Building a Circular Economy is a Corporate Social Responsibility

“Reduce, reuse, recycle.” This phrase is prolific in the global conversation surrounding sustainability efforts and initiatives.

However, the three R’s are often discussed on an individual level, leaving businesses out of the conversation. Businesses should not be exempt from the principles of reduce, reuse, recycle. In fact, they should be the ones leading the charge in implementing these sustainable strategies.

The circular economy is good business. When businesses implement sustainable practices, they are not only helping the environment but the company as a whole. Let’s dive deeper into the ways businesses can work towards these benefits and commit themselves to corporate social responsibility.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle for Businesses

Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) can make some of the largest environmental contributions when they choose to adopt the motto “reduce, reuse, recycle.”

This is because they are inherently larger-scale and wider-reaching, leading to far greater impact than an individual or household. Businesses also have control over their supply chains and can make small choices that have far-reaching effects on the environment.

The words “reduce, reuse, recycle” are in that order for a reason. They mean that businesses looking to adopt this phrase into their strategies should:

  1. Reduce the total amount of waste they create
  2. Reuse as much as possible
  3. Recycle everything else

1) Business Waste Reduction

The key to becoming an environmentally-minded business is to reduce the amount of waste you are producing in the first place.

Often, this requires conducting a waste audit to discover any inefficiencies in your business’s processes that produce more waste than necessary. This can also reveal if you need to adjust any purchasing or production quantities to limit the amount of excess.

This could mean digitizing otherwise paper-based processes. Or, ending the buying of single-use materials like cups, plates, and certain packaging to opt for reusable items. On a larger scale, waste reduction for businesses could mean redesigning processes to use fewer materials, or purchasing certain products in bulk.

2) How Businesses Can “Reuse”

The overall goal of reuse is to delay a product’s end-of-life or eventual disposal. “Reuse” in the business world can mean many things.

For example, you can commit to purchasing second-hand furniture or donating old items instead of disposing of them. You could also implement policies for employees to reuse certain materials multiple times before disposal, like cardboard boxes, bags, office supplies, and more.

3) The Importance of SMB Recycling

Even after taking steps to reduce and reuse materials, businesses will inevitably produce waste through the course of their operations.

The type of waste will depend on the business—restaurants, for example, will see a lot of food waste. Manufacturers will likely have cardboard, wood, and metals dominating the waste stream. It’s key to identify what materials and types of waste your business is producing, and then determine the proper route to disposal.

This doesn’t mean all waste can just be tossed in the recycling bin. Many products produced by businesses must be separated by waste stream and recycled accordingly.

Some examples of waste streams that require specialty disposal methods include:

Partnering with a software solutions company like Rubicon® allows you to quickly organize and identify the best routes of disposal for a variety of materials. Rubicon prioritizes cost and sustainability, meaning all your recyclable materials will be recycled at the lowest possible cost—even making you money through resources like scrap metals.

Setting up a comprehensive corporate recycling program ensures valuable, otherwise recyclable materials are not ending up in landfills (and your bottom line stays protected.)

Impactful Sustainability Practices in Business

Corporate sustainability goes beyond “reduce, reuse, recycle.” Here are some key sustainability practices in business you can adopt in the journey towards corporate social sustainability:

1) Adopt a “Triple Bottom Line” Mindset

Historically, companies have focused on a singular bottom line: profit. The “triple bottom line” principle rejects the idea that profit should be the only driving force behind business practices.

Instead, this concept introduces a total of three P’s that make up a business’s bottom line:

  1. Profit
  2. People
  3. Planet

The triple bottom line concept is closely tied to corporate social responsibility, which introduces social and environmental impact into a business’s mission. By placing social and environmental issues in line with the importance of profit, your business can reframe its mission and production processes to reflect this.

2) Focus on ESG Principles

Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) principles measure the sustainability and quality of a business through these three lenses.

Investors are taking ESG factors into consideration more than ever before when making investment decisions. This process, known as “responsible investing,” is becoming increasingly popular among investors.

Global sustainable investment now tops $30 trillion, according to a 2019 report by McKinsey. To learn more about Rubicon’s work toward achieving important ESG principles with regard to the entire category of waste and recycling, download Rubicon’s inaugural ESG report.

3) Adhere to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, the United Nations (UN) laid out 17 global goals aimed towards achieving a sustainable future, intended for completion by 2030. Each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) falls under one or more of the following focus areas:

  • People
  • Planet
  • Prosperity
  • Peace
  • Partnership

Businesses have a huge role to play in accomplishing the SDGs. According to the United Nations Global Compact, “Global challenges—ranging from climate, water and food crises, to poverty, conflict and inequality—are in need of solutions that the private sector can deliver, representing a large and growing market for business innovation.”

For businesses looking to improve their corporate social responsibility, the “Planet” section of the SDG list is a great place to start. Reference the UN Global Compact website for more information on how companies can play a role in accomplishing the SDGs, and read about Rubicon’s commitment to sustainable economic growth, through which we see the SDGs as a good blueprint for getting there.

The Benefits of Corporate Social Responsibility for Businesses

When businesses choose to implement sustainable initiatives, they see a plethora of benefits both within and outside of their company:

1) Impact on the Environment

Businesses that demonstrate corporate social responsibility are making a huge difference in environmental progress and the fight against climate change.

Waste reduction, reuse, and recycling at any scale has positive effects on the environment. When businesses participate in these initiatives, the impact outpaces that of an individual’s action due to their scale.

By optimizing their waste management, businesses are protecting the earth’s natural resources and conserving otherwise finite energy.

2) Corporate Brand Image

Sustainability is a growing factor that drives purchasing decisions across the globe. Today, around two-thirds of North American consumers look to environmentally-friendly brands when making a purchasing decision, and are willing to pay more for sustainable products.

Adhering to sustainable business practices can garner valuable brand loyalty and an overall positive reputation in the eyes of consumers.

3) Reduce Costs and Identify New Revenue Streams

On top of the wide-reaching environmental benefits, corporate sustainability is good for the bottom line.

Reducing, reusing, and recycling can very quickly decrease money spent on waste services and haulers by lowering the number of trash pickups. This is because, ideally, there is less waste to begin with (there’s also more recycling, which means more room in the trash).

Proper recycling processes can also open up new revenue streams for businesses. For example, businesses can make money by selling valuable recyclables like scrap metal to collectors. For businesses that frequently produce this kind of valuable waste, this money can add up quickly. At a higher level, companies that practice corporate social responsibility and ESG best practices can be valued higher and increase their number of investors and customers.

Rubicon’s Mission to End Waste

To fully commit to the principles of “reduce, reuse, recycle,” and to develop corporate social responsibility, your business must reexamine its current systems.

This means conducting an appraisal and determining areas of waste. Determine where and when this waste is happening, and make an effort to stop any “leakage.” By redesigning and reimagining certain business processes, you can work towards optimal sustainability and efficiency, positioning your business for long-term sustainability.

To learn more about Rubicon’s work transforming the entire category of waste and recycling, download our inaugural Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) Report.

If you have any questions, or you’re interested in learning more about Rubicon’s sustainability offerings, please reach out to Rubicon’s Sustainability team directly at sustainability@rubicon.com, or contact our sales team at (844) 479-1507.


Nick McCulloch is Senior Manager of Sustainability at Rubicon. To stay ahead of Rubicon’s announcements of new partnerships and collaborations around the world, be sure to follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, or contact us today.

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