Gain By “Reducing”
No one is exactly sure who coined the phrase, but somewhere in the early to mid-‘70s the slogan “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” became a rallying cry behind conservation initiatives.
Nearly 50 years later, it seems that “recycle” has had a much better PR agent than “reduce” and “reuse.” While we’ve dutifully rolled the recycling container to the curb, we’ve also dramatically expanded our collective “wastelines” in a million other ways, living through times of prosperity and growth without much focus on reducing our impact on the planet. In this April piece, TRUE Zero Waste’s Celeste McMickle focused on the “middle R”, Reuse. Several of us Tuners have enjoyed adopting a number of these “reuse” strategies in recent years.
But in particular, it is the “first R”—Reduce—which has been at the top of our minds during the pandemic.
Some of this reduction has been forced upon us. And while none of us would wish a global pandemic on even our worst enemies, the COVID-19 cloud has come with some silver linings. Global carbon emissions are down 17% since the pandemic’s arrival—with car, truck, bus, and air travel accounting for nearly half of this reduction.
The images of the world’s skylines before and after COVID have been simultaneously startling and alarming—a reminder of how much less beautiful we’ve made our world, and also of the beauty that lies hidden beneath our habits. We’ve caught a glimpse of the rewards we can reap by improving those habits here in the despair of 2020. Of course, this will prove meaningless if we simply resume “business as usual” when it’s safe. To learn nothing from this experience would be a colossal waste.
Alarmingly, though, the 17% carbon emission reduction we’ve experienced during the pandemic is not enough to meaningfully slow the pace of climate change. The answer obviously is not “let’s stay in lockdown forever”—and it wouldn’t work even if we did. We must take what inspiration we can find in this time to emerge with vastly more sustainable behaviors.
Fine Tune's commitment
So, at Fine Tune, we are looking for opportunities to reduce our footprint—and those of our clients—by doing just that—reducing. Start with corporate travel: this expense has typically amounted to ~4% of our annual revenue. But for five months running now, it has been a truly negligible expense. Our people are working from home, and we’re not flying and driving to sit in other peoples’ conference rooms. And despite these changes, our team has maintained our high level of productivity on behalf of our clients.
We’ll never revert to our pre-pandemic operational habits. Of course, that’s not to say our travel budget going forward will be $0, but our standards for travel will dramatically differ from the past. Going forward, I suspect we’ll reduce our travel—and our associated carbon footprint—by 80%.
But cleaning up our own behavior isn’t enough. We work with a growing host of large, multinational conglomerates. And while we specialize in a small handful of relatively low-dollar expense categories, the industries we specialize in—waste and recycling, uniform and industrial laundering, and pest control—are at the heart of some of the world’s most significant sustainability challenges.
Which byproducts of our clients’ processes are the next to be rendered reusable, enabling them to reduce waste and overall environmental impact? How can we help move our clients into more sustainable work clothing? How can we reduce unnecessary chemical applications in our clients’ pest control programs?
These are just a few of the challenges we’re working on in our efforts to promote more sustainable business behaviors—behaviors not just within our walls, but outside them too.
“Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” truly is a fantastic formula for a more sustainable world, but we cannot afford to pick and choose which of these behaviors we’ll adopt. As we turn our focus toward a more holistic understanding of supply chain, it is of critical importance that we embrace all three, and then urgently look for ways to magnify and multiply our efforts throughout our spheres of influence.