the product?
· Have I compared like to like products?
· Can external certification be used to help substantiate my claim?
When you think of ESG framework, what comes to mind for you? What are the pros and cons in your opinion?
Sustainability can be a complex topic, with a vast amount of information available over recent years. It’s crucial for a business to focus on what is most relevant and aligned with its core purpose. Gathering, analysing, and measuring large amounts of data can be challenging, particularly for small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with limited resources.
To navigate this complexity, it’s important to identify the key stakeholders and understand their specific priorities. This will guide the development of an effective ESG framework and prevent the business from trying to measure everything. Prioritising what is most important for the business and its stakeholders will ensure the effective use of resources and help the organisation to make meaningful progress towards its sustainability goals.
What do you feel are the key issues organisations will have to be aware of regarding corporate sustainability in 2023?
Consumers are becoming more conscious of the environmental and social impacts of products and are increasingly demanding more information to inform their purchasing decisions. To adapt to these changes, businesses will need to work closely with their suppliers to increase transparency, build resilience, and foster collaborative partnerships.
As we shift towards a circular economy, it’s crucial for businesses to invest in the development and upskilling of their workforce. This includes building competencies in areas such as collaboration, data analytics, project management, and influencing. By cultivating a diverse set of skills, organisations can better navigate the complexities of a circular economy and create a more sustainable future.
What are your company’s plans around sustainability in the coming 12 months?
We are focused on moving the dial beyond recycling and aligning closely with our client’s sustainability goals and ESG frameworks, through careful resource stewardship, social value creation, the development of value chain partnerships and the implementation of holistic Zero Waste Programmes. For example, we recently announced our Surplus Asset Reuse Marketplace, which enables our customers to donate their surplus assets to local small business and charities and ensure reuse is at the core of their ESG strategies.
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