TR Sustainability Week: ‘If it isn’t your core business it can be overwhelming’

By Kristiane Sherry |

The Clean Green Seas panel at TR Sustainability week

The Clean Green Seas panel at TR Sustainability week: Sue Gosling (bottom left) and Nikki Stone (bottom right), plus TRBusiness moderators Michael Barrett and Luke Barras-Hill.

The Clean Green Seas live session at TR Sustainability Week explored how businesses often don’t know where to start when it comes to sustainability, and how the greenwashing pendulum has perhaps swung too far the other way.

Plastic waste in waterways was the pertinent discussion issue in TR Sustainability Week’s Clean Green Seas panel session. Nikki Stone from CleanHub and Sue Gosling from Harding+ also explored how taking steps to become more sustainable can be overwhelming for businesses.

Stones, CleanHub’s Marketing VP, said her ocean clean-up organisation was founded by Joel Tasche (who spoke at the recent TR Consumer Forum), after seeing the extent of plastic pollution when travelling.

“Basically, our mission is to prevent plastic waste from entering the ocean,” she said. She also acknowledged that with billions around the world living outside of a waste management system, there was no “silver bullet”.

“We work with brands who want to take action on plastic pollution,” she explained. “And it means they can take immediate action.”

CleanHub offers two ways of doing so. Businesses can offset their entire plastic footprint by funding plastic collection, or donate a certain amount per product sold. “That creates the funding, effectively, to put the waste management infrastructure in place.”

She also notes that upstream solutions are required. “We need to be looking into new materials, we need to be moving to a more circular economy,” she detailed. “But I think the important context for that is, as we sit here today, 9% of plastic waste globally is recycled.”

Stones stressed: “The reality is we can’t recycle our way out of it.” While CleanHub isn’t “anti-plastic”, she is adamant that society must reduce its reliance on it. “we’re just creating too much of it, and we don’t have the infrastructure in place to deal with it.”

Sustainability: Beyond greenwashing?

Stones also acknowledged that brands are increasingly anxious about being associated with greenwashing. 

“I find this quite interesting because, yes, don’t get me wrong, we absolutely must call out genuine greenwashing, we absolutely must. But also, there are a lot of brands that are trying to do the right thing. We should be encouraging that and supporting that.”

CleanHub’s approach is to support them to embed sustainability into a company’s culture. 

“Some brands don’t even want to even talk about plastic because they don’t want to raise awareness of the fact that they’re using plastic packaging,” she continued.  “There’s that concern about being scrutinised.” 

One way of countering this, she says, is to make sure that any sustainability partner a business works with is fully trustworthy and accountable. CleanHub has built a track and trace solution that follows every piece of plastic collected. “The brands that we work with get real-time data, and an impact report which shows exactly how much they’ve collected.”

Ultimately, it’s about making sure that businesses and their partners practise what they preach. “If sustainability is not your core business, it can be overwhelming,” she added.

TR Sustainability Week: Think big, implement local

Harding+’s Gosling then shared some of the initiatives the cruise retail operator has implemented. 

“It’s about being brave and carving new avenues and new ways of working,” she opened. “It’s also about not being frightened to say I haven’t quite got it right.”

She also called out the importance of local sourcing rather than flying goods “all over the world”. Local sourcing at Harding+ means that the company has cut container fill by 5% since 2019.

“This is not just about ‘don’t use a plastic bag’. There are so many different strands to sustainability, from product manufacturer, to product to product delivery, implementation, circular economies…” she continued. 

Carnival Mardi Gras

Harding+ has introduced a number of social and environmental sustainability initiatives at-sea and on land.

Within the Harding+ ecosystem, there has been a focus on social sustainability too. There are now 15 mental health first-aiders across the business, and a Chief People Officer was recruited last year.

“This is not a job done, tick box, move on, because it’s becoming bigger. There are more things that we can and should do.”

Internal environment-facing changes include introducing electric car charging stations at offices, and saving over 56,000 litres of water by upgrading toilet facilities. 

Fostering a greener culture is critical to making gains, she said. Harding+ currently employs 1,500 people across land and sea, with 65 different nationalities represented.

“I don’t think you can tell anybody to be sustainable,” she continued. “You have to want to be, it has to be part of who you are.” She also noted the broad spectrum that falls under the ‘sustainability’ umbrella. “It comes in various forms. People and planet, it’s not just about one or the other.”

Plastic waste: A problem ‘everywhere’

Moving towards closing remarks, and Stones drew attention to both the work CleanHub does to raise employment standards in the markets it works in, but also that plastic waste is a global issue. 

“I live on the canal in London. The amount of waste and the plastic waste that we get just along the canal, and that’s inside the canal, is staggering.”

She continued: “The problem is pretty much on our doorstep as well as it is everywhere else.”

Stones also added that lobbying was becoming a big part of the company’s work. “There has to be regulation. Governments have to put things in place for real change to happen as well.”

Gosling added that there needed to be a consistent approach to plastic waste across the supply chain. “We should have reward and acknowledge even the baby steps that brands and businesses are making,” she said. She also added that there needed to be greater urgency. “Don’t do it as lip service. Let’s be really serious about it.”

TR Sustainability Week coverage continues online. Live sessions are available to stream on-demand now.

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